Modern SharePoint Document Management System Guide Tutorial

Modern SharePoint Document Management System Guide Tutorial

Did you know that you can set up a document management system in SharePoint?

Well, it’s certainly not a whole feature that’s out-of-the-box in SharePoint — but more like a combination of different features.

In this article, I’ll show you how to create a modern document management system in SharePoint that’s up to date.

Let’s get started.

What is a document management system in SharePoint?

Technically speaking, a document management system is something that enables you to control and track the life cycle of your documents.

There are various third-party software available outside SharePoint (with some of them that allow integration with SharePoint).

However, there is actually a way that you can create a document management system right inside SharePoint based on metadata.

The supposed flow of this system is like this:

  • A user uploads a document to the library.
  • That person can then tag the documents according to their document type.
  • Others can then search for that document using keywords and tags.

Unfortunately, like I wrote in the introduction, there really isn’t a ready-for-deployment feature in SharePoint for this use case.

That means you need to assemble the different features and make them work together flawlessly — though doing it is actually simpler than it sounds.

No need to worry about anything though since I can assure you that even if you’re new to SharePoint, you can still follow my instructions.

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    How to create a SharePoint document management system

    Many of the features that I will discuss below are already ones that I covered in previous articles. I’ll be sure to link to them if you want to read more.

    Let’s get started with the first step:

    Step 1: Plan how you will organize your documents

    Using a document management system is no excuse to unnecessarily dump all your documents into one library and hope for the best.

    The truth is — if you want this to work, then you need to focus on documents that are related and don’t vary in terms of permissions or security.

    The most perfect example of this is financial documents such as:

    • Invoices
    • Estimates
    • Receipts
    • Purchase Orders
    • Quotes

    If you have other types of documents like legal or client documents, create a separate document library for each and follow the same steps.

    What’s important here is to remember that users will access the document library, so make sure that it’s okay for those persons to see the files in the library.

    Step 2: Define the categories and metadata of your documents

    The next step is to plot out the categories and metadata of the documents that will be uploaded to the document library.

    For example, in this article, I will focus on three types of documents:

    • Invoices
    • Estimates
    • Receipts

    Here are the metadata I want to include in these documents:

    • Invoices
      • Invoice Number
      • Client
      • Invoice Date
      • Total Amount
    • Estimates
      • Client
      • Completion Date
      • Total Cost
    • Receipts
      • Vendor
      • Receipt Date
      • Receipt Description

    Once you mapped out the metadata you want to include, you need to know the type of column you will use for each.

    For example:

    • Date column for all dates
    • Number column for invoice number
    • Choice column for client and vendor
    • Currency column for the total amount and total cost
    • Single line of text column for description

    No need to sweat this one, though it’s important that you define them beforehand so you will be able to create the columns faster.

    Step 3: Create the metadata columns for your documents

    The next step is to bring those metadata columns to life.

    Now, there are two types of creating a column:

    1. Site level (higher)
    2. Library (or list) level (more granular)

    In most of my guides, like when I explained what a SharePoint list is, the usual type I mention is creating a column in the library or list level.

    Although you can still create a column at the library level, I recommend that you do it at the site level so you can reuse the columns in other sites and libraries.

    For example, you may create another document library where you will use the same metadata columns (this way, you don’t need to create another column).

    To create a metadata column at the site level, follow these steps:

    • Navigate to your SharePoint site
    • Click the gear icon in the upper-right corner
    • Select “Site information” from the settings
    Click on the gear icon and select site information

    On the next panel, click the “View all site settings” link:

    Click on the view all site settings link to proceed

    On the site settings page:

    • Find the settings for web designer galleries
    • Click the “Site columns” link from there
    How to change the settings of the site columns

    Click the “Create” button near the upper-left corner of the page:

    The create link can be found on the upper part of the page

    On the next page:

    • Complete the required information (like name and column type)
    • Indicate where you want to save the new column
    • Click the “OK” button at the bottom

    When choosing a location where to save the new column, I recommend creating a new group so you will have an easier time finding the columns you will need later on.

    Complete the required information for the new site column

    There are also other settings near the bottom like requiring the column to contain information, default value, etc.

    Since different columns will have different custom settings, make sure to configure them according to what your organization needs.

    From here, all you need to do is repeat the steps and create a new column for each metadata you indicated earlier.

    Step 4: Create the content types for your documents

    Now that the metadata columns are created, it’s time that you add them to a “content type”.

    Basically, a content type is a collection of metadata columns or metadata properties that you can use throughout the site.

    Note: For more information on content types, check out my beginner’s guide to content types in SharePoint Online.

    Follow the steps below on how to create content types:

    • Navigate back to the site settings page
    • Click the “Site content types” option
    Find and click the site content types link

    You will then arrive at the content type gallery where you can create and manage content types available on the site.

    Click the “Create content type” button to proceed:

    Click on the create content type button

    When you click the create button, a panel will slide in from the right side. This is where you can define the content type.

    Let’s take this part a little slow here:

    • Enter the name of the content type
    • Leave the category as it is
    • Choose “Document Content Types” in the parent category
    • Select “Document” in the content type field
    • Click the “Create” button once you’re done

    The parent category and content type fields basically tell the system that the custom type is for managing documents in a library.

    Fill out the required details for the new content type

    On the next page, you will see more details about the content type you just created. This is also where you can add site columns.

    Follow these steps:

    • Click the “Add site column” button
    • Select the “Add from existing site columns” option
    Add from existing site columns to the new content type

    Remember the metadata columns you created earlier? It’s now time to add them to the content types you created.

    Follow these steps:

    • Filter the site columns to find your columns
    • Select a column to add (check step #2)
    • Click the right angle bracket
    • Do it for all the columns to add
    • Click the “Save” button at the bottom
    Add all the related metadata columns to the new content type

    Right after that, the site columns section will refresh and will now show all the recently added metadata columns.

    Repeat the steps earlier for all the content types (for example, adding the estimate and receipt content types and their respective columns).

    Step 5: Create the document library with content type management

    The next step now is to create a document library where you can manage all the documents with the metadata you prepared.

    Note: You can actually skip this first part due to recent updates. However, I recommend that you go through it to know where to find the setting for this.

    Follow these steps:

    • Navigate to the site where you want to create the library
    • Click the “New” button in the command bar
    • Select the “Document library” option from the list
    Click on new and then document library to create a new one

    After creating the document library, there are things you need to set up first to enable the document management system.

    The first one is enabling the management of content types:

    • Make sure you’re inside the new document library
    • Click the gear icon on the upper-right corner of the page
    • Select the “Library settings” option from the list
    Navigate to the library settings from the settings icon

    On the next page, you will see all the settings that you can manage for that document library.

    Click the “Advanced settings” link under general settings:

    Find the advanced settings link under general settings

    On the advanced settings page:

    • Find the “Content Types” setting
    • Click the “Yes” button for that setting
    • Click the “OK” button at the bottom of the page
    Allow management of content types in the new document library

    Note: Recent updates enable you to automatically add a content type to the document library without manually allowing content type management.

    However, keep this as a practice so you will know at least where the legacy settings can be found in case another update comes in the future.

    While you’re on the advanced settings page:

    You may want to disable the “New Folder” feature to avoid having users incorrectly or accidentally create a new folder in the document library:

    • Scroll near the middle
    • Find the “Folders” setting
    • Change the option to “No
    • Click the “OK” button once again
    Do not make new folder command available in the library

    Step 6: Add the custom content types to the document library

    Earlier in step #5, I indicated that recent updates in SharePoint made it “unnecessary” to manually enable content type management.

    That’s because you can now readily add existing content types to the document library:

    • Navigate back to the front of the library
    • Click the “Add column” button in the document library
    • Select the “Content type” option on the bottom
    Click the content type option when adding a new column

    From the panel on the right:

    • Open the content type dropdown
    • Select all the content types to add to the library
    • Click the “Apply” button at the bottom
    Select and apply all content types to add to the document library

    The system will then notify you that the content types are now added to the document library.

    At this point, you may not actually see any difference in the document library — not until you upload a document.

    But before that, it will be worth it to delete the default content type in the library:

    • Navigate back to the library settings page
    • Click the “Document” content type
    Select the document content type to configure its settings

    On the next page, click the “Delete this content type” link:

    This button will readily delete the content type from the library

    Another thing to do is to hide the title column in all content types since you don’t need it anymore (the name column will suffice).

    Here are the steps:

    • Navigate back to the library settings
    • Select a content type to start with
    Select the estimate content type to configure its settings

    On the bottom, you will see all the columns in the content type, including the default title column that’s present in all content types.

    Click its name first to configure it:

    Click the title name to configure its settings

    On the next page:

    • Select the “Hidden” option in the settings
    • Click the “OK” button
    Set the column to hidden so it won't appear in forms

    Do the same to all the content types you have in the document library.

    Now, when you upload a document, you will be able to tag it with the appropriate metadata in the information panel:

    Properties for new uploads in the document library

    Step 7: Add a metadata navigation feature to the document library

    The modern experience comes with filtering and viewing options by default.

    However, there is one feature that is strangely deactivated by default that will allow you to filter the library with metadata.

    Note: This step is not really necessary. But this will put a nice touch on the library and make it easy to use for your users.

    Follow these steps:

    • Navigate to the site settings page (check step #1)
    • Find and click “Manage site features” on site actions
    Click on the manage site features option under site actions

    On the next page:

    • Find the “Metadata Navigation and Filter” setting
    • Click the “Activate” button to enable it
    Activate the metadata navigation and filtering feature

    Now that the metadata navigation and filter feature is activated:

    • Navigate back to the library settings page (check step #5)
    • Click the newly added “Metadata navigation settings” option
    Find the newly added metadata navigation settings and select it

    On the next page:

    • Configure the hierarchy fields and key filter fields
    • Click the “OK” button to finish up
    Select the hierarchy fields and key filter fields to use

    When you go back to the document library and enable the filter panel, you will now see filtering options for specific metadata:

    Seeing the metadata navigation and filtering options

    Nice! Even if you have thousands of documents here, you will be able to find specific ones according to metadata.

    Using a SharePoint Document Management System

    As you can see, you can create a document management system in SharePoint using the system’s in-built features.

    Through it, you will be able to track and manage the documents and even continue customizing them according to your organization’s needs.

    By the way, were you confused anywhere in the article? Share your questions or thoughts in the comment section.

    For inquiries and other concerns, please use the site’s contact form and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

    About Ryan Clark

    As the Principal Solutions Architect at Mr. SharePoint, I help companies of all sizes better leverage Modern Workplace and Digital Process Automation investments. I am also a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for Office Apps & Services.

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