The (Hidden) Power of SharePoint Content Types

During my 4+ years working at Microsoft I have had the privilege to work with many of the largest SharePoint enterprise customers based in the Northeast. One of the consistent topics that we end up discussing is SharePoint content types. One of the interesting observations is that so many customers have not yet realized the full power of content types and how they can help enforce consistent policies, templates and metadata while also helping end users to realize the business value of using SharePoint and further driving adoption. I have also been discussing how content types can help with governance by applying retention policies consistently.

Here are a few key concepts that my customers and I often end up discussing:

  1. Metadata and attributes – Making sure that documents of the same type (e.g. sales proposals) have the same attributes (e.g. customer name, deal size) associated with them. 2 additional techniques that I also see people leveraging is reusable site columns and the managed metadata service to drive broader consistency and reuse of these attributes.
  2. Core (base) content types and inheritance – The concept that, just like with object oriented development design patterns, you can implement content types that build upon each other to make the management of content types easier and reusable. For example, if every document within your company has the same attributes (e.g. confidentiality level) then you would create your own company base content types that other content types would then inherit and be derived from.
  3. Retention and audit policies – Information management policies can be enabled to have different rules for how long you retain content and what events get audited (e.g. viewing or editing items). For example, you could apply a retention policy for any sales proposals created to only keep all versions of the document for the first year after the document is created and to only keep the most recent published version after 3 years.
  4. Templates – You can specify that whenever some clicks the “new” menu item within a document library that the content type is displayed and automatically creates a new instance of a document based on a specific document template. This is very helpful for ensuring consistency of documents such as sales proposals and others where the goal is to have a consistent format, look and feel.
  5. Workflow – Reusable workflow associations enable you to have a consistent process applied to content types. One example was a customer that wanted to have blogs reviewed before they were posted. To accomplish this they created a reusable approval workflow and associated it with the base blog item content type.
  6. Document sets – Document sets are a special content type that lets you work with a group of related documents. In our sales proposal example, perhaps whenever a new document set is created for a sales proposal the correct Word document, PowerPoint presentation and Excel spreadsheet can be automatically created. Then the document set can be routed via workflow for approval as a single unit as opposed to individual documents.
  7. Search and filtering – There are many ways that attributes and content types can be used to find content. One of the ways that customers often leverage this is using the Content Query Web Part (CQWP) to get a filtered rolled up list of items based on a specific content type within a given site collection.
  8. Office integration and document information panel – You can specify that the document information panel always be shown by default in Office clients for certain content types. This helps to provide easy access to view and modify required and optional document attributes.
  9. Replication across site collections and farms – One of the challenges prior to SharePoint 2010 was having enterprise content types that could be leveraged across multiple SharePoint site collections or farms. The content type hub (as part of the managed metadata service) allows you to replicate content types across site collections and farms- with a few caveats that need to be considered, such as if you have a workflow associated to the content type.
  10. Content organizer – The content organizer feature within SharePoint 2010 is helpful for routing documents to specific folders or libraries from a central “drop off” library where content organizer rules can look at the content types and metadata and route documents appropriately.

Here are some of the key resources that I often point customers to as they get started with leveraging content types:

  1. Content type and workflow planning -
  2. Identify users and analyze document usage -
  3. Content type planning worksheet -
Comments (4)

  1. Hemendra Agrawal says:

    Very useful information

  2. Monal Shah says:

    Very good summary of how different SharePoint features can be leveraged for a coherent document management strategy.

  3. Raj Natarajan says:

    Excellent information. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Ravi says:

    Excellent information helps a lot, Thanks for sharing.

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