Avoid SharePoint’s Potholes

SharePoint is a word that often elicits a strong reaction; sometimes good and sometimes bad. For some, SharePoint is a solid information management platform that’s widely utilized by major companies around world. For others, SharePoint is a four-letter word, spoken with disdain and frustration. In over 25 years in content management, I’ve had the opportunity to deploy solutions on most major platforms, including many on SharePoint. Sometimes, we’re brought in to fix things. As a result, I’ve seen some great deployments and some not so great. In the ones that have failed, there are common bumps in the road.

In this article, I look to highlight common potholes, and how to avoid them. In the end, it is important to remember, SharePoint in itself is not a solution. It is a platform; a system on which solutions can be deployed. How you approach your deployment will likely determine not only your short-term success, but also the long-term value you will realize.

How did I get here?

Most organizations implement a content management system because their folder-based shared file systems fail miserably as a viable solution. Folder structures are unwieldy and, due to their organic growth, quickly become a maze of content that leads to new structures of duplicate content. In short, folder structures are usually great for the person who created them, and awful for everyone else. Why then, do so many companies that deploy SharePoint continue to rely on folders? As Einstein said, “the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.” If your information is truly an asset, it’s important to treat it as such. If finding information is such a problem, we need to make that a major focus.

Start with Search

Sadly, for most SharePoint deployments, search is nothing more than that box at the top of the window, marked by the magnifying glass icon and a source of frustration. Most companies don’t take advantage of the search capabilities that SharePoint has to offer. Things like Promoted Results (formerly Best Bets) are rarely defined and Search Result Sets (formerly Search Scopes) are not deployed to drive the search process. Even when taxonomies are utilized, it’s rare that they get applied as search refiners on search result pages. Successful deployments are designed with findability as the primary objective. They are designed around a successful search strategy that incorporates security, information architecture, and the broader search experience.

Build your Blueprint

Out of the box, SharePoint captures the document Name, and allows you to change it from the normally cryptic original name if you’d like. It also allows you to optionally enter a document Title, but that’s about it. There are a few attributes created by the system, but those are relative. For example, the system captures the document’s Created Date, which is just the date the document was added to SharePoint, and not necessarily the date that the document was actually created. With so little useful information about the document available, users resort to adding folders to be able to categorize their content which can only result in the same chaos as before, but with a better search engine.

A well-developed information architecture that captures the core information necessary to search and filter on the content is a necessity for successful information management. Rather than adding folders to visually classify a document, making every user an “information hunter,” utilize a well-defined information architecture that incorporates metadata standards that align with master metadata models or source application data. Add standard industry and corporate taxonomies to improve the search process. Some companies may also want to augment manual tagging with auto-categorization to automatically tag content using those industry-focused taxonomies.

User Profiles and Secure Access go Hand-in-Hand

Active Directory (AD), is Microsoft’s solution for managing user profile data and access to data and applications. If you’re like most companies, you’ve got an existing AD deployment that has been evolving through the years. It was likely designed for access to applications and file shares and, just like the folders in your file share, it’s probably quite a mess by now. The user profile information is most likely badly in need of cleanup and often, system accounts are blended in with user accounts. One things SharePoint deployments do very well is point out just how bad the AD design and data have become. With that said, a well-designed and clean AD configuration can provide a lot of value down the line.

One of the strengths of SharePoint is in its ability to enhance collaboration, but that demands clean user profile data that can be easily leveraged by the organization. For example, finding users with a specific skill depends on having a standard list of commonly used skills from which to choose. In order to implement knowledge networks effectively, you’ll need to have clean, consistent user profiles.

Having well-defined security models also helps to ensure that the right people have access to the information they need. It allows content to be created, managed and accessed without the consuming users needing to know or care where it resides. Separating access from creation will provide a much better overall experience, improve solution adoption and greatly increase findability.

As part of any SharePoint deployment, a good review of the AD implementation is a must. A standard, structured approach to AD groups and SharePoint groups allows you to best leverage the pre-defined permissions that SharePoint offers. To gain the most out of new features such as Delve and user profiles, governance around how information is entered into AD and where that information is controlled is critical to keeping the information clean and useful.

The Wild West is not a Success Strategy

Along with the lack of information architecture and the non-standard security models, SharePoint is often deployed using the “let them do what they want” or “throw it over the fence” method. If everyone gets what they want, generally no one gets what they need. The lack of a true blueprint for things such as security, metadata standards, search standards and even a common user experience will prevent the deployment from ever reaching its potential. Even collaboration and knowledge management solutions benefit greatly from a bit of standardization.

The solution is a well-defined governance program that identifies which aspects of the solution will benefit from standardization and the implementation of change control. Enforcing information architecture standards in the near term improves findability in the long term. Leveraging security standards ensures users will have access to what they need, even if it’s read only. User experience standards ensure that each site doesn’t become an eye chart where users perform a visual scan to determine where things are located “this time.” When possible, templates for team collaboration sites, project sites, and sites for document and records management should be defined so that users can quickly comprehend them rather than re-learn each time.

Don’t start from scratch

SharePoint, and especially Office365 which incorporates Microsoft Exchange, can provide extensive value to an organization when deployed correctly. At KeenIM, our focus is to provide a full-featured SharePoint experience, quickly and easily, rather than the standard out-of-the-box SharePoint experience. That’s why we developed our Ready4IM solutions which combine each of these elements into an effective, easily deployed, and affordable solution. There’s no reason to start from scratch when we’ve done the work for you. See more at http://www.KeenIM.com/Products/

Originally published by Michael Elkins via LinkedIn