In part 1 of our 8-part branding series, we focus on Information Architecture (IA) and the essential role it plays in the branding of your SharePoint environment. Information Architecture (IA) is like a blueprint, it’s how you organize information so that it’s easy for the right people to find it. While it takes more time on the front-end to stop and plan out your Information Architecture, having that overarching vision makes all the difference in the success of implementation.
You run a business so you already know that branding makes a huge impact on consumer decision-making. This is no different for your SharePoint environment. Whether it’s an extranet or intranet that you’re creating, your users will be more inclined to engage if you offer them something that is not only useful, but intuitive and aesthetically pleasing.
In part 1 of our 8-part guide, we focus on Information Architecture (IA) and the essential role it plays in the branding of your SharePoint environment.
What is SharePoint Information Architecture?
The official definition of SharePoint Information Architecture is “the art and science of organizing and labeling the content (documents, data, and sites) to support find-ability and usability”. We like to think of it as a blueprint that maps out your environment before any content is added, just like an architect would lay out their vision before any construction begins.
One of the biggest challenges in SharePoint IA is choosing how to segregate your data. It is very important in the early planning stages to study how your users currently access information and to build a system that enhances that structure. You can choose to build “containers” of information in many ways (i.e. by departments, business services, location, etc.) but the main goal is to create an environment in which employees can easily find the information that they need.
The benefits of a well-planned IA
It is very easy for companies to rush through implementation and throw information together without thinking about how it is used. When that happens, you end up with a messy, overwhelming environment that fails to provide benefit to its users and will eventually become a wasted effort. While it takes more time on the front-end to plan out your Information Architecture, the benefits of doing so are worth the extra effort.
By taking the time to properly plan your SharePoint IA you will:
- Centralize information - SharePoint’s tagging feature makes it easier for users to find and share relevant content and provides a way to navigate through similar content. This provides a central, easy-to-navigate access point to all company information.
- Improve Compliance/Governance - By defining access levels and setting secure sites (i.e. management sites, Board of Director sites, etc.) beforehand, you protect sensitive information and avoid the possibility of it being released to the wrong people.
- Increase security - In addition to segregating your information by departments, business services, etc., you can also set access limits for internal employees vs. outside contractors.
- Foster sharing and improved communication - Developing content standards that encourage and support cross-organizational communication will have a positive impact on the way your teams interact.
Building Out Your SharePoint Information Architecture
There are countless ways to present your content (i.e. location, business unit, services, etc.) and we understand how overwhelming it can be to try and organize all that content. Fortunately, we have a strong team of SharePoint branding specialists that can help you determine what will work best for you. As you begin thinking about the structure of your environment, consider these 3 important steps to building out your SharePoint Information Architecture:
- Understand your existing structure/content - Whether you currently have a shared environment or not, you might be dealing with a structure lacking proper central management. In this case, you may be starting from scratch and you need to be prepared for that. If your original structure was set up ad hoc and departments historically were allowed to create, change and organize on their own, you are most likely going to have a lot of cleaning up to do. It is important to recognize this up front and try to learn why organizations have created the systems that currently exist. Also, you don’t want to assume that everyone will want to change. Document what you learn and use this knowledge as you build out your new environment.
- Identify Key Players - It will take a village to build a successful SharePoint environment, be sure you get the right people involved so you have those valuable perspectives. The low hanging fruit will be leaders of the departments/groups who are unhappy with your current structure. Use this as an opportunity to be the hero that makes their day easier. Also, stay open to the input from teams who don’t want a change. As we mentioned before, they might have a strong process that works well for them and breaking that may negatively impact adoption. Additional key players can include: your compliance and/or legal department for any regulations you might have to adhere to, anyone in IT who may have insight into previous versions of SharePoint (if applicable) or any business leaders who have a vested interest in the success of your implementation.
- Test and Adapt - You will be investing a lot of time and energy into this project, so you obviously want it to be a success. Make sure to plan for some internal pilot testing before releasing to the entire team. You’ll get a chance to make any adjustments before release and your users will get a preview of what’s to come. Keep in mind that this can be a big change for your users; it may take some time and practice for them to see the benefits of sharing previously proprietary information. Your happy beta testers can become your advocates to build awareness and get other employees excited about the changes. Most importantly, in an ever-changing world of content and data, you must be prepared for change. The business won’t stand still and wait for you to build a perfect environment, nor will it stop growing after implementation. Be prepared with the right tools that will allow you to adapt along with it.
One of the most challenging aspects of building a successful shared environment is creating something that satisfies the needs of its users. This is no easy feat but by taking the time to properly plan a well thought out IA that incorporates not only the needs of the user but also the overall goals of the company, the odds of success are much higher.