Sharepoint Content Types

Are You Using Content Types in Microsoft SharePoint?

If you are storing a large number of documents in SharePoint, then I certainly hope the answer is yes. Here’s why.

Content Types allows users to classify their documents as they’re being stored. So instead of having a bunch of documents in a Document Library (just like you might have in a shared drive on a network), I can actually see what each document type is. Some different Content Types that might come in handy for different departments include:

  • HR – Resume, Insurance Form, Medical Form
  • AP – Purchase Order, Vendor Invoice, AP Check
  • Marketing – Plans, Presentations, Surveys
  • Project Management – Plans, Contracts, Change Orders

Content Types allow users to index documents with custom fields. So when I go to search I can find just the documents I need. Here are some examples:

  • HR – Employee ID, Social Security Number, First Name, Last Name
  • AP – PO Number, Vendor Invoice Number, PO Date, Invoice Date, Total
  • Marketing – Customer Name, Project Name
  • Project Management – Project Number, Customer Name, Change Order Number

So if I’m using Word documents, I can also define which custom templates will be displayed when the user selects ‘New’ and chooses that Content Type from the library menu.

I can define Information Management policies for particular content types.

I can define which workflows a content type will use.

And this is one I love. I can create a hierarchy of Content Types so that when I change one, all Content Types across all my sites are updated. For instance, I create an ‘HR – Base’ Content Type that has all of the common columns shared across all of my HR Content Types. Then I create all of my HR Content Types with ‘HR – Base’ as their parent. When I want to add a column to all of my Content Types or change the order of the columns, I simply update the ‘HR – Base’ and voila, as if by magic, all the other HR Content Types are updated.

If I don’t use Content Types then SharePoint can quickly become a pretty chaotic place. Things like sites, documents libraries, and search all help to alleviate the chaos but Content Types give us another level of control that is essential for Enterprise Content Management. In fact, the ECM solutions that we deploy for our customers really aren’t possible without them. I might be able to store marketing, project, or other low volume documents but I really couldn’t consider storing hundreds of thousands of AP, HR, AR, or Student documents without it. So you could say that Content Types are the building block of Enterprise Content Management in SharePoint. If you aren’t using them – it might be time to ask yourself, why not?