Records Management on SharePoint – The Questions You Should Ask

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I think by now there is a good level of awareness that Microsoft SharePoint has records management functionality, but the general view that I often hear expressed is that this SharePoint RM capability is lightweight compared to traditional RM solutions. 

My own view is that SharePoint’s RM capability can be a good answer for the real needs of many organisations, especially when SharePoint is front-ended by a tool that provides an improved user experience – like MacroView DMF. The problem is that people are asking the wrong questions!

Here’s an example of such a question: “Is SharePoint RM certified to comply with Standard XYZ?”.  That’s a question that must be asked and answered positively in some highly regulated industries and market sectors.  But for most organisations the questions that should be asked about any electronic records management solution are:

  • A. Is the Records Store going to contain all the relevant documents and emails?
  • B. Will those recorded documents and emails be retained and protected from alteration for the appropriate period?
  • C. Will it be easy to find a recorded document or email should the need arise?

Let’s see how by combining SharePoint with MacroView DMF you can create an electronic records management solution that does provide good answers to these key questions.

Do You Need a Records Center to Have Records in SharePoint?

But first, we need to clear up a commonly held misconception about SharePoint records management solutions – which is that you need to use a Records Center.

In a Records Center, metadata attributes are recorded in such a way that every document in the Center can potentially have a different set of metadata columns.  That makes a Records Center a handy repository for documents and emails that need to be retained after the document libraries in which they were originally saved no longer exist – typically because the library was created to support an operational activity – e.g. a transaction, a project or a matter – that is now completed.

But you do not have to have a Records Center to have records – you can have records declared in place within document libraries.  What if those operational document libraries are not deleted after the operation is completed, but retained until all their in-place records have reached their expiration dates?  In that case we can answer YES to Key Question B, above.
This approach has the advantage of reduced effort – there is no need to move the records to a Records Center, because they can remain where they were saved during the operational phase.

Is the Records Store Going to Contain All Relevant Documents and Emails?

Another way of asking how to ensure user adoption, which is a significant issue for any electronic Records Management solution.  Unless the users go to the trouble of declaring each and every relevant document and email, the records store will not be complete. How to know which documents and emails will ultimately be relevant?  Will at least one of the recipients of a vital email declare that email as a record? 

My view is that the best way to handle this is to make it so easy to save documents and emails that users are happy to save all but their personal documents and emails in the store, so that all of them can be retained as records. When later we need to find a particular record we rely on an effective search (see more below). This make-it-so-easy-that-everything-gets-saved-as-a-record approach removes the effort and risk associated with deciding which electronic documents are worth keeping.

To save an email and have it declared as a record, you drag and drop to the MacroView pane on the right of Outlook, rather than to the Mail Folders pane on the left.

How to make saving easy and attractive? That’s where MacroView Message and MacroView DMF come in.  These tools provide a business-user-friendly interface to a SharePoint store. They allow emails and documents to be saved by drag and drop, individually or in bulk, with maximum automatic metadata capture (e.g. no prompting for metadata as emails are saved to SharePoint).

Will recorded documents and emails be retained and protected from alteration for the appropriate period?

Based on my observations over many years, SharePoint security is effective – if you have no permission to a document, it’s as if that document does not exist.  Declaring a document as a record adds a further level of protection – essentially making that document read-only and removing delete permission for all users except those designated as Records Managers.

MacroView Message and MacroView DMF make declaring a document as an in-place record as easy as right-clicking it in a MacroView file list display and choosing the Compliance option. Alternatively, documents and emails can be declared as in place records automatically by a SharePoint workflow or library setting. MacroView can even highlight the declared records in a user-defined color.

To declare a document or email in SharePoint as an in-place record you right-click it in a MacroView file list and choose the Compliance option. Declared records in a file list are highlighted in a user-definable color.

It’s important to note that ‘Appropriate Period’ does NOT mean ‘Forever’.  For risk management reasons, an effective electronic records management solution should not retain records for any longer than is mandated.  In this regard a useful approach is a workflow that highlights any records that have reached their expiration date, or are about to reach expiry.

Will it be easy to find a recorded document or email should the need arise?

As noted above, the general answer here is to utilise the power of the SharePoint Search engine to find records when they are needed.  And the key to making those searches effective is to be able to use both content AND metadata.

MacroView Message and MacroView DMF support all the types of metadata that you can have in SharePoint and they enable extensive automatic metadata capture. In part that automatic capture is thanks to the way MacroView automatically chooses an Email content type and automatically records all the non-personal attributes of an email as metadata.  But another important reason why MacroView can do so much automatic metadata capture is the way it displays a complete and accurate tree-view of the structure of a SharePoint document store – essentially MacroView enables SharePoint designs which are good for automatic metadata capture.

MacroView Message and MacroView DMF are also very business-user-friendly when it comes time to search for documents and emails in SharePoint, including those that have been declared as records.  With MacroView you can search based on content AND metadata to while you work in applications that are familiar to business users – such as Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  What’s more, MacroView allows you to define additional types of search which are tailored to the way groups of users in an organisation use metadata.

Searching for records declared in a specified date range using Records Search panel in MacroView DMF.  Note that this search was done across an Office 365 SharePoint Online tenancy – also support for searching across and on-premises SharePoint Server environment.

Behind the scenes, the searches are performed by the SharePoint search engine – there is no need to define additional search indexes or to use additional search applications. In a nutshell, what MacroView is doing is provide a much more intuitive, convenient and customisable interface to the the SharePoint search engine, compared to the interface that ships as part of the SharePoint web browser UI.

More Information

For more information about how MacroView + SharePoint enables records management solutions, see the MacroView website or contact MacroView Solutions.