Recently I was having a discussion about SharePoint with a fellow IT colleague.  They expressed their opinion that SharePoint was just a big black hole where documents go to die.  Ouch.  So a quick post to discuss what SharePoint can be and why it is important to do a little investigation and pre-planning before just setting up a “content document store”.  Or, if you’ve already got a mess on your hands an effective way to dig yourself out.

SharePoint 2010 is far more “social” than the previous versions.  SharePoint 2010 relies not only on the structured design of site hierarchy and information architecture, but also relies heavily on the collective contributions of the user community (tagging and metadata). Whether ranking content that they like, creating content, or tagging content with their own taxonomy, users have the opportunity to improve the organization’s ability to deliver and share knowledge and best practices.  Because of this social component, if you don’t start with good Information Architecture principles, you will end up with chaos and the perception that SharePoint is a big sucking black hole.

The goal of information architecture is to create a system that helps users collect, store, retrieve, and use the information that is needed for the business. A Web site’s information architecture determines how the information in that site — its Web pages, documents, lists, and data — is organized and presented to the site’s users.

SharePoint has become both flat and social, an effective governance plan is critical if you want to build effective solutions on this platform. Without clearly defining an IA, you risk the following for your enterprise:

  • Inconsistent use of metadata that can make it difficult to search for and compare related data or content.
  • Poorly designed and managed storage of content that can result in multiple versions of documents with no way to identify the authoritative version.
  • Poorly catalogued and managed storage of data that can cause decision-makers to find and rely on the wrong data.
  • Poorly designed navigation or poorly presented information that can make it difficult to find important sites and information.

For those of you just getting started, here are some basic steps, the order and time of each step will vary based on your own needs and company culture:

  1. Identify a company wide team.
  2. Start with framing decisions.
  3. Determine your deployment model.
  4. Define a clear vision.
  5. Identify roles and responsibilities.
  6. Develop guiding principles.
  7. Decide your organizational comfort level with social computing.
  8. Define policies and standards.
  9. Document the plan.
  10. Socialize and promote.

The governance team

Governance of the information architecture requires the participation of all groups that have a stake in its success. A governance team should include the following primary members:

  • Information architects: You need a guiding influence, someone who understands classifying information and the impacts of decisions.
  • Influential information workers: Day to day operations need input into the usability of the system.  If the line doesn’t understand it they won’t use it.
  • IT technical specialists and IT managers: Important because somebody has to be able to implement and maintain this thing.
  • Business division leaders: Because the ultimate purpose of information architecture is to meet the needs of the business, it is essential that representatives of the enterprise’s business units have a primary role in this governance team.  After all, they are the end users after everything is said and done.  If the division leaders don’t champion the cause, neither will the worker bees.
  • Executive stakeholders: The executive stakeholder is a key participant in the governance team. Although this person may not attend all sessions of the governance team, inclusion of this role is essential so that the governance team is kept accountable to its mission. Furthermore, the executive sponsor helps to ensure that benchmarks are used that help mark the progress of the ongoing effort of governing information architecture.  Generally, they are also the ones brining the money to the table to fund the initiative in their budget.

The best way to run the information architecture governance team will generally be based on the culture and methodologies of a company. However, here are some general guidelines:

  • Meet regularly and allow enough time, especially in early sessions, to consider issues.
  • Exemplify good information architecture practices in deliberations. For example, you might use a well-designed collaboration site to record deliberations and maintain artifacts.
  • Report to the wider organization (and gather requirements across the organization) by using a Web site and online surveys.
  • Maintain a set of milestones and a shared calendar.
  • Consider piloting information architecture practices in some divisions of the organization and using that experience to incrementally improve the information architecture practices across the wider organization.


More on governance to follow…