Why and how you should Automate Document Creation in SharePoint

Managing the documents in your SharePoint with precision and care is an essential step in optimizing your intranet. Hence, it will help your organization reach its full potential. Where and how you will store your documents will make all the difference. Different than on your desktop computer, instead of folders you will use Views and Libraries in SharePoint to order your information.

Plan for SharePoint document management

1. Analyze existing documents. Determine document types, properties;
2. Create a flexible and easily extendable Content Type structure;
3. Choose where and how to store documents in SharePoint;
4. Create fields, sites, libraries and lists. Add Content Types;
5. Plan for permissions;
6. Define and automate SharePoint document naming;
7. Unify document templates location;
8. Distribute content to smaller files;
9. SharePoint Document Automation;
10. Optimize views and libraries;
11. Implement Workflows;
12. Findability and Search;
13. Backup & Recovery;
14. Plan retention and SharePoint Content database growth;
15. Have a Migration plan.

In this post I will explain what Views are, how to use and create them and how to get the most out of them. Along the way, I will also share some of my personal experiences and recommendations with you.

Step 10: Optimize Views and Libraries

You probably know that dreadful moment, when you simply can’t seem to find that one file you need right this minute. Locating a specific file can be rather difficult if your SharePoint is hanging together from a lot of different folders. But panic not. This is where views come to your rescue.

Views are the best tool when it comes to quickly locating files in SharePoint. They leave you without the clutter that a mass of folders would make for. (This is why it is imperative that you be careful when creating new folders, and I will get into this a bit later on in this post).

So why should you be turning to views now? They will enable you to use filters and styles to organize and show the information already available in your lists and libraries. And you know what? Even without you knowing there is always a view activated in your list or library. The automatic standard view selected is "all items". Even if you didn’t know, you have definitely seen this one before.

Now, let’s see how you can use views to improve your existing SharePoint intranet – and actually, make your intranet a better place to be.

Different types of Views

SharePoint View Types

There are only four on-the-fly view types in SharePoint. However, you can build your own View, using one of the on-the-fly views as a basis. In this way, you have the option to create almost anything.

Now, let’s take a quick look at the different types of on-the-fly views, and what each of their individual advantages is.

Standard View

The Standard View is… well, it is standard. This means it is simple and straightforward. When you create a list or library, this is the view you will see. More specifically: the standard view shows you all information available in a list in the form of a static Excel table.

You can select different styles for your Standard View. Each style makes your view look different. It is worth experimenting with these and finding one that suits you best.

Calendar View

A Calendar View is exactly what you would think it would be. It puts all the information in your list in a calendar format. Furthermore, you have the option to select if you want your calendar view to a week, a month, a day, or whatever timeframe you come up with.

Datasheet View

Similar to the Standard View, the Datasheet View looks like an excel sheet. The big difference, and advantage is that you can bulk edit your data in this view. This feature is bound to save you time, so go ahead and make note of it.

Gantt View

A Gantt View is not so different from a calendar. Both are based on dates. The Gantt View, however, is a little more advanced and will show you the progress of different elements in time. The Gantt View is a handy tool that gives you a quick overview of the progress on a project.

How to modify a View

Modifying an existing view is simple. Click “Modify View” to start. The settings you configured when you created the view will appear and you will be able to change them.

Note: You would only modify a view if you, or any co-workers, will not need in its exact current form again. Because you are going to alter it, the original settings will disappear. If you will still need this view in the future in the exact same way it is now, rather than changing it each time, you should create an entirely new view. Let’s have a quick look at how to do this.

How to create a View

You’ll find the option to create a new view right next to “Modify View”. Now you will have to select one of the view types listed above. There are loads of different settings to choose from. If you can imagine a view, you can build it.

Here is a short step by step guide in which I create a new view. Here I created a new view to give order to my company’s invoices by year and month. I am doing this so it will be really easy later on to let SharePoint create Sales Reports for me automatically!

Creating a View from scratch

1. Go to the list where you store the information you need. For me it is invoices.

2. Now click on the little dots to open a drop down menu, and select Create View. The configuration menu for creating a new view will now open.

SharePoint Create View

3. Choose your view type. In this case, Standard View works best for my purposes.

SharePoint Choose View Type

4. Select a name for your new view.

5. Select those columns you want to be displayed by checking the right boxes.

SharePoint View Columns

6. Since I want this view to group my invoices‘ information by Month and Year I will have to set it accordingly. Scroll down. In the Group By menu, select First group by the column Month; and for Then group by the column Year.

SharePoint View Groups

7. Once I‘ve made sure I set my view accordingly, I can press OK to save it.

That was easy, wasn‘t it? To tell you the truth, creating a view was one of the first things I learned to do in SharePoint. I was amazed by the intuitiveness of it all.

What are the best practices for SharePoint Views?

One of the biggest problems in SharePoint architecting – everyone will tell you this - is users creating too many folders inside libraries. It would be much better for the speed and searchability if views were created instead. So why are folders so bad?

When you create a folder, it becomes its own list of items or documents. The problem here, is that when you create a filter in your library to see, for example, all the documents created in 2016, the filter will skip everything inside of the folders.

There is a quite simple rule of thumb to avoid this problem. Every time you create a new folder in a list or library ask yourself if it won’t affect your searches after.

Not convinced yet, and still want to use folders? Here are some more reasons not to:

Changing folder structures takes time, changing metadata is easy.

Moving a folder means the whole URL changes – this is how people on your team won’t find the document again.

Folders increase URL length, which breaks when it pops above around 260 characters.

It makes the sorting and filtering of your documents a difficult, if not impossible, task.

Navigation will become a big problem. At one point you won’t know anymore how you got to this folder, let alone how to make your way back!

These are only a few of the reasons. I could (and would love to) give you many more, but this post should not turn into a rant against documents.

Now that we’ve covered SharePoint Views, we can move on to Libraries. I will give this part of the post a similar treatment as the first part.

What is a SharePoint Library?

The first thing to know when using SharePoint is that you will always be working inside either a list or a library. To understand what a Library is exactly, you should understand the difference between the two.

Firstly, a List is simply a table of contents. Not much different from the one you would create in Excel. However, in SharePoint, you have more control on the different columns you build.

Secondly, a Library is almost the same thing. But there is one big difference. Instead of just a list of elements in the table, you will find all of the documents you downloaded in SharePoint. This can be PDFs, PowerPoint, Word Documents, etc.

Now, let’s move on to the best practices for your SharePoint Libraries, before wrapping up this post.

What are the best practices for SharePoint Libraries?

All of the guidelines I mentioned before for managing Views apply to your SharePoint Libraries as well. Again, I want to state that using metadata is a good alternative to using folders. A lot of different folders will make it increasingly difficult to navigate your SharePoint.

1. When creating a new Library, go for a short, descriptive name. It would be good to give it a name as short as one word because the name you give it now will also be the URL of your Library. You can always edit the name later. The URL would then remain the simple form you’d given it earlier! This will also keep the URL from having the symbol [%20] whenever space is used.

2. Make sure there is Ownership. In this way, you now that only designated users can access and/or edit the files inside of the Library.

3. Limit each Library View to a 1.000 documents max. This will help the page load a whole lot faster, trust me.

4. You should enable Versioning and History when you are working with your Libraries. This will activate the check-in/check-out capability of SharePoint. An extremely handy tool for when you are working on collaborative projects.

Concluding

All and all, the use of SharePoint Views and Libraries should be pretty straightforward. It is safe to say that creating Views and Libraries is one of the simplest tasks in SharePoint. And really, when you start implementing the advice I’ve given in this post you should see a definite boost of speed and usability in your new or existing SharePoint intranet.

To wrap up this post, let me press you on this small but crucial matter one last time: do not overuse folders. They will come back to haunt you. Metadata should be your go-to building block.

If you have any questions or manage your SharePoint differently from the way I described above and want to give me some advice, then let us know in the comment section and we will make sure to respond.


EnovaPoint Team Andrew Lizunovas
EnovaPoint

 

SharePoint Document Automation