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December 6, 2013

Challenges and gains from doing Information Architecture in SharePoint

by Anders B. Skjønaa (SharePointPeople.dk)

In discussions of SharePoint Governance, there is no way around talking about design. Not only the infrastructure – this is of relevance – but a more important discussion is Information Architecture – or IA.

To start with, we need to have a common understanding of what Information Architecture is all about across the project team. IA can be defined as “The structural design of shared information environments” (Source: Wikipedia). But in different disciplines there are often different definitions.

When working with a specific technology for managing and sharing information, there are probably specific areas that you need to address in IA. Information Architects often use a concept and a model for architecting the structure of information in a system, but with standard systems like SharePoint, a lot of these decisions have been made for us. So when getting to the part, where we must label information in SharePoint for better usability and findability, the platform comes with tools and concepts that we must use.SPIA

Must use? This sound like a bit of a straitjacket, and it is. If you are not experienced with the concepts used to structure information in SharePoint, you will feel probably this as a pretty painful process. And even if you are experienced, you are likely to run into limitations in the technology, that forces you to make specific design decisions. So, a reasonable question to ask would be; if SharePoint is a good tool for managing content at all?

The answer is – absolutely yes! Experiencing limitations are common – almost given – for any standard software platform. The entire purpose of having a standard platform is that we do not have to make every detailed decision on our own. SharePoint – as a content management platform – is one of the most widely adopted technologies, in terms of usage scenarios. It’s capabilities to provide structured document management, records management, web content management and social collaboration, is pretty unique. And the value of being able to do all these things on a common IA foundation can generate huge value to businesses.

Imagine having to define a complete model for structuring documents and information of all sorts, across your company. The task seems impossible and making the business case is an uphill battle. Even though providing this global IA is not entirely, what SharePoint does for you, many companies are in fact using SharePoint as the host for the majority of documents and collaborative information.  This means, that they can implement common labeling across documents and data, relevant to the navigation of information stores and applications, searching across multiple sources and apply a common set of information policies. The straitjacket has turned into a value adding toolset.

Information Architecture work in SharePoint, involves competences from several roles; technical architects, information architects, business decision makers, process owners and more. You should make IA a collaborative effort to address all relevant requirements and opportunities and make your shiny new SharePoint platform manageable and scalable, as well as “adoptional“.

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