Managing Unstructured Assets with SharePoint

Unlike structured assets, less structured assets (such as Word documents) usually aren’t stored in databases. They’re often stored on file servers and removable media, such as CDs. Other less structured assets (such as e-mails and blog posts) may be stored in databases, but the information conveyed by the e-mail or blog post isn’t managed.

Instead, the mail server acts like a file server, and the e-mail acts like a file. The problem with files is that they’re hard to manage and control. End users can easily store them on thumb drives and send them as e-mail attachments.

Despite IT’s attempts to control files with policies and backups, files are slippery. Contrary to what IT staff want to believe, less structured information assets are stored in more places than just file servers, such as the following:

  • My Documents folder
  • Favorites folder
  • RSS feed readers
  • Blog sites
  • Web sites
  • Inboxes and other mail folders
  • Filing cabinets
  • Off-site storages

Although repositories for storing structured assets are formal, mature, and of a wide scope, the environment for less structured assets is often more difficult to control.

Although businesses don’t want their employees’ sales presentations to be boring, stuffy, and staid, they do want the environment in which these documents are created to be manageable.

By creating a manageable environment for less structured information, SharePoint confers the following benefits to less structured assets:

  • Structure: SharePoint stores everything in a database. As a result, users can create properties that describe their documents. These properties can be used to better organize documents. Some of the information found in documents is better suited for storage in a database table. Rather than storing the document in SharePoint, users can store the document’s data in the database.
  • Standardization: SharePoint allows you to define the kinds of documents and other information (or content types) stored in the database. When someone attempts to add documents, SharePoint prompts the user for the set of properties associated with that content type. Using content types ensures that the same properties are captured.
  • Share: SharePoint makes the information available in documents accessible to larger numbers of people. Oftentimes, the only way to distribute documents now is with an e-mail attachment.
  • Archive: SharePoint allows you to define policies that determine for how long a document must be archived.
  • Backup and restore: By keeping less structured assets in a common repository, SharePoint makes it possible to back up and restore these assets.
  • Secure: Creating a secure environment means more than just restricting unauthorized access. SharePoint makes it possible to extend those restrictions beyond the managed information environment by preventing unauthorized distribution of assets.
  • Audit: Part and parcel of securing assets is the ability to audit their access. SharePoint makes it possible to monitor the information environment for less structured assets in ways previously not possible.
  • Summarize, analyze, and mine data: By applying properties to less structured assets, SharePoint makes it possible to query and search these assets like structured assets.
  • Legitimize: By bringing in social tools (such as blogging, RSS, Web, and search) inside the information systems environment, SharePoint acknowledges the valuable role these tools play. Organizations don’t operate in a vacuum. SharePoint extends access to the external environment in a controlled and measured way that encourages productive and purposeful uses of these resources.