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TechnologyApr 20, 2015

SharePoint 2013 Information Architecture Part 5: Collaboration Sites

Credera Team

In the previous post in this series, we discussed a few of the most common challenges with publishing portals and explained the best approaches to overcome them. When dealing with collaboration sites, we have different challenges, so we cannot simply apply the same techniques for publishing portals. In the fifth and final article in this series, we will review the most common problems with collaboration sites and show how to create a strong information architecture (IA) plan that minimizes these flaws.

I have seen many problems with collaboration sites throughout my career: search is not useful, there are too many levels of sites or folders within libraries, and irrelevant or outdated content overwhelms the experience. The first thing to consider is to use a flat data structure over a hierarchical one. We are so used to our data being organized as a hierarchy, but when you have hundreds or thousands of collaboration sites, this just gets too large to deal with. Instead, we need to keep our information as flat as possible, and have content related, correlated, and connected through common terms.

By using a network of related content over a hierarchy, we keep the user at the center and the data is only a hop away. SharePoint provides the best features to make this vision a reality. Through the use of metadata tagging and user profile attributes, your data can be easily accessible in an organized network. The following four-step approach will help you build a strong IA plan.

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1)    Find Key Use Cases

It is imperative to understand how your SharePoint site will be used before you can begin building it. To do this, we need to find the key use cases. Start with a collaboration activity that already occurs in your business, such as deliverable preparation, project management, etc. Define the process in full, who will take part, and any tasks that need to be completed. At a high level, think how a collaboration site will help facilitate this and what information you need to support it. Once we understand how SharePoint will be used, it is time to start thinking about how the data will be controlled.

2)    Design Metadata and Taxonomy

Now that we have the primary use cases thought out, think about the data that is represented. We need to begin designing the content types, metadata, tags, etc., for SharePoint. Don’t worry about defining every piece of data, just the big-ticket items that are easily definable. This taxonomy will continue to grow more and more as SharePoint is used. Consider looking at existing user profiles to see if there are any common terms being used here. These would be great for the managed metadata service. Ultimately, we want to bridge the user to the data.

3)    Build IA Assets

It is time to leverage SharePoint’s functionality and build our site columns, content types, managed terms, and term store. Keep in mind that content types structure the data while terms inside of the term store are used to organize the content. SharePoint has the ability to automatically tag content for users. This is extremely valuable and helpful as documents and sites can be automatically tagged with information as they are created or uploaded and can then be searched.

4)    Leverage Search

SharePoint’s search service is one of its most underutilized features. It is powerful right out of the box, but with a little bit of configuration, it can add an incredible amount of value. Creating managed properties allows users to search, sort, and filter based on those field values. You can create custom search facets to make finding content a breeze. MySites play a role here too, so make sure they are surfacing this content appropriately, and you will see the social features of SharePoint add business value. You can embed the content search web parts in site templates and MySites to personalize the user’s experience. To learn how to configure search to work harder for you, check out my other blog post, Search and Enjoy: SharePoint 2013 Custom Search Faceting.

Conclusion

Throughout this blog series, we have learned about the many components to build a strong information architecture strategy that will ensure your intranet portal and collaboration sites provide the most value possible. By understanding how our world is changing around technology, we were able to see how IA has evolved over the years. This shift caused challenges with publishing portals and collaboration sites, but with the techniques discussed here, you can stay ahead of the curve. To get the most value out of your SharePoint site, contact Credera and we will create a strong and lasting IA strategy together.