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SharePoint Managed Metadata

In a SharePoint world you must have heard quite a bit about managed metadata, taxonomy terms, and term stores and in a lot of ways these concepts are used interchangeably and applied in very different factors. But we are going to take a step back and look at the fundamentals of what leads up to a fully provisioned managed metadata within an organisation.

But before we get into that which we will talk through later in our series, it is important to take a step back and look at some of the concepts involved. So the big question is the term that I see that is been used interchangeably most often is managed metadata and taxonomy.

Let us understand what metadata is. As we think about metadata of a file you have been using it every day whether you realise it or not. For example let us take a file, at the very least you are familiar with concepts such as date created or an author. These are metadata that is applied to any standard Windows file. We use it for search purposes, to find within standard SharePoint or Windows folder structure and that is fairly basic and that is something we rely on use on a day to day basis, but specifically for office documents such as a word document you can have something more specific such as word count or character count.  These are specific metadata that only applies to a word document and you can look at any word document even today.

You can open a Windows explorer, right click a document, go to properties and you will see that there are additional metadata that specific word document such as character count, lines count, word count while that is highly useful information you are unlikely to use it for search purposes or any kind of organisation purpose. Highly unlikely going to use a word document and organise it by the number of words involved. More interestingly enough it is a concept between a traditional file and a word file and how they can be spread apart with specific terms or metadata for word document.

Now let us start to our diving on that concept for a little bit right. How about if we can assign specific tags for our document organisation purposes and this is not assigned to a folder or a document library or any other kind of organisation hierarchical structure.

We are looking at a file on its own and trying to enhance with additional metadata that lives and dies with the file. These tags or these metadata are not applied at a different level. So how about if we can enhance a document with some more meaningful metadata and we can look at it in different ways.

For example let us look at a department or a document category or a security or compliance tag. Now unlike a word count or character count, you can think about different ways of organising your content based on a department that just makes sense and this is where the second concept in SharePoint comes in, that is called term. While metadata is a universal concept that can be applied to document regardless of its association with SharePoint or not.

A term or term store is broadly defined under managed metadata and in terms such as department or category is a term that is defined by yourself and applied practically to an organisation and it is not system generated and I think that is part of the reason why metadata gets its name managed metadata. It is because it is something that you have to tactically manage and it is not generated by the system.

So it is very useful to have something like a department or a category tag and we can start looking at different silos. For example, we could have departments and we could have a finance department or HR or Sales Department and at the very level at the 1st level you are organising any document within the organisation under a silo of a department or department category and that takes us to the second concept “Category”.

Now there is different ways to look at it. For example, a document category can be as simple as a word document. But that is not very useful. Let us think about it more from a business standpoint.

How about a document that is an operation document or a user guide. A user guide is a type of document that multiple departments could have, or it could be something like a sales presentation which might be a little bit more specific to a sales department.

So as we think through, there is multiple ways to organise this information but at this point our focus is trying to define terms that is useful to us. In a compliance term, if you are under regulatory body, you could be slightly useful to mark a document as a HIPAA compliant document or a document that is PCI compliant, which down the line can be used for a variety of different purposes.

But for now, we have at least identified some of the terms that makes sense and then we can think about how terms can be correlated to a document in a collection of terms as I illustrated here. There is departments, list of departments- chances are that you are going to have more than one department and you are going to predefine it and it is highly unlikely that a department term store can change the very often and that takes us to a concept of a term store- the art of finding the term and listing the terms within its own contextual boundary is called a term store.

So I can think about at least a few departments on top of my head and depending on the type of organisation that you may be working with, these department listing are going to look very different. As a consulting organisation our focus is primarily on sales, marketing and product development.

We have an HR department and an IT department, but as an IT organisation, most of our focus area are under product development or consulting services. So the way your organisation structure might be a little but that is okay, this is the part of defining term stores and terms that make sense for you and it is very important that you do it as internally understanding the needs of the organisation versus trying to collect a bunch of predefined terms that for someone else that might work for you.

So at this point, we have identified what is the matter data and matter data is just useful additional piece of information that can be attached to any file. We also learned that it is possible to enhance a piece of file with additional matter data such as for a word document and taking that concept we also learned that we can enhance a document even further by using custom defined terms and more importantly these terms can be organised into buckets called terms stores that can be reused, that way all of the term within a term store have an ID that we have useful for a search purpose.

For example, if we are able to mark all finance documents as finance then that allows us to better find finance documents from a search perspective and you may have seen in some cases how SharePoint search allows you to have refiners on the left hand side, typically grouped as authors or by date created or even document type but as you start thinking about adding additional refiners like a department refiner you can see how it makes a lot more sense.

At this point I want to change the gears a little bit because it looks like the story ends here, we got everything we need. But we have not touched on an important concept called taxonomy. So what is taxonomy and how does that play into this broad structure. Taxonomy is, let us take our terms and term stores, and think about our organisation as a whole. How can we hierarchically organise this information in a meaningful fashion that can be holistically applied throughout our organisation, so that we are not creating silos of term store because that would still make it and it would still be better than having nothing, but if you are not fully utilising all the values we need it to fit in the organisation wide puzzle if you will.

So let us look at that. So I am going to take a step back again and rethink how we did our initial term store. It might have seemed a little straightforward to define departments and categories but there are important considerations that could be done there.

For example let us have a department- departments term store and it is got sales and sales department can have proposals, estimates of services and many others. So this could be considered as document categories for a sales department but we could also think about organisation level categories such as presentation which I will get into a second, why it is a bad idea or you can think about a spreadsheet. But these are just file types and that does not add a whole lot of value right because it would not make much sense to mark in excel document as a spreadsheet because it is understood it is a spreadsheet, especially when we have file types to segregate them.

But what might be more important is having a proposal or a user guide or it is a help document but now you cross the boundary here while terms, generic terms such as presentation or a spreadsheet is not very useful.

A proposal or a user guide or a health documentation document type is somewhat useful but a proposal only makes sense under the context of a sales department, whereas a health documentation only makes sense under the context of a product or a project or some kind of unit of work that is relevant to the piece of information.

So while we can do this at a more global level and call it the document category term store, it might be better located by department- is that the best way? Perhaps for this specific use way.

But now let us take a look at different use case and I am going to call it a security term store. Under security term store, you could have terms such as internal, confidential, or let us say external or we can come with a different terminology for it but we are trying to illustrate is a piece of context stored within your network is either a highly confidential document or is a non-confidential document that is okay to share in the format of an email.

But that is clear indication to a user that ever if they are not the original author of this document, if they are new to the organisation and they do not know the rules and restrictions of not sending a confidential document to outside of your network with this metadata:

  1. They are aware of it and
  2. It can restrict that any document

With a tag called confidential, it cannot be sent outside of the organisation and if you are a regulatory body, this is a compliance security level tag that you need throughout the organisation regardless of the document.

So this is a good candidate for what I am going to call a top level term store. But it does not end there. For a small or medium size organisation we can stop our conversation at department level. But a bigger organisation might have a department, might have business units within the context of a department or divisions or other laterally flexible term stores that can be used to segregate different pieces or different functions of the organisation.

So the art of defining the term stores in general and how that can be linked with each other, organising and shelving pieces of content that is “taxonomy”. So your term by itself is useful. Term store makes it even more so, by reusing terms but organising within one unified structure is the taxonomy of the organisation as it relates to document.

You may have also heard of this concept under different brandings and different brandings and different naming such as information mapping, discovery sections and there is lots of different ways to look at it, but the SharePoint world you define terms, term stores and the taxonomy using the term store management tool and there is different ways to import and adjust accordingly.

But globally we are going to stop our discussion at taxonomy and what that means and you can at least appreciate some of the benefits that is already quickly apparent just from the fact that we are able to assign unique and useful information to pieces of content, but in our full conversation we are going to look at some of the more creative ways to take advantage of it.

More importantly we will also look at more advanced concepts such as labels, synonyms and audience and security by tags and taxonomy that can be applied throughout not just SharePoint. How it can kind of branch out beyond it? How taxonomy and terms and term stores can be either local or take its shape and form throughout the SharePoint form including multiple cycle actions as well as limited to a specific site collection.

That is quite a bit to talk over here. But your takeaway from this section is if you have not thought about metadata and terms or term store or define the tax on your organisation. It is never too late to start thinking down that path and you can always start with a single department or a single use case as you work your way around it and our follow up sessions, we will look at how to take advantage of your taxonomy once defined.

Thank you guys for joining us.