Records Management Feature: Document Information Panel

Now that we’ve whet your appetites about the 2007 release of Office and SharePoint with Content Types, today’s posting will talk about another feature of importance to records management, and to document management in general – the Document Informational Panel.

The Document Information Panel helps address a major challenge facing organizations: ensuring that documents which eventually may be declared as records are tagged with the appropriate metadata to make them easy to find, discover, and manage over their entire lifecycle.

In today’s organizations, the volume of documents being created & stored is increasing all the time. (As we mentioned in an earlier post, studies have shown that over the next two years, more content will be created than in the entire history of mankind.)  As the amount increases, the ability to identify those documents easily becomes more critical than ever. In Office 2007, the new Document Information Panel feature is used to capture metadata on Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents in in a better and more flexible way: from the moment of their creation.

We’ve heard the feedback from many customers that people who save documents to a document management system are always asked to enter metadata at the wrong time, and it feels very jarring to the save experience. When someone has just finished working on a document, they don’t want to be bothered with filling out metadata – even though providing that metadata is critical to the organization’s ability to find & reuse that content later. The result is that users will often provide the least amount of information possible and will provide incorrect data for required fields. (For example, we’ve seen users just fill in “fdfdfdfd” for text fields, and pick “Afghanistan” as the choice for country fields because it’s the first country in the alphabetized pick-list they choose from).

To address this problem, we introduced the Document Information Panel  (DIP)– a more natural element of the Office application interface for metadata entry. The DIP is a modeless pane that appears above the document that the user is working on.

Below is an example of a DIP in Microsoft Word 2007:

As you can see, the Document Information Panel allows the user to see early on what data they need to provide, from the moment they begin authoring their document. Beyond the placement above the content to facilitate a natural workflow for authoring, it enables the user to reference those values while working on the document.

Additionally, in the 2007 edition of Microsoft Word, the properties in the DIP can be automatically synchronized with the document content itself. This means that users can begin the authoring process simply by entering appropriate metadata, and that as they edit the document content the appropriate information will automatically be captured as document metadata. This can change the end-user metadata experience from “extra work” to something that adds value to their work.

And as the metadata experience improves for end-users, so does the quality of the metadata captured by the organization.  This benefits end-users and knowledge managers in improving their ability to organize and find documents.

And most importantly those benefits accrue to records managers in the 2007 release of Office and SharePoint Server  as well – since having better metadata on records makes it easier to classify those records into the organization’s file plan, and to later discover relevant records more easily. 

In our next “feature introduction” post we’ll take the wraps off of an area of major interest to Records Management – Information Management Policies, which allow records managers to specify what behaviors the system will automatically enforce for each type of content, so that content is appropriately retained, dispositioned, and audited in accordance with regulatory & records management requirements.

Thanks for reading!

Brandon Taylor, Program Manager

Comments (17)

  1. Andrew says:

    Looks good.  You don’t say if the metadata fields can be customised – clearly there will be some ‘auto-captured’ metadata such as author and date created – perhaps that could also be shown, at least optionally.  What does ‘modeless’ mean?  

  2. This looks really good. Makes logical sense. Too bad we can’t have this for email.


  3. Milan says:

    It appears that we still have a problem with users who use the Multiple Document Upload control or WebDav to upload documents. They are not presented with the document information panel and are not required to enter values. What does the team suggest for avoiding these issues?

  4. @ Andrew:

    "Modeless" as used in this post refers to the fact that the Document Information Panel doesn’t require the user to fill in metadata before continuing to work on their document — i.e. it doesn’t put the user into a separate "metadata entry mode" (which is where the term comes from).

    To contrast this, consider the experience when you go to "File –> Properties" in the 2003 versions of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. In these applications you are required to interact with the Properties menu (or at least close it) before you can work on your document again.

    I hope this explanation makes sense. If not, please let me know. 🙂

    Ethan Gur-esh, Program Manager

  5. @ Sharon:

    You’re right that the Document Information Panel isn’t directly available for e-mail.

    However, the general issue of metadata on e-mail records is one that we’ve done some work to enable in the 2007 release — and we’ll be blogging about that in detail in a few weeks (when we start talking about how to declare records), so please stay tuned. 🙂

    Ethan Gur-esh, Program Manager

  6. @ Milan:

    You are correct that the Document Information Panel is targeted to the authoring experience (where users are generally working on one document at a time), not the "bulk upload" scenario (where users are uploading many documents at once, usually as part of the process of migrating records from another repository to their RM system).

    But we’ve built functionality to improve metadata collection on records uploaded in bulk as well — and we’ll be blogging about that topic in a few weeks when we start talking about declaring records.

    Ethan Gur-esh, Program Manager

  7. Phil Ayres says:

    Do you know if the Document Information Panel will be customizable / configurable for saving metadata into non-Sharepoint repositories?

    Is there any way I can use InfoPath (or whatever editor) to use a DB table schema as a basis for my metadata, then save the DIP definition somewhere other than Sharepoint? Then if I do that will the document information be stored purely within the document, or do I need a connection to Sharepoint.

    Any insight you have would be much appreciated.



  8. SJ says:

    I am unable to load files with longer names in to Document library folders which themselves have longer names as I get the following error message "The specified file or folder name is too long. The URL path for all files and folders must be 260 characters or less (and no more than 128 characters for any single file or folder name in the URL). Please type a shorter file or folder name".

    Is there a workaround for this limitation?

  9. @ SJ:

    It’s great to hear that you’re evaluating the Office 2007 system features to see how well they meet your needs. However you should direct these questions to the newsgroups & discussion forums that are part of the Office 2007 Beta program. These forums are specifically intended for providing technical support at the level of detail you’re asking for.

    We’re trying to keep this blog at the level of conceptual / business requirements discussion, rather than being another tech support forum.

    Thanks for understanding,

    – Ethan Gur-esh.

  10. Finally! After much patience on the part of this community, we can now talk about the next big area…

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