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Are document sets the Holy Grail?


In real life, we hardly ever work on one document and one document only. There are always references, e-mails, reviews and many other document types that support our main deliverable. One of the limitations in SharePoint that I keep on running into is the requirement to be able to keep multiple documents together or perform actions on multiple documents as one. Sure, you can come up with ways to do this, views, reference number metadata, zip file or a folder, but it always seems somewhat of a work-around. We still need to start workflows and add metadata per individual item.

We all love or hate the use of folders and they still have things going for them as you can read about in my article about folders. Since SharePoint 2010 we can see that some of the folders have been going to the gym and definitely used some steroids; enter Document Sets.

So what makes them beefed up folders? Well in a sense they are a container to store documents in just as folders but with some unique properties. Document Sets have

Document sets can contain metadata of their own. You can use site columns and / or projected columns to show information about the document set. The amazing thing here is that the metadata can be shared with items in the document set, in addition to individual document metadata if required.

Landing pages
This is great! It means that when you click on a document set in the library, you are brought to a dedicated landing page just for this document set.
The landing page can include its own welcome image or even video, multiple web parts and views specifically orientated for the document set you are looking at.

You could for example create a task list with the main deliverables. The document set is the working area that contains all the documents. You could show a particular (graphical) view of the task progress in the document set itself. The changes on the task (or custom list entries, like dates, progress, etc) can be centrally managed and will be reflected in the decentralised document set homepages.

Of course just as in folders the documents in document sets can be versioned, but document sets can be versioned as well. That’s right! You can create a new version of a complete document set, including all the documents within.

Of course you can run workflows on a Document Set (or an individual document within the set). Sending a bunch of files for review at once, anyone?!

Provisioning of default content
Yes! You can now provision multiple template documents when a new document set is created.

The latter is probably my favourite functionality as many clients use a default set of documents that are used as a package. By utilising this feature, a package can be created with one click and it will automatically provision all the template documents that need to be filled in in order to complete the package.

As listed before, the metadata can be propagated from the document set directly to the document metadata. If you set-up your templates in such a way to consume the metadata that is linked to the document, the templates can already be  pre-populated.

Remember! This is just a single click away for the end user. Imagine the time savings for many business processes.

Before we get too excited, there is a slight limitation. If you are considering hierarchies as you can create with folders than document sets may not be your friend. However you can do the following:

  • Folders in folders
  • Folders in Document sets
  • Document sets in folders
  • But you can’t do document sets in document sets.

In conclusion; do you think document sets are the holy grail? They sure have some great features and definitely a purpose within the collaboration space.

Get in touch with us if you are interested in discussing the opportunities.

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