May 23 2007

Improve Electronic Document Management

Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 is free, but it could make collaborating more complex.


Photo: Richard Robinson
A document management system comes in handy in case of an audit, says Member One Federal Credit Union IT Specialist Tonya McEnheimer.

Most businesses work with more documents than ever, and managing them all is often a costly and complex process.


“There is a demand within our credit union for document management,” says Tonya McEnheimer, information technology specialist at Member One Federal Credit Union in Roanoke, Va. “Paper is challenging. We do not have enough space for it, and it would be a big help to have a document management system, so that we could retain data and documents and retrieve them immediately if we were audited or if a member needed a document.”

Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 is a free Web-based application from Microsoft for Windows Server 2003 that provides collaboration, workflow, document management and security features through a Web browser or via direct integration with Microsoft Office XP 2007. WSS allows users to create virtual work spaces for individual projects that can be used, among other things, to store and manage related documents. Document work spaces contain a default document library, called Shared Documents. Each document library can have individual settings that control functions, such as document versioning and security.

But while it is free, WSS is resource intensive and requires a server with a minimum of 1 gigabyte of random access memory. WSS introduces an extra level of complexity, especially having to maintain a database, which will require extra work from the IT department.

This product is a good fit for organizations, such as Member One. “We run a financial platform to process transactions with its set of rules, and Microsoft for just about everything else,” says McEnheimer. “We keep one drive open for end users and use it for storing documents, and we restore those documents from tape backups.”

WSS includes document versioning, approval, document check in/out and control on copying and distributing documents. Here are the basic steps for developing a secure WSS environment:

1) Creating a Document Management Work Space

Once WSS has been installed, the first task is to log onto the default top-level Team Site (using the account that you used to install WSS, which is the first default WSS user) and create a document work space (essentially a sub-site of Team Site) for a new project: Project X. The top-level Team Site will be opened automatically once the configuration wizard has completed. You can browse to the site anytime by simply typing http://<<yourservername>> into a browser window. It is also necessary to add this site to the list of Trusted Sites under the security tab in the Internet Options control panel applet if you are browsing the site from the server.

From the Team Site home page, click Site Actions, and select Create. Under Web Pages, select Sites and Work Spaces. In the New SharePoint Site window, you will be able to configure various options for the new work space. Give it a title (Project X) and URL (projectx). Select Document work space as the template.

2) Configuring Security

There are two options for configuring security on the new work space. In a simple environment, it is likely that you will have one top-level site with several work spaces. Let’s assume that each work space will have access restricted to a specific group of users. In this scenario, it is best to select Use unique permissions. Leave the navigation options as default, and press Create.

One of the biggest advantages of using WSS to manage document security is that it allows trusted users to control access to document libraries, or individual documents, rather than relying on the IT department to configure access control lists on files and folders. Transferring this responsibility should be made with careful consideration, however.

The Set Up Groups for this Site window allows you to set up three basic groups for controlling user access. Visitors are allowed to view documents, members may create new and edit existing documents, and owners have full control over the work space. It is possible to configure granular security down to individual documents, but the simpler you can keep things, the better. To start with, these three basic groups should suffice. By default, a new group unique to the new work space will be created for members and owners. To configure a unique group for visitors to the Project X work space, rather than allow visitors who are granted view permission to the top-level Team Site to view content in the Project X work space, simply select Create a new group, and a default name will be assigned. Press OK.

Let’s add a user to the Project X Members group. From the Project X home page, select Add new user where it says Groups. In the Users/Groups box, you can add a user to a specified group by entering the user’s name in the following format: <domain name>\user. Press the Check names icon under the box, and your entry should be underlined if it can be matched. Make sure Add users to a SharePoint Group is selected under Give permissions, and select Project X Visitors [Read] from the menu. Press OK.

It may be necessary to access your work space through its unique URL rather than via the top-level Team Site, for instance, http://<<servername>>/projectx. It will depend on the account you are using to access the site and whether it has access to the top level.

3) Configuring Document Versioning, Check I/O and Approval

From the Project X home page, click the default Shared Documents library, and then Settings > Document Library Settings. Under General Settings, select Versioning settings. Configure the settings shown in the table below, and press OK.

Content Approval Yes
Document Version History Create Major and Minor Versions
Require Checkout Yes

Go back to the Project X home page, and select Add a new document under the Shared Documents library. After adding a new document, you will see that it is necessary to check the document in to WSS. You can check it in immediately to allow others to edit it by clicking Check In. You can now edit the document in Word by clicking on the document icon on the Project X home page. If you are using Word 2007, you will notice that it is necessary to check the document out before you can edit it. Simply click on the Check Out button at the top of the screen. You will be notified that you are now working with an offline copy of the document, so you can disconnect from the network and continue working until you’re ready to check the document back in with WSS. The document management pane in Word 2007 gives you the opportunity to check the document back in to WSS when you are ready. Publish a new major version, and press OK.

If you return to the WSS Project X home page and view the document’s history from the drop down menu, you will see there are now two versions of the document: the original draft (version 0.1) and the new major version (version 0.2), which is pending approval. Once the document has been approved, version 0.2 will become version 1.0 automatically. You need to have appropriate rights in order to approve a document, which can be done from the same drop-down menu used to view the document’s history.

4) Working with Document Libraries Offline

If you have Outlook 2007, you can take whole document libraries offline by clicking on the document library from the work space home page (shared documents in this case), and in the Actions menu select Connect to Outlook. You will be presented with a new folder in Outlook that contains a list of documents from the library. You can then edit any document offline, and when you reconnect to the network, simply open the document from Outlook, and you have the option to upload the modified version to WSS.

5) Document Backup and Recovery

Backup of WSS, its database and all other components, is straightforward. From the SharePoint 3.0 Central Administration site, which can be found under administrative tools in the control panel, log on as an administrator, select the Operations tab and then Perform a backup. If you select the top level (Farm), everything required to restore WSS to its present state will be backed up. Continue to Backup Options from where you can choose the type of backup and the file location. There is a command-line tool (stsadm.exe), which can be used to automate various WSS operations including backup.

WSS Version 3 contains a two-stage recycle bin. The Project X work space contains a user recycle bin where items are retained for 30 days if a user deletes a document. There is also a site recycle bin where items that are purged from the user’s recycle bin can be found and restored if necessary by an administrator. This facility should minimize the need to restore documents from backup and further protect critical business data.

But McEnheimer says this feature makes it easier to retrieve documents that users delete by mistake. “A common problem for end users is the mistaken deletion of an important document,” she says. “If the recycle bin has been emptied, the last resource is retrieval from a stored backup, which is very time consuming. WSS gives IT staff a break by allowing quick and easy access to deleted files.”

From the work space (or user) recycle bin, which can be found in the menu on the Project X home page, you can select Site Collection Recycle Bin from the top of the screen. At the Site Collection Recycle Bin, you then need to select Deleted from end user Recycle Bin under Select a View. If you choose to restore a document from the Site Collection Recycle Bin, it will be put back to its original location in the work space.

IT Takeaway
Will Your Users Really Benefit from WSS?
WSS introduces many useful features, but you should consider whether it would benefit your users and whether they will need training to use it. It is not the most intuitive system. Consider the way your users work with documents and how security is managed by the IT department on your file servers. How does this compare with the facilities WSS has to offer?
Consider the Extra Resources and Increased Costs Involved in Hosting WSS
WSS is resource intensive and requires a server with a minimum of 1GB of RAM. WSS introduces an extra level of complexity, which will require extra work from the IT department.
What Is the Difference Between Windows SharePoint Services and SharePoint Portal Server?
SharePoint Portal Server is based on and requires Windows SharePoint Services. It lets large organizations integrate multiple WSS sites and applications into one portal with advanced features, such as search indexing across multiple sites and single sign-on.

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