BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
Industry surveys show that large numbers of SharePoint users underestimate the long-term management costs of deployments. Users often overlook sound design practices that reduce SharePoint maintenance costs in the rush to rapid deployment.
Designers can keep long-term costs of SharePoint management under control by considering important aspects of collaborative applications, including support for multiple use cases, support for policy-based management and improved search and browsing.
Whether you are grappling with how to realign an existing SharePoint knowledge repository suffering from burdensome, debilitating sprawl or blue-skying -- that is, starting from scratch with a new repository project with a broad scope, reflect on your organization's needs and the suitability of a repository to meet those needs. These five design tips will help you as you shape your organization's SharePoint maintenance practices.
1. Make liberal use of metadata. New metadata management features of SharePoint allow you to define key terms and concepts in formal organizations (taxonomies) and in less structured methods (folksonomies and social tagging). More formal metadata plans require more time and planning, but they can provide consistent term sets. Folksonomies and social tagging allow users to define metadata terms and increase the likelihood of having a sufficient set of terms to cover existing and future content. However, they can run the risk of duplication, overlap and ambiguity in the terms used. Choosing between the two is a matter of balancing your need for fixed, well-defined terms against cost, time and the difficulty of updating a taxonomy. In some SharePoint maintenance practices, organizations choose to begin with a folksonomy with the intention of moving to a formal taxonomy at a later date.
2. Understand user navigation. Some may use SharePoint as an ad hoc search tool, but others may follow a more structured workflow. Determine how the SharePoint repository will be used -- in many cases, there will be multiple navigation requirements. Using metadata attributes and keyword searching can improve browsing and the overall search.
3. Support multiple use cases. Your organization's business structure may need to support multiple use cases. Two reasons organizations embrace and thrive with a SharePoint service is because they are motivated by a desire to facilitate new collaborations and because they act on unrecognized opportunities. Once the SharePoint service is aligned with the organization's needs, take some time to look at the future and entertain the notion for new collaboration. This can be done by identifying patterns across existing workflows and reusing those patterns in new workflows. By leveraging patterns, you take advantage of work already invested in search, metadata and other design elements.
4. Plan to retire content. Anyone trying to organize an already sprawling SharePoint application knows the importance of document retention policies. Content is easily created, but once in the repository, it can be difficult to discern unnecessary content from essential content. If you are considering blue-skying a prospective SharePoint hub, a retention policy may seem unnecessary. But forming one at the outset of a project can mitigate the risk of storing and maintaining obsolete content. In addition, pruning content during SharePoint maintenance could make navigation and search more efficient. For example, users will be less likely to have to decide which version of a document has the latest or most accurate content for a particular subject. Administrative metadata on content can support automated methods to archive or purge content that no longer needs to be online.
5. Analyze the structure of your content network. The relationship between documents tells users something about the importance of those documents. For example, if many documents link to one target document, then that target document is important in multiple contexts or workflows. Highly referenced documents should be easily accessible through navigation and include a full set of metadata terms to increase the likelihood they will be found. Documents with few links leading to them should be reviewed; if they contain valuable content, make sure they have appropriate metadata tags to help users find them.
Creating a useful knowledge repository is a challenge. To keep SharePoint costs within the set budget, it's essential for IT professionals to plan and consult with their organizational stakeholders. Consider how users will interact with the system and provide sufficient search and navigation support, especially with metadata. Take content lifecycles into consideration to reduce the risk of content sprawl, and use information about the linked structure of content to identify important content within the repository. A well-planned knowledge repository should provide rich rewards for its users and administrators in identifiable and unanticipated workflows.
About the authors:
Dan Sullivan, M.Sc., is an author, systems architect and consultant with over 20 years of IT experience with engagements in advanced analytics, systems architecture, database design, enterprise security and business intelligence. Dan Trager, B.S., is an information science professional based in Seattle, Wash.