On 16 February this year I heard Mark Field describe his implementation of SharePoint for collaboration and records management within the UK Department for Education (DfE). Mark’s talk was at a records management update seminar run by Unicom.
Mark’s implementation has the potential to be extremely influential. It currently has a userbase of 3,000 people within the Department. DfE are planning to offer their SharePoint facility as a service via the cloud – firstly to the UK education sector, and later to the wider public sector via the Government Application Store on the G-Cloud. There is currently no timescale as to when it will be available on G-Cloud (when pressed Mark said ‘hopefully within our lifetimes’).
DfE are using SharePoint team sites (rebranded as ‘Information workplaces’). They use the SharePoint records centre for records management, and have implemented SharePoint for their intranet. They are currently using SharePoint 2007 but will move to SharePoint 2010 once they have transitioned their service to the cloud.
The Department has tight governance controls in place to control the spread of SharePoint team sites. Only their Information and records team can create team sites (information workplaces). Each team site/workplace must have a ‘Workplace owner’ who signs an agreement acknowledging their responsibilities in managing the site. They have 200 Information workplaces, which tend to be based around a particular work matter or policy issue.
Regular ‘sweeps’ are undertaken of team sites to suck documents needed as records, and route them to the records centre. The sweep captures documents that meet all of the following three criteria:
- at least a year old
- a major version (1.0, 2.0 etc)
- checked in
When a document is routed to the records centre it leaves behind a link in the team site document library from which it came.
The Department has decided not to implement a functionally based fileplan. The record centre is structured to mirror the organisational structure. Retention rules are linked to content types. The Department has limited itself to 11 content types.
There was a mixed reaction by the audience to the model adopted by DfE. Some people (including ex `Information and Records Management Society Treasurer Alison North) praised its simplicity. Others were concerned by the Department’s rejection of a functionally based fileplan in favour of the organisational structure. The question was raised as to whether organisational churn would render the records centre difficult for future users to understand and navigate.
Mark defended the decision to use the organisational structure to organise the SharePoint records centre. He said that all a searcher would need to know to find documentation is what the relevant organisational unit was called at the time of the document’s creation.
Replacement of the DfE’s Electronic Document and Records Management System (Meridio)
Mark’s lack of faith in a functional fileplan is based on his experience at a previous organisation, where users ‘ran a mile’ from a multi-level fileplan he had constructed with colleagues; and from DfE’s own experience with using a functional fileplan on a traditional (TNA 2002 compliant) EDRMS system (Meridio).
Mark said Meridio had good functionality but it was only adopted by 20 to 30% of the Department. The Department have ended their EDRMS implementation, and imported all records from Meridio into a SharePoint records centre (a separate records centre from the one that they are using to handle content generated in SharePoint).
DfE’s application of retention rules
The department are choosing to link retention rules to SharePoint content types, and to limit the number of content types to 11. This is a radical example of the big bucket approach to implementing retention rules. In most other implementations of ‘big bucket’ retention rules the organisations concerned have applied between 50 and 100 retention rules to their organisation’s information. Applying only 11 retention categories seems low to me.
One of the content types Mark mentioned was for human resource documents. I presume that a ‘human resource’ content type would need to embrace (among other things) both:
- all the documentation arising from recruitment campaigns
- documentation of dealings with individual employees
Most organisations keep records of their dealings with individual employees for a considerably longer period than records of their recruitment campaign.
My assumptions as to the nature of the Department for Education’s SharePoint records centre
It is difficult for me to accurately picture Mark’s model without having seen screen shots. My assumptions are that:
- the records centre contains one document library for every organisational unit that has existed since the start of their SharePoint implementation. Each library contains all the documents routed to the records centre that originated from colleagues attached to that unit
- when organisational churn occurs a new records centre document library would be created to accommodate records routed from that organisational unit (although it might be a year before any documents arrive to fill it!)
- when documents move from a team site to the records centre they bring with them important contextual information such as the details of the pathway/breadcrumb trail in which they had been stored ( team site/document library/folder/sub folder)
- a visitor to the records centre would be able to sort each document library by any column of metadata, including which of the 11 content types a document belong to, and which team site it came from.
Does the records centre add value?
The big challenge for any implementation of the SharePoint records centre is the question what value does the record centre add? What value does it add to have documents moved from one logical structure (Team sites, arranged by policy issue or matter) to a different logical structure (A records centre arranged by organisational unit)?
Is there any reason why anyone would prefer to look at the records centre rather than the original team site? (I can’t think of one). All the time that he original team sites are maintained that is not a problem. But how long will the Department retain its team sites?
I suspect that the Department for Education’s intention would be to apply a shorter retention period to the SharePoint team sites than to the contents in the records centre. Once the original team sites are deleted you are left only with the content of the records centre, kept in a different arrangement to that known by the people who worked with the documents at the time that the work was carried out.
Take the example of a document library within a team site set up for three different organisational units to collaborate around policy on special need provision in schools. How easy would it be for a searcher to virtually reconstitute the contents of that team site document library once the contents have been sent to different records centre libraries and after the original team site has been deleted? Does it matter that other information held in the team site, but not captured in a document library, will not have been sent to the records centre?
Practical reasons for moving records from team sites to the SharePoint records centre
Later in the same Unicom event Sharon Richardson talked about the difference in storage capacity of a site collection containing collaborative team sites, and a records centre:
- Microsoft recommends that site collections containing collaborative team sites are not allowed to grow about 100GB (which Sharon estimates is only 200,000 documents). The constraint is due to the impact of a large site collection on other site collections held on the same SQL Server content database
- A records centre can be allowed to grow much larger provided that its’ content is stored in a dedicated SQL Server content database which contains no other site collections
The records centre can mitigate problems caused by the quirks of SharePoint’s site collection architecture – but I am still not sure that this counts as adding value!