Wednesday, May 16, 2012

CRM 2011 Document Management Settings: SharePoint Best Practice

This being a blog about Microsoft CRM it is perhaps a little bit of a reach to be discussing SharePoint best practices. But as the technologies overlap in this particular area, I think it might be worthwhile to briefly touch on some high level SharePoint best practices as those features could play in quite well with what we are ultimately driving towards i.e. a best practice recommendation in terms of integrating the 2 technologies. This post will be focused exclusively on the content management feature set of SharePoint as this is the area of integration that is provided out of the box in CRM 2011.

The way in which documentation is typically stored and classified on a File Server is by employing the use of folders. You physically stored different types of documentation in different folders in order to organize your content. This idea is still very entrenched in the thinking of most end users and is reinforced by the way in which we store content on our personal computers. Using this approach, a particular document is located in a single folder on a File Server.

SharePoint introduces the concepts of content types and metadata for tagging content. Using this approach, instead of storing content to a particular folder, you instead "tag" it to have certain defined characteristics when saving the document. The tags allow the document to be organized in different ways and the navigation can also vary depending on how the tags are grouped. By way of example, this is very similar in concept to how gmail works where instead of assigning an email to a particular folder as is the case with other email systems, you instead assign labels to the email. If 2 labels are assigned to a particular email, it can be navigated to using either of the labels. Another more immediate example is this very post which has been assigned two labels and therefore can be navigated to from each of those labels.

It should be mentioned that although SharePoint also allows the use of folders in the document libraries, it is generally best practice to avoid using them to the extent possible. This is because this feature is “retro” in terms of thinking; it also functions as a crutch to those who are more familiar with the old File Server approach and therefore may lead to bad content management practices. Having said all that, there may be valid reasons to use folders in SharePoint but generally they should be left to store imported or unstructured content.

Therefore, in summary, a much better content management practice is to leverage SharePoint content types and metadata for tagging content. Document tagging is a building block of SharePoint and can subsequently be used for many other SharePoint features such as:

  • Aggregation (for content navigation as described above)
  • Search scopes
  • Audience Targeting
  • Workflow
  • Templates
  • Office integration

All the above features can enable the improvement or elimination of internal inefficiencies within your organization. But that is beyond the scope of this discussion.

Previously we reached two conclusions with regards to the CRM/SharePoint configuration settings:

  1. The Individual Path is a generally favored approach
  2. Selecting too many entities for associating Documentation can lead to confusion and disorganization

Next we will combine the above SharePoint best practice to arrive at what could be considered to be a CRM/SharePoint integration best practice.

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