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The Secret to Planning SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365's Taxonomy and Navigation

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There is no single path or magic bullet to developing a best-practices information architecture (IA), but rather core guiding principles will ensure that your overall design is implemented in a structured manner that will accomplish your current business needs as well as have the ability to meet future growth and organizational changes. SharePoint expert Errin O’Connor covers the broad 360-degree spectrum of SharePoint and/or Office 365’s capabilities, underlying technical architecture, topology, and information architecture principles.
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The overall (IA) design will vary based on the type of organization for which it is being implemented, as well as its size and corporate structure. Some organizations also have additional regulatory or compliance considerations that will factor into your more granular IA requirements.

A scalable SharePoint 2013 or Office 365’s IA design should provide for the intake of future requirements within the organization’s overall current SharePoint roadmap. Most I not all organizations have a set number of milestones and business requirements defined for the initial phase 1 implementation effort. This may be upgrading an existing SharePoint 2007 or 2010 version of SharePoint to the new 2013 platform, or implementing a new SharePoint 2013 or Office 365 business intelligence solution or an intranet for the organization to improve collaboration and increase knowledge sharing between co-workers.

It is critical for your organization to have a best-practices SharePoint roadmap defined. SharePoint’s IA design is at the very core of being able to accomplish this roadmap and new milestones that may exist in future phases, such as a new enterprise content management (ECM)/ records management (RM) initiative or business intelligence (BI) effort.

These future phases may require that additional metadata or content types be added to meet specific granular requirements. Implementing new features and functionality will more than likely mean new and more active users and the additional content that accompanies them. The flexibility of your IA design should also provide consideration for any known growth that you are aware SharePoint will need to handle.

The IA has a number of underlying technical components that tie directly into SharePoint’s physical architecture. A number of business considerations must be accounted for, such as any major goals or drivers for expanding technology, offering a more robust and centralized enterprise search, or providing secure mobile access to the enterprise. Understanding SharePoint 2013’s capabilities during this IA design will also provide insight into any future customizations that may need to be planned for within the overall budget and corresponding timeline.

By utilizing a three-prong information architecture approach along with combining SharePoint 2013 specific methodologies and proven technical considerations, your organization can rest assured the IA is being designed with best practices and scalability in mind.

These are the three major areas of consideration for SharePoint 2013’s information architecture, as shown in Figure 1:

  • The “Context” information architecture of SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365
  • The “Users” information architecture of SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365
  • The “Content” information architecture of SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365

SharePoint’s initial business and functional requirements, as well as the organization’s overall long-term SharePoint roadmap, will play a major role in the Context area of the IA design, as shown in Figure 1.

I would also recommend identifying any cultural influences or related technology initiatives—while keeping compliance, risk, and governance in mind—should be taken into consideration within the Context area. The out-of-the-box (OOTB) capabilities SharePoint provides for in search, eDiscovery, and ECM/RM, as well as communities, social, and professional networking, must also be analyzed. The architecture required to scale to meet the contextual needs of the organization should also be discussed during the initial information architecture planning discussions to ensure that any updates to the organization’s information architectural roadmap are identified and communicated to the proper stakeholders.

The second area of consideration within SharePoint’s IA design, Content, centers on the documents that exist within the organization, as well as the existing structure or underlying system for which they are stored. These Content IA considerations, as shown in Figure 2, should provide insight into the types of data that exist within the organization as well as its overall volume.

The Users area of the IA provides insight into the day-to-day utilization of SharePoint’s users and the core content they access within their department or business unit. This entails the identification of specific audiences along with the content and data they own and collaborate on that enables them to successfully perform their job duties.

It is important to have a good understanding of who the core contacts are within any given department or business unit that will be a part of SharePoint 2013’s content editing and contribution.

Where to Begin

As mentioned above, the three-prong information architecture approach provides placeholders for the requirements that must be documented but also sets expectations for the SharePoint project team to design an IA that is scalable and has the organization’s long-term SharePoint roadmap in mind.

The Context, Users, and Content approach to the information architecture design, as mentioned previously, is meant to instill a 360-degree view of the overall project goals and future business needs, as well as the other “moving pieces” within the organization that are not typically taken into consideration. It is extremely important to think of not only what content is going to be created and where it is going to be stored but also how it is going to be viewed.

Figure 3 shows an overview of SharePoint 2013’s content from both an authoring perspective and the perspective of how users access it, and some of the devices and their properties they may utilize.

Based on the availability of the stakeholders or team members within the organization for which you may need to facilitate meetings and gather specific information, it is a best-practices approach to first start with a more broad set of questions in these initial sessions.

What currently exists? The following questions can assist you with finding your initial IA baseline:

  • What content management, content storage systems, or technologies currently exist within the organization?
  • Do you need to take into consideration any previous versions of SharePoint?
  • Does your organization have a complex or even massive file-share environment in place?
  • Is there an existing intranet with documents or static content that will need to be analyzed and considered? If so, who owns or updates this content?
  • What does your organization consider to be a record?
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