Kartic's Musings on Corporate Information and Knowledge Management

August 4, 2015

Building Information Architecture Bridges

Filed under: SharePoint — kartickapur @ 3:10 am

Having being involved in numerous enterprise content management (ECM) and eDRMS implementations over last decade, if there is one thing I have noticed as being single most important bridge between technology and achieving successful business outcome, it would be a well-defined Information Architecture (IA).

To start with, I found this great definition from uasbility.gov website in an article titled ‘information architecture basics’:

Information architecture (IA) focuses on organizing, structuring, and labelling content in an effective and sustainable way.  The goal is to help users find information and complete tasks.  To do this, you need to understand how the pieces fit together to create the larger picture, how items relate to each other within the system [from ‘Information Architecture Basics’, http://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/information-architecture.html]

Any implementation of technology for managing information (whether it is on SharePoint 2013 on premises, Office 365 or any other vendor platforms) cannot and must not start before thorough consideration and planning of Information Architecture principles. Most industries have well defined industry standards for managing information lifecycle (creating, storing, accessing, presenting and disposing content). Australian government national archives for example provide information on some generic standards used in Australia and internationally http://www.naa.gov.au/records-management/strategic-information/standards/international-standards/index.aspx. Before starting on your IA journey get yourself familiarised with your Industry standards or partner yourself with someone who is familiar with them.

In order to create a successful IA it is helpful to consider the following venn diagram which encapsulates ‘information ecology’ theory proposed by Rosenfeld and Moreville. It talks about interdependent nature of users, content and context:

From <http://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/information-architecture.html>

Understanding basic considerations

Based on the three parameters of user, content and context, let me break down some further considerations:

Context

  • Software boundaries
    • Database limits
    • Limits for site collections (in sharepoint for example)
    • List view threshold limits (in sharepoint)
  • Records Managements Requirement
    • Compliance related records for legal purposes
    • Retention and Disposal Policies
      Records management is a whole different topic that can take few articles to describe. If interested, this link from ‘National Archive of Australia’ provides a comprehensive guide and overview of classification tools for records management: http://www.naa.gov.au/Images/classifcation%20tools_tcm16-49550.pdf
  • Business Process Almost all content is tied to a process. Map the process and you will know how to manage the content.
    • Is there are requirement to apply automated workflow to certain types of content
    • Base IA on activities rather than organisational structure
      • Think about possibilities around future organisational structure
      • Having said that, there will always be some information which will rely on org structure like team administration, management
    • Consider business classification scheme relevant to the industry (Resource sector will be completely different from finance for instance)
  • Culture – any technology implementation that doesn’t align with corporate culture will most like fail.

Content

  • Search
    • Search refiners
    • Build central search
    • Build local search centre
      (Microsoft defines some technical parameters around planning content search in SharePoint here)
  • Metadata
    • Again from search perspective
    • Views
    • Business classification
    • Data flow (consider workflow)
  • Considerations around type of content or file types
    • Media content is a classic example
    • Document
    • Lists
    • Forms
    • Web content

 Users

  • Mobility
    • A mobile sales driven team would have different requirements to staff with desk jobs
  • Usability
    Remember not to overwhelm users with too many options. Last thing you want is users restoring to saving critical business information on their pen drive because they are overwhelmed with choices to store content. What I mean is don’t get carried away while defining:
  • Number of containers or repositories
  • Number of content types to choose from
  • Number of metadata columns which users have to fill in (technologies like SharePoint allow certain columns to be defaulted).

 Get started

Here are few things to consider in every phase of implementing a successful system based on strong IA principles:

 Research

  • Get your hands on industry standards if possible.
  • Get an understanding of compliance related requirements
  • Workshop to solicit requirements from cross section of your organisation (finance, procurement, HR etc). This will not only help you understand high level requirements but will also give business a sense of ownership right throughout the process.
  • Scalability requirements would be handy if known – historical view of information sprawl in most cases will be useful to plan for future growth

 Planning (defining and information architecture framework)

  • Plan for infrastructure (based on scalability, disaster recovery, mobility etc.) while considering IA requirements and not in isolation. Infrastructure planning does not form part of IA exercise but from my experience a disconnect between the two can be disastrous.
  • Map information containers around logical information categories. Examples could be:
    • Team
    • Project
    • Records
    • External partners
    • Industry specific information with examples being:
      • Seismic information (for resources sector)
      • Insurance claims (for insurance)
  • Plan metadata
    • Define business classification scheme (BCS) based on industry standards (this is especially relevant for implementing records management). Again, refer to this link for comprehensive overview of records management related classification tools: http://www.naa.gov.au/Images/classifcation%20tools_tcm16-49550.pdf
    • Define common vocabulary (or metadata) with examples being locations, business functions (based on BCS),   asset tags etc.
    • Think about retention and disposal schedules based on compliance requirements.
    • Define Global content types (relevant for SharePoint) – remember to keep this list small (typically less than 50 global content types for a large organisation and less than 20 for a small to medium size). If you want to know more about content types, go to office support article for detailed overview here.
  • Plan how users will navigate for information
    • Increasingly organisations are resorting to mobile app based navigation as a primary navigation mechanism
    • Traditionally speaking, navigation should not reflect organisational structure
  • Plan how users will search for information (Microsoft defines some technical parameters around planning content search in SharePoint here). As a general practice plan for some high level principles around:
    • Content sources to search for (here is Microsoft technet article on result sources)
    • What would be available in global search vs local search. As an example, some specific repositories like claims in insurance need to have local search centre (and search page) rather than results appearing in global search.
    • Search refiners that users may look for to narrow down on search results (It helps to take queue from car or house sale websites to visualise what I am talking about here). (here is a Microsoft technet article to help you understand technical background behind defining search schemas)
    • Plan how search will be ranked (here is Microsoft technet article on search order results in SharePoint 2013)

Implement

All I will say is for a successful implementation, follow some of these guidelines (this is from my experience):

  • Roll out iteratively rather than one big bang approach
  • Measure success and information management maturity over time
  • Slight modifications in approach can be necessary if results are not evident over time
  • Treat the project as a change management exercise rather than technology implementation

Change Management and Training

  • This should not start once project is closed, it’s a continuous process
  • Develop a framework for selecting your power users who will champion the change from within the business
  • Train the power users and get them to train the end users
  • Develop training videos or single page training modules to reduce training budget
  • Measuring information management maturity over time can be time consuming but a simple survey can be useful tool to develop ongoing strategies

 Support

  • Develop the following 4 tiered approach to avoid having to rely on staffing up big support team:
    • Tier 1: End users themselves:
      • Continuously train end users so that they are self-reliant
      • Create a self-help FAQ portal for end users with links to training manuals/videos etc
    • Tier 2: Power Users within the business: these champions should act as first point of contact if there is a requirement or an issue.
    • Tier 3: service centre: IT service centre needs to be trained in calls that does not require extensive time commitment to resolve
    • Tier 4: Functional BA/System specialists

Governance

Although I have left it for the end, in the absence of ongoing governance structure none of the above will be sustainable beyond six months of rollout. Governance, in a nutshell is process which will ensure that whatever framework and policies have been defined are adhered to on a regular basis. Governance can be implemented with the combination of:

  • Ensuring content ownership within the business
  • Creating executive governance group which meets regularly (at least once a month) to discuss changes and issues
  • Process which will ensure right level of ownership and approval for actions
  • Strongly defined responsibility, accountability, consulted and Informed (RACI) model
  • Technology can ensure adherence of governance to certain extent
  • Communication of governance principles and educating users on benefits on regular basis

Use Social to tie it all together

Technologies like yammer provide a glue to help ever evolving user entered context around information. Conversations centred around information can drive user adoption and discoverability while pushing up innovation in your organisation. Check out this yammer use case catalogue.

 

If you have made it this far, congratulations! At the end, although I have blabbered on for quite some time, this may sound like an oxymoron but please don’t complicate things unnecessarily. Spend lot of time on planning but please put yourself in user’s shoe and keep it simple for that end user.

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