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“That’s So Meta.” [How to Improve Document Management]

I bet you’ve used metadata regularly and didn’t even realize it. For example, imagine you’re making winter travel plans ...

Patrick Tucker
Posted by Patrick Tucker
“That’s So Meta.” [How to Improve Document Management]

In today's fast-paced business landscape, staying ahead of the competition requires efficient and effective solutions. According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, nearly 70% of employee report that they don’t have sufficient time in the day to focus on “work”, with more time being spent Communicating than Creating.

Microsoft 365 Copilot is designed, with Microsoft’s cloud trust platform at its core, to allow for employees to both be more productive, reduce the time spent searching for information, performing mundane tasks, and other low-value activities.

I bet you’ve used metadata regularly and didn’t even realize it. For example, imagine you’re making winter travel plans to go skiing. You know your jacket has seen better days, so you decide to hop onto your computer, go to your favorite online retailer, and enter the word “skiing” in the search box.

What results will you get back?

Metadata in Online Shopping

I just entered that keyword and see that over 10,000 results are waiting for me! To get ready for the trip, you may eventually need clothes, equipment, some lip balm, or even a movie about skiing to get you in the mood, but what you need right now is a jacket. Rather than page through 10,000 results 20 items at a time, you will use metadata to filter your search.

Maybe you choose a “department” to limit the results to clothing, a favorite brand, a price range, or a condition (new or used). Any time you use information that “describes” a thing, but is not inherent in that thing, you are using metadata.

Sorting, filtering, and grouping all rely on metadata in the world of online shopping or in the world of SharePoint documents.

Metadata in SharePoint

Metadata in SharePoint consists of “Created, Created By, Modified, and Modified by” out of the box. While these are helpful, they only scratch the surface of good document management and search optimization in SharePoint.

While you can search for documents by keyword, you are missing out if you don’t take the time to plan effective metadata, which can give you extra columns of data to aid in both viewing and searching, and additionally can attach extra functionality, such as retention, disposition, classification, and sensitivity.

Understanding metadata fully takes time. Implementing metadata well takes even more.

Unfortunately, most organizations never fully include metadata in a document management strategy or SharePoint Online implementation. To help you get started down the right path, here is a rundown of the tools and technical options you have to make metadata shine.

Where does metadata surface?

Lists and Libraries:
Custom columns created for each list or library

Document Sets:
Like folders, but with metadata that is shared with all documents inside. Can be changed at the top level to cascade down.

Content Types and Site Columns:
Reusable columns tied to an overall type (which you can create), available across the site collection.

Retention and Sensitivity Labels:
Defined in the Security and Compliance Center. Applicable as “metadata tags” for documents. Can be used to enforce retention policies or tied to information sensitivity settings.

Topic from Viva Topics:
Viva Topics can use AI as a guiding hand to apply a topic to people and content. Helps relieve the frustration of manual metadata tagging.

Inside Office Documents:
If a document has metadata, you can edit those properties inside of Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, etc., or even embed them in the content.

Managed Search Properties:
Helps both the “Search” and the “Highlighted Content” web part be more effective. Classic and PnP modern refinement panels can use these as well.

Teams Files Tab shows Metadata from Library:
Choose a view that filters, groups, or sorts by metadata columns.

Default Labels Per Doc Library:

Default Content Type Per Library:

Where does Metadata come from?

Retention policies

Sensitivity Labels

How people search for things today

Folder structures and file names that may contain metadata

Business processes

How do you add metadata to your data?

Tag each document with the correct metadata as it’s added. SharePoint provides attention views to keep track of what is missed.

Power Automate Solution:
Automatically apply metadata, from adding values to columns to using the Text Analytics API.

Configure Library / Folder Defaults:
Set default values for each folder or library to automatically tag content with as many metadata values as you desire.

Configure Default Labels:
Set a default retention or classification label so that any file dropped into a library automatically inherits the proper characteristics.

Sharegate Spreadsheets:
Use Sharegate migration spreadsheets to automatically apply metadata via a CSV when documents are migrated.

SharePoint Syntex:
Automatically recognize content in documents, extract important information, and apply metadata tags.

Viva Topics:
Use AI and curated topic centers to add a topic to documents throughout your sites.

How do you reuse metadata across the enterprise?

Site Designs / PnP Provisioning
An easy method to define a starting point for consistent metadata but hard to push incremental changes.

Using a Hub to Push Content Types
Create content types and columns on a hub site and automatically push to the associated sites (requires a SharePoint Syntex license).

Content Type Gallery
A rebranded Content Type Hub where you can create content types that get published or republished to multiple sites

Term Store
A place for reusable values to attach to columns; any choice column that you use more than once or in more than one site could be added as a term set.

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