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SharePoint 2010 ECM governance

SharePoint is a technology rich in capability with an inherent nature to decentralize document and content management from the information technology function. It’s a platform with much promise that, simply put, places increased levels of power and autonomy into the hands of business users. On the surface, it seems like a valid approach because it’s difficult to find fault in letting those who understand the business best manage the information assets they create. The primary problem with that tactic, however, lies in the fact that many organizations lack both standard content management methods and expertise in the application of best practices across areas such as information architecture (IA), taxonomy, metadata and search.

The resulting unplanned and unmanaged growth of information—along with inconsistencies in the way divisions, departments or lines of business leverage product functionality, as well as varying velocities of adoption—translate into significant challenges around consistency in organization, navigability and findability. The absence of an overall information strategy lessens the capacity to mitigate the effects of the volume of content, and a lack of formalized enrichment processes eventually reduce discoverability and the effectiveness of enterprise search. The success of SharePoint is dependent on the ability to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time in ways that are quick, efficient and intuitive. The absence of a formalized plan ultimately leaves the platform falling short of user expectation.

That decentralization of information management in combination with the explosion of content illustrates that the need for governance is more crucial now than ever before. SharePoint implementations need to be thought of as more than just projects with defined beginning, middle and end dates. Because businesses evolve and requirements change, SharePoint projects are never really complete. Ongoing management and continuous enhancement must be integrated into operational practices, but changes cannot just happen on a whim; maintenance and governance processes must be put in place to systematically review proposed modifications. Governance is what makes it work, and even the best-designed solutions will fail in its absence.

Governance defined

SharePoint 2010 is no different than any other technology in the fact that it will process inputs provided regardless of whether they make sense (that is the old garbage-in, garbage-out adage). The blueprint for information management success lies not only in establishing robust architectures that begin with modeling content and user needs, but also in persistent administration and improvement. Modeling information must capture the inherent qualities of the content as well as its ability to be found. While findability is a key attribute of information design, it is not a feature or capability of SharePoint, but rather a set of standards and processes that are consistently applied to organizational information. Information architecture establishes the foundation for findability, and governance is the slice that holds it together to make it work.

Governance, formally defined by Microsoft for SharePoint 2010, is “the set of policies, roles, responsibilities and processes that guide, direct and control how an organization’s business divisions and IT teams cooperate to achieve business goals.” Three key areas that fall within the governance of a SharePoint 2010 solution are:

  • IT governance—regulation over hardware, software, security, infrastructure, backup and recovery, as well as the services provided;
  • application management—administration and control of custom solutions built on top of or integrated within the SharePoint environment; and
  • information management—design and administration of information life cycles, content types, metadata, taxonomy, workflow, navigation and site structure and more.

While it’s important to mention all three governance segments for the sake of completeness, the focus here is on information management and, more specifically, its design and operationalization within the SharePoint 2010 environment.

Enablement

Effective governance aligns directly with business goals and objectives to ensure that investment in SharePoint and related tools and processes provide sufficient return. When defined in isolation of business users, governance often becomes dictatorial, restrictive and ultimately a hindrance rather than a foundation for enablement. It must be designed to work within the culture of the business through collaborative efforts that originate as a byproduct of employing standardized IA processes. Shifting perspectives slightly to extend the traditional view of each IA activity from design and implementation only, to also account for ongoing management and future enhancement, means governance design is not separate from but rather integrated with IA practices.

Establishing a vision

A clear description of the solution developed collaboratively by senior level stakeholders and supported by executive sponsors is a key attribute that ensures strategic alignment and sets the stage for all remaining governance activities. It often starts with a vision statement that describes at a high level a common understanding of the overall purpose of the SharePoint solution and how it is intended to deliver value to the organization by tying future activities directly back to strategic goals. Often, the creation of the vision statement is not necessarily the goal but rather an exercise in gaining cross-disciplinary buy-in from all parties that have a stake, thus setting everyone off on equal footing.

Governance model

There is no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to designing for governance because different aspects of a SharePoint solution will require different levels of control. The difficulty lies in the delicate balance between approaches that are too restrictive ultimately obstructing productivity vs. those that provide unnecessary freedoms that eventually result in a degradation of the overall user experience.

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