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TechnologyApr 09, 2015

SharePoint 2013 Information Architecture Part 2: The Evolution of IA

Credera Team

With the social media craze growing non-stop, a new form of enterprise data has been born: consumer controlled data (CCD). This concept has been lingering for the past few years and is starting to overpower the traditional idea of institutional controlled data (ICD). Introducing a new form of data forces businesses to rework the way they manage and surface enterprise level information. However, we need to fully understand the old and the new forms of data in order to produce an effective information architecture (IA) plan.

Institutional Controlled Data

This kind of data is simple to understand; it is the data that is driven by the business. This data can take many forms, such as, formalized documents, reports, calendars, newsletters, web pages, and much more. These documents are typically created by one or more people and are then used or referenced heavily throughout typical business activities. You can think of this as the corporate holiday calendar, a standard operating procedure document, or an employee handbook. It is important for employees to be easily connected to this information, motivating the need for a strong IA strategy. The data contained in these documents is more specific and rich in content, but there is typically less of it compared to consumer controlled data.

Consumer Controlled Data

This is a newer form of information that has been brought to life by the responses to ICD. Consumer controlled data is driven by the people, the consumers of ICD. Think of this as informal communications that come in the form of status updates, comments, and feedback. CCD can be information on ICD or it can be a brand new thought or idea. This information is typically ad hoc, less dense in content, and comes in smaller pieces. Because there is so much of this data out there, it is often overlooked as being valuable. In reality, there is plenty of information here that can be of use, but it applies to a smaller audience and is typically harder to surface. We need to revisit the definition of IA and shift it to work with this new type of information.

The Old Definition of IA

Information architecture connects people to the content they are looking for through the following techniques:

  • Hierarchy and classification: how the data is contained.

  • Metadata and tagging: data about the data.

  • Navigation and way finding: get users to the data.

  • Search: how users find data.

This works great when dealing with ICD; however, we now have a new concept to deal with: putting the people first. There are plenty of great methods to connect people to the content they need, but now that we have so much more information, we can leverage it to give the people what they need.

Shifting the Definition

The new definition of IA takes a user’s intent and context, and applies that to the old definition. A user’s intent is what they are trying to accomplish based on their role and history, while their context is the circumstances in which they are accessing a piece of information, such as working on a specific project. By understanding the user, IA connects people to the content they are looking for. The technology needs to be aware of the intent and context to really understand what the user needs. This is accomplished by putting the person first and tailoring the classification, navigation, and search results to better fit them.

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Summary

In the previous blog post, we unveiled some changes in the world that will heavily impact enterprise businesses. We then discussed how these changes affect information architecture and the direction it is going. In the next article, we will apply this to SharePoint and show how you can leverage its basic features to create a powerful IA strategy that will add value to your business.

If you have questions or comments about this blog post, or other aspects of SharePoint development/information architecture, please leave a comment below, tweet us at @CrederaMSFT, or contact us online.