Document strategies and corporate nomenclatures share distinct similarities with snowflakes; none are alike. Compounded by the fact that both the employee and organization must conform to some type of document hierarchy (and both have their own way of doing so), the issue becomes very real for both parties and a firm understanding must be in place in order for everyone to achieve adherence together on a grand scale. This adherence is driven by the need to control content across organizations. Companies must devise a strategy that can be digested and followed by each employee, while recognizing the potential productivity gains and delivering the message to the company.
Enterprise content management strategies must therefore be created with specific standards that ease document sharing and collaboration collectively, something many organizations look to their document management tool to dictate and control. This is further complicated by the fact that many employees simply don’t know where to find information, or have insufficient detail on where to look. In 2013, a McKinsey report stated that the average employee spends 1.8 hours per day searching for information. Unfortunately, those of us who have ever looked for a SharePoint document that wasn’t “in the right location” know that it is similar to looking for a needle in a haystack.
Pros and cons of classifying SharePoint documents
For many years, SharePoint has done an adequate job providing a structural system for documents in straight-forward scenarios where the document maintains its hierarchy indefinitely. By this, I mean that when a document is created in SharePoint, it inherits a systematic GUID and what is commonly known as a link or URL that resembles https://<servername>/shared%20Documents/name%20of%20document. This classification system has had its pros and cons over the years and SharePoint versions are now commonplace in organizations. One pro is that, once agreed upon and in place, the organization can easily train its users on the document structure and what has traditionally been called an absolute link. A con has long been the shift required if a document is moved from its point of origination to another place in SharePoint, or if someone renames the document, it causes issues where the previous structure was maintained.
From a business perspective, this has long been an issue because some documents are renamed and changed frequently. A simple example is a document filename that is misspelled when originally created, then updated to the correct spelling. When the original mistake was made, the document inherited the misspelling; however, the link wasn’t updated when the name was corrected. While not sounding like a critical issue, it can be a cumbersome task to fix all the links, compounded by any user who has recorded that incorrect link in another document, list or site.
Addressing the main con with Durable Links
In the SharePoint Server 2016 IT Preview, which receives updates as they are made available by Microsoft, users will now find Durable Links, which directly addresses the issue and potential long-term impact these can have on the organization. In IT Unity’s TechTalk with Bill Baer on September 25, 2015, Bill and IT Unity’s Dan Holme discussed Durable Links as just one of the new and exciting features in the preview. Bill mentioned how documents are provided a resource ID link for Web Application Open Platform Interface Protocol (WOPI) documents served both by SharePoint and Office Online Server. Storage of the resource ID is in the content database as a connection to the source document. Durable Links allow SharePoint to identify the file by the resource ID and opens it in the Office Online Server Preview, thus allowing documents to be moved across the environment without risk of name or link degradation.
Business considerations with Durable Links
While Durable Links will increase the capabilities of structured documents and storage in SharePoint, there are some business considerations that the organizations should be aware of when addressing its impact to their content management strategy. There are substantial risks and liabilities related to the inability for users to produce relevant or critical documents when making decisions, further complicated by document retention policies and archiving. Simply stated, when critical decisions have to be made, there is no time to waste on incorrect links or missing documents. The onus is on the business to update their policies and standards vis-a-vie document and content management to ensure that users are aware of any changes in their day-to-day expectations and activities, while also pushing this message down into governance practices and corporate adoption.
Prior to your organization deploying the Durable Links feature organization-wide, review your internal policies and understand your document hierarchy and expectations fully. Additional training may be required at the business-unit level to ensure that every employee understands where to store and locate relevant information.