Compared to my previous more general posts, What is Information Governance in M365 anyway and M365: From Zero to Hero, (must reads if you are looking to start your M365 adoption journey!), the following is a nerdy deep dive into a very specific, but incredibly exciting process for ensuring effective use of Metadata in SharePoint Online and your core M365 Office Applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc)
The ability to apply metadata (additional information related to your document) is a basic, but key concept, in information or knowledge management. The following is a brief example of what we mean by ‘metadata’ and why it’s so useful.
Metadata Example: Contracts & Agreements Scenario In this example, let’s assume you’re managing contracts and agreements for a company using a SharePoint Online document library. You can use metadata to organize and track these documents more efficiently.
Example types of metadata:
Contract Type: Service Agreement, Non-Disclosure Agreement, Lease Agreement, etc.
Contract Status: Draft, In Review, Active, Expired, Terminate
Counterparty: Store the name of the other party involved in the contract
Effective Date: Date field to track the contract’s start date
Expiration Date: Date field to track the contract’s end date
What does this mean in practice? You can use the terms above to more easily find your information and documents! For example, you can tell SharePoint to show you all of the Service Agreements, currently in Draft, with this particular Organisation, between these Dates, and be presented with the information as specified.
The Big Problem With SharePoint Metadata
Traditionally, we ask our users to ensure they have applied the correct metadata to documentation in SharePoint. It’s a manual, user heavy task, which SharePoint *does not* enforce effectively. This can lead to the following issue, where documents being stored in SharePoint are provided with incomplete metadata.
‘Required info’ in the example below means your user has not added this data to the documents, meaning you cannot find this document when searching for it based on metadata. You lose the ability to ask SharePoint to show you particular documents by using metadata as your search criteria.
So how can we ensure users enter the right metadata, every time?
Oops – this is your information management system failing
The Metadata Revolution
What if you could enforce the application of metadata, not through SharePoint, but through the applications your team uses day in day out? What if they didn’t even have to go to SharePoint in the first place, but still reap all the benefits of search and findability that SharePoint provides?
Well, now you could be talking.
By configuring your SharePoint location for storing documents to require users to enter metadata, your Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) can automatically enforce your users to enter this metadata when saving a document to that SharePoint location. Office applications saved in SharePoint dynamically inherit SharePoint Metadata, which can be leveraged to significantly enhance user productivity and efficiency. So how does this work?
The trick to this is developing and supporting a user journey and way of working in which your users *start* the creation fo their document from Word, or any M365 application, itself, and not from SharePoint.
Today most users start this journey from SharePoint, which is where the problem lies:
Starting in SharePoint:
Oh dear, the majority of your users have not completed the 3rd step and applied metadata to your documents. Your documents cannot be found or searched for by the majority of your team. The fundamentals of information management cannot or cease to function in your organisation!
Starting in your M365 Application:
See the difference? Your users can apply your organisation’s information management standards within the tool they are working in. They do not need to think about SharePoint, move or upload documents once they have been completed, navigate a different interface to find the required properties…they’ve received all the benefits of SharePoint, enabled their team to find and retrieve important documentation, allowed for easy search and organisation of team documents, without actually going into SharePoint!
It’s really cool!
It’s also, assuming you’ve set things up effectively, an incredibly easy and efficient user experience. The organisation meets its metadata and information management standards and controls, while the user community is buzzing with its new efficiency and simplified way of working. It’s fantastic.