Records management in SharePoint 2010 – early thoughts

In SharePoint 2007 the records management functionality was very poorly thought through and consequently organisations were dependent on the ecosystem around SharePoint for help in either getting the records management functionality to work or in providing an alternative set of records management functionality so that records were managed outside of SharePoint.

The big question for SharePoint 2010 is to what extent will Microsoft provide records management functionality within the product that is coherent and robust enough for people to use without resort to the ecosystem around it?

SharePoint 2010 doesn’t go into beta test until next month. I am writing this post on the strength of the reports by bloggers of Microsoft’s presentations to the SharePoint 2009 Conference in Las Vegas last week – I haven’t seen the product itself .

Records management in SharePoint 2007

Let us start by reminding ourselves of the key problems with records management in SharePoint 2007:

  • to protect a document from deletion and amendment you needed to send it to a records library within a SharePoint records centre. In the records centre an administrator can set up records centre libraries to protect and apply retention rules to documents declared as records
  • you had to do an awful lot of work behind the scenes in order for a user to be able to right click on a document and send it to an appropriate records centre library. You would need to have set up a records centre library for that type of record; defined a content type that type of document; and specified a routing rule for the content type so that documents were routed to the appropriate records centre library
  • the records centre did not support a useable fileplan hierarchy. It did allow you to set up different records libraries inside the records centre, and each records centre could have a folder structure. However the folders themselves had no functionality. Records could not inherit metadata or rules from the folders. You could not route documents to a specific folder within a records library, only to the records library itself.

I know of no organisation that used the SharePoint 2007 records management functionality ‘out of the box’. The only book written about records management in SharePoint 2010 is a book about how to do custom development in order to adapt SharePoint for records management.

For a description of records management in SharePoint 2007 read these detailed blogposts from the Microsoft UK SharePoint team. Or read my evaluation of records management in SharePoint 2007.

The records management model in SharePoint 2010

The biggest claim made at Las Vegas for SharePoint 2010 is that it includes in-place records management functionality.

The use of the phrase ‘in-place records management’ is interesting because it is very close to the concept of Manage-in-place used by some of the big ECM system vendors (for example Autonomy/Meridio and Open Text) and by the ECM industry body AIIM.

Manage-in place as used by the ECM vendor community

Manage-in-place, as developed by the ECM community, involves:

  • keeping your records management classification (fileplan), retention rules, and access rules in one records management system
  • Setting up connectors from that records management system to the various environments in which colleagues collaborate (shared drives, SharePoint team sites, etc)
  • Using the records management system, to lock down, classify and apply retention and access rules to documents and information resources within the different systems that you set up connectors into, without moving the documents from their native system.

Manage-in-place is an acknowledgement that the attempt to persuade colleagues to keep all those documents/resources needed as records within one electronic document and records management system was doomed to fail. It is still in its infancy, and I have yet to find any advice on manage-in-place coming from any non-vendor sources. For example there is no advice emerging from the UK National Archives, which was the source of so much good advice on the traditional, pre-SharePoint 2007 EDRM system. Nor is there yet an established flag ship case study of manage-in-place for the records management community in the UK or world wide to discuss and learn from.

In-Place records management in SharePoint 2010

The In-Place records management capability for SharePoint 2010 appears to be more restricted in scope than manage-in-place. It appears that ‘In-Place records management’ simply means that a user can declare a document as a record within a team site, and it can be protected from amendment and deletion without having to be moved to a records centre.

Here is how Corey Roth described the feature

I know a handful of people that would say Records Management in MOSS 2007 was pretty much unusable. I think SharePoint 2010 will change their minds. The main issues were that you had to ship documents to an external library to manage them and the interface for applying holds was not very user friendly. Activating the In Place Records Management feature [in SharePoint 2010] will add a new button, Declare as Record, to the ribbon of document libraries. Clicking this marks the item as a record and I believe puts it in a read only state.

For it to qualify as ‘manage in place’ SharePoint 2010 would need to give us the ability to do the following tasks to a document or information resource without moving it from a Team Site:

  • allocate the record to a folder classified within a hierarchical fileplan
  • allow the document to inherit retention rules and/or access permissions from the folder it is contained in or the fileplan path that the folder is classified by.

On the basis of the reports I am reading I am not convinced that SharePoint 2010 will allow those two things to happen. it seems to me that SharePoint 2010 will support a fileplan within the records centre, but not across team sites (I would be happy to be proved wrong!)

Microsoft provide a useful explanation of managing records in SharePoint 2010 here. But it does not clarify the question as to whether or not a document declared as a record in the team site is linked to the fileplan kept in the records centre.

Elements of records management functionality in SharePoint 2010

Fileplan

The SharePoint 2010 records centre will support a fileplan hierarchy. This is good news and might actually make the records centre useable. However if I am right that a document has to move to the record centre in order for it to be governed by the fileplan then this is a weakness. I would rather the system allowed the fileplan to be applied to the document or information resource in its original context (usually the team site in which it was created or posted).

Folders

Folders will be given functionality in SharePoint 2010- this is a major change in Microsoft’s stance. SharePoint 2007 gave no functionality to folders. Microsoft, together with most SharePoint consultants, argued that using columns of metadata was a better way of organising document libraries than folders.

Sadalit Van Buren went to SharePoint Governance session at the Las Vegas and reported that

one surprising piece of the content for me was this recommendation:
• In SharePoint 2007, the best practice was: use metadata, not folders.
• In SharePoint 2010: use folders, inherit metadata

Document identifiers

SharePoint 2010 will support unique identifiers for documents

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