SharePoint – You’re doing it wrong!

Conversations with others always become my best blog posts. Let’s see if this is any different. Last night driving back from CloudShare, just as I polished off an awesome new permalink for mobile app dev. My buddy from Colorado called me. He is an IT pro, specifically specializing in network infrastructure. He works for an IT consulting firm who has many clients. Some that use SharePoint, some that don’t. What he was calling me about was my advice on setting up a SharePoint Farm. It started innocent enough.

Friend: “Should I have a separate SQL server for SharePoint”
Chris: “Yeah”

Friend: “How much memory should I give it”
Chris: “8 GB min”

So on and so on. Being of the “consultant” mind, I eventually worked in the question, “What is this farm for?”. The response “Oh we are going to upload all our documents there”, my response “Dude, no, don’t do that, you’re going to do it wrong!”

It’s a fun experience when I get to “practice what I preach”. What do I preach about? The importance of Information Architecture (IA). There is a reason so many SharePoint deployments fail. It’s not about technology, it’s about poor adoption and planning. This usually points to someone mindfully or not dismissing the role of IA.

Information Architecture is not just how you organize information in SharePoint. It impacts storage, security, adoption, and compliance. It combines site structure, managed meta-data, views, content types, taxonomy and folksonomy into a comprehensive format. This format is specific to your company, and how your knowledge workers interact with their content.

To me planning IA is a blast, to most at surface it seems useless. But it’s one of the things that causes the mot frustration for users every day, no matter what system they use, SharePoint, Share Drives, File Cabinets ( Share Cabinets? ), you name it.

The end-users don’t know what questions to ask, or don’t think about how they work with content. The system admins don’t think about the business case, but very fascinated with the configuration. The net result is a system that is a modern version of the same old problem. When it comes time to complain the end users blame the system admins for not setting it up right, the system admins blame the end-users for not making it clear what they wanted.

Classic problem, right? Then why do we always repeat it? I was not going to let my friend do the same. The conversation lasted 1.5 hours, the net results was a comment from him that made me shed a tear. “I was one of the people who just didn’t care, but now I see why it’s important”.

The why for planning information architecture is:
– Better longevity of the system
– Better search and retrieval
– If you end up in litigation, you are prepared
– Better adoption ( i.e. SharePoint project success )
– Makes scaling a breeze

Because we work with bad systems every day we ignore the fact they are bad. The reality is that poor IA results in poorly adopted systems, users defaulting to old systems, and when an issue arises, creates a very costly mistake.

The how for planning information architecture is:
– Do not configure anything in SharePoint until you have planned out fully sit structure, taxonomy, meta-data, and keywords at minimum.
– Stop using folders! They are limiting. You can do better with views, taxonomy and document sets.
– Do NOT treat SharePoint as a share drive. The goal is to improve, not repeat.
– Have separate planning for file types, functions, statues, and locations. Each category should be a separate discovery process. The most common mistake organizations make is looking at content holistically, not the different states each piece of content holds. In every organization content has an objective file type ( .PDF, .DOC ), use case file type ( contract, agreement ), status ( for example Active, Inactive ), assigned to a function ( accounting, hr, management ), and often a location ( department, physical location, office location ). Some organizations have even more states. All of this determines your IA.

He is such a good friend to listen to me rant, and put up with “Oh man, this is how everyone starts, then fails”. In the end he was very thankful for the explanation, and a better understanding of why his friend is obsessed with such a boring topic as information architecture.