my world of work and user experiences

July 31, 2014

Invisible documents: a feature or a bug?

Filed under: ECM,Usability — frederique @ 23:56

I see this time and time again. Or actually, I do not see them: invisible documents in SharePoint. Confused users ask why nobody else can see the documents that they have uploaded. So why are their documents invisible to their colleagues, while they can see their own documents just fine?

Usually these documents are invisible for one of two reasons, which have been haunting SharePoint for many years and many versions: the documents have not been checked in, or they are secured more tightly than the contributor thought.

These are features that make documents invisible to keep SharePoint clean and clear. Except that they turn into bugs when the users don’t expect them and either miss important information or start littering SharePoint with redundant copies of invisible documents.

Documents that have not been checked in

It is becoming easier and easier to upload multiple documents at the same time: you can now drag and drop them into the library.

Drag and drop multiple documents into a SharePoint document library

Drag and drop multiple documents into a SharePoint document library

But doing so, you by-pass the required fields that you are forced to fill in before you can save a document that has been uploaded individually. And when the required metadata fields are empty, the document cannot be published. So it remains in a draft state: checked-out. This is of course a feature to protect the integrity of the document collection. But it is perceived as a bug by the users…

This document that has been uploaded and left checked-out is only visible to the user who has uploaded the document. Nobody else can see it in the library, not even the site owner and not even an administrator. The uploader can see that his document is still checked-out: it has a green arrow at the file icon. But that arrow is quite subtle and user do not see it, unless they know about this. In this case, it would be more user-friendly if the system shouted a bit louder that you are the only person who can see the document.

Documents that are checked out can be recognized by their green arrow icon

Documents that are checked out can be recognized by their green arrow icon

For me, a clue that this problem has arisen is when I see in the site content that there are more items in the library than the number I can actually see in the unfiltered views as a site owner or administrator.

Fortunately, the site owner can check in the library settings if there are any invisible documents that have not been checked in: In the ribbon go to Library > Library settings > Permissions and Management: Manage files which have no checked in version.

Here you can see which files have been left checked-out when by whom.
And as a site owner, you can take ownership of these files. For example, when the uploader cannot be contacted and a colleague needs this document, the site owner can check it in to make it visible.


Manage files which have no checked in version

But it is better minimize this invisibility problem, so:

  • Explain to your colleagues that they need to make sure their documents are checked in.
  • If this happens a lot, the site owner may have to change the fields so that they are no longer required. It is bad to have documents that are not tagged with the correct metadata. But it is often worse to have documents that are invisible. It is easier to reprimand contributors who have left fields visibly empty than people who have added invisible documents.

Documents that are not accessible

SharePoint has security trimming: you only see the names of files and other items that you are actually allowed to open and read. Of course this is a great feature, because it would be really unfriendly to let users click on a name only to find out that they are not allowed to open the item.

However, this is perceived as a bug when the users expect their colleagues to have permission to see the document and it turns out they don’t.

As a site owner, you can check if the invisibility users complain about is caused by security. For a specific document you (or the uploader himself) can check who the document is shared with:

Check who the document is shared with.

Check who the document is shared with.

To look at it in more detail, especially if the document is shared with many people: Click Share > Shared With > Advanced. There you can open the group to see who is in there, or click Check permissions to check if a particular user has access to this item.

Check in more detail if a particular user has access to a document is accessible to many people

Check in more detail if a particular user has access to a document is accessible to many people

But it is better minimize this invisibility problem, so keep the security structure as simple and as clear as possible:

  • Avoid using item-level security, because you cannot see easily from the outside who has permissions to do what with the document (you have to click into the item menu to find out) and that increases the risk of mistakes and unexpected invisibility
  • Add people to groups like Visitors and Members rather than giving them read or contribute permission individually. Then it is easy to remove an entire group from a document library called ‘confidential documents’, for example.
  • Give “secret” libraries and sites a name that clearly indicates that not everybody has access to it.

So they are features, but users may perceive them as bugs and the invisible documents as ghosts. But fortunately it is possible to do some ghostbusting and make the documents as visible as they should be.

June 16, 2011

Oops, ECM would have been handy here…

Filed under: ECM — frederique @ 10:20

Sometimes I see things in organizations that make me think “Oops, that was not how it was supposed to go…”.

Enterprises have content, that they should manage properly, so that everyone can find and use it effectively and efficiently and so that their processes run smoothly. In real life however, that is not always the case. Even if the organizations do have some enterprise content management system in place. Having an enterprise content management system is definitely not the same as managing your enterprise content.

The anecdotes below fortunately do not include any serious disasters. But they do represent situations where time and energy were wasted needlessly. Actually managing the enterprise content would have been handy here…

Relevant content cannot be found
Someone in a medium-sized organization tried to find an old proposal for a project she had not been involved in herself, to re-use some relevant information. She was unable to find it by searching the intranet, which included project sites and customer sites, or by browsing the likely sections. This was not caused by the fact that the proposal was confidential or specifically secured; it just could not be found. In the end, she received a copy from a colleague who found it on his own computer. By then, a lot of time had been wasted and only some of the potentially re-usable information had been found. Oops.

And yet, they had a SharePoint platform for collaboration and enterprise content management. But that only works if, firstly, the content is actually entered in the system and tagged properly with metadata. If the enterprise does not put its content in the system, then the seeker won’t find anything. Secondly, the search functionality has to do its job, so that it appears in the search results when the user, who has permission to see the content, searches for these tags.

So: Stop bypassing the system and just upload & tag content to share it. And if the search is broken, fix it, because you need a good search engine.

Spam with multi-megabyte attachments
The marketing department of a large company proudly presented their latest commercial by sending an e-mail to all employees. With a video file of several MB as an attachment. It was great they share this news, and the employees liked to see the nice commercial. But not on in their already overflowing mailboxes. And the IT team managing the infrastructure was not happy with this overload either.

And yet, they had a SharePoint platform for collaboration and enterprise content management. But the habit of sending e-mail to communicate apparently was stronger than common sense.

So: Store, manage and publish this multimedia content in the enterprise content management system , in this case: in a SharePoint site. Then you can draw everybody’s attention to it by way of a news item or an e-mail notification that contains a link to the video. In this way, you not only avoid annoying most employees and crashing the e-mail system, but you also ensure the video can be found afterwards, when the people have deleted their e-mail about the subject.

Documentation required by the auditor is lost
To keep its ISO certification, an organization had to make its documentation for quality, health, safety and environment available to the employees and to the auditor who came in to check this. As they were preparing for a visit from the auditor, they realized that the person who had always managed that documentation was not available anymore and that the documentation was equally unavailable, as it was stored on his personal computer. And maybe as a print-out somewhere, but where? Major oops…

And yet, they have a SharePoint platform for collaboration and enterprise content management. It just hadn’t occurred to them to use it for their purpose; their mindset was more paper-oriented: documents are printed and stored in some cupboard.

So: Put this documentation in a team site, where all stakeholders can find it and where the documents can be managed officially, with security, versioning and an audit trail. The site is backed-up automatically, so in case of some technical disaster, the documents can still be recovered.

Time-wasting business process
A rather large department of a company was moving to another location. In order to determine which equipment needed to be moved by the facility services team, the department coordinator sent a request form to all employees: an excel sheet, attached to an e-mail. As a result, she ended up with about 70 separate excel sheets, which she then had to merge and process. Pfff…

And yet, they have a SharePoint platform for collaboration and content management. To make matters worse, this was the IT department, which includes the team that manages and promotes the platform. But if the stakeholders do not realize that the platform offers them an easy way to manage and run the process, they keep wasting time in copying and pasting and in trying to keep track of e-mail responses.

So: Next time they want such a large group of people to fill in a request form that needs to be compiled into a complete list, just use a list in one of the many the SharePoint team sites they have at their disposal. Everybody enters their own item, and the coordinator immediately sees the total of what has to be done.

April 29, 2011

State of the ECM industry: We want to reduce our content chaos

Filed under: ECM — Tags: — frederique @ 12:35

In my previous blog post I’ve talked informally about our need to manage enterprise content. Now my colleague Walter Grabner pointed out this AIIM research report that has some interesting quantitative data: State of the ECM Industry 2011 – How well is It meeting business needs? (thanks Walter!).

One of the things that struck me, is that ECM is moving from an ‘administrative’ role into our daily work. ECM used to be all about compliance: records management, archiving records for legal reasons. But now organizations get a new Enterprise Content Management system to improve collaboration and processes. Especially information workers cannot do their jobs efficiently if the organization’s content is in chaos.

Unfortunately many organizations do experience content chaos: 50% of all respondents say their management of instant messages is “chaotic,” 31% for emails and 28% for Office documents. But fortunately organizations that do adopt a full ECM system feel a lot more confident that they can find and trust their information (62% of the organizations that do not have an ECM feel that lack of confidence but only 20% of the organizations that do have ECM).

Management of e-mails and their attachments is worse than that of electronic information in general. Only some of the new social information types – external blog posts, IM and tweets – are more chaotic, but these may not play a role that is important as e-mail yet. Unfortunately few organizations capture e-mail into a shared system and the most common way (39%) of dealing with important e-mails is to archive them in personal Outlook folders, where nobody can find them. Let’s hope these people store their important information in – for example – a SharePoint team site and only use e-mail to invite the stakeholders to read it there.

Maybe this is not just wishful thinking, because SharePoint is actually very popular: 58% of all companies and even 70% of the largest companies use SharePoint. Unfortunately 27% indicate that while they do store valuable content in SharePoint, they do not have policies on what to store and how. So they’re not there yet.

In the report you will find the full set of findings and recommendations.

AIIM graph: Content chaos

How well managed are the following types of information in your organization? (page 7 of the report)

March 31, 2011

Do we need to manage our enterprise content?

Filed under: ECM — frederique @ 22:50

One of the subjects that I touched upon in my exploration of intranet governance is content: information published in – in my case – an intranet environment.

What are we talking about?
In the olden days, when company internet sites were basically on-screen brochures and intranets were digital company handbooks, content was fairly static and clear-cut: somebody published information about the company on the site. And if the information changed, somebody went in to update the page, preferably by simply retyping the text on the spot.

But when your site becomes more important, when it contains more information of more types and its value gets higher, then you need to manage your content more systematically. Within an enterprise, that is Enterprise Content Management: ECM.

I don’t think anyone just sat down to invent Enterprise Content Management for the sake of the content itself. The content on the intranet – or more generically in the enterprise information systems – is there for a reason. And we can only achieve the goals we have in putting the content out there, when we manage the content properly. For example:

  • The HR department publishes a description of the employee benefits, so that all employees can find and consult them without bothering the HR people all the time. Because the employees need to be able to absolutely trust this information, the HR department makes sure that this content is updated whenever anything changes, and the HR department head checks and approves it before it is published.

  • A technical specialist figures out how we could use a new tool to solve some problems. Her colleagues in the field do not have to re-invent the same wheel, so they should see this information, dive into it, comment on it and add to it. Once the dust has settled down, the senior specialists put a stamp of approval on it and it becomes a best practice. Until a better practices comes along.

  • The finance department has records that are uninteresting and even forbidden for ordinary users but that we need to show the auditors, or else we’ll get into legal trouble.

A definition
The Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM , the worldwide association for enterprise content management) defines ECM as follows:
“Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organization’s unstructured information, wherever that information exists.”

Actually, they go on to say that it concerns the complete lifecycle of content, birth to death. So it doesn’t stop at the delivery of the content, but it also includes retention policies and the disposal of content when it has died or is supposed to die.

This definition looks at the content from the perspective of the offer, more than the perpective of the demand. But of course we capture, manage, store, preserve, deliver, retain and dispose of content only because somebody needs to find, consult, use, re-use and be freed of the content.

So that is why we need to manage our enterprise content: We need findable, readable, correct, up-to-date and complete enterprise content to do our jobs and keep our enterprise afloat, so we’d better manage it properly.

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