Implementing and governing information architecture (SharePoint Server 2010)


Applies to: SharePoint Server 2010

By planning and governing an enterprise’s information architecture, you help ensure that solutions that are based on Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 will meet organizational needs. An effective information architecture makes it easy for users of solutions to find and store information and improves the quality of that information and its ease of access. This article includes the following guidance:

  • Introduces the concept of information architecture

  • Recommends how to govern a SharePoint Server information architecture

  • Points to available resources to help an organization’s information architects plan and implement an information architecture in SharePoint Server 2010

  • Presents a case study that illustrates the benefit of effective information architecture to promote collaboration across an enterprise

In this article:

  • What is information architecture?

  • Governing information architecture

  • Resources for planning information architecture

  • Case study: Governing information architecture to eliminate content chaos

What is information architecture?

Information architecture in SharePoint Server is the organization of information in an enterprise — its documents, lists, Web sites, and Web pages — to maximize the information’s usability and manageability. The following factors contribute to the successful implementation of information architecture:

  • How easy it is to find information

  • How information is stored and retrieved

  • How users navigate to information

  • How redundant or overlapping information is

  • What metadata is available for each type of information

  • What templates are used for creating information

  • How well the information architecture is governed

  • How My Sites fit into the information architecture

The goals and implementation of information architecture will vary depending on the type of solution you are creating. For example:

  • If you are designing the information architecture of an enterprise’s intranet portal site, you might focus on the following considerations:

    • How metadata will be used to characterize the site’s content

    • The organization of content in sites and document libraries

    • The availability of that content in portal sites

    • The templates to use for creating content

    Note that search is a critical feature for users of intranet sites.

  • When you design the information architecture of an Internet presence Web site, you might focus on the following considerations:

    • How the site is organized into a hierarchy of sub-sites and Web pages

    • How the hierarchy is exposed in the site’s navigation features

    • How easy it is to search for content on the site

Information architecture decisions may also affect the flow of information. For example, in an intranet portal site, information may initially be drafted in sites that are not available to most members of an organization. To make that information discoverable, useful, and actionable across the organization, the information architecture design could include methods and guidelines for exposing information in locations that are available to all users.

Depending on the size of an organization, you should consider including an information architect who is responsible for designing and implementing solutions based on SharePoint Server on your team. Information architects have expertise in structuring information in large Web environments such as intranet portal sites.

Governing information architecture

Information architecture in an enterprise should be governed in order to ensure the following conditions:

  • Information in an organization is manageable by an organization's information technology (IT) team by specifying how that information architecture is implemented and maintained.

  • Information architecture meets the regulatory requirements, privacy needs, and security goals of the enterprise.

  • Information architecture meets an organization’s business goals. Remember that a poorly designed and governed information architecture can subtract from an organization’s effectiveness. Well designed and governed information architecture can multiply that organization’s effectiveness.

Governing content

When you create a plan that governs content in an environment, consider the following best practices:

  • Use workflows and approval for document centers and site pages – wherever official documentation is stored.

  • Use version history and version control to maintain a history and master document.

  • Use content types with auditing and expiration for document libraries to manage document lifecycle.

  • Use site-use confirmation and deletion to manage site collection lifecycles.

  • Identify important corporate assets and sites that contain personally identifiable information – be sure that they are properly secured and audited.

  • Integrate the information architecture with the environment's search strategy. Take advantage of enterprise search features like:

    • Best Bets

    • People search

    • Content sources

    • Connectors for external content

    • Authoritative pages

    • Keywords

    • Scopes

    • Thesauruses

    • Taxonomy and ratings


Governance doesn't work without user adoption and compliance. End-user training and education, in addition to good content and search, is the key to user adoption.

As you create a governance plan, determine the rules or policies that you need to have in place for the following types of items:

  • Pages

  • Lists

  • Documents

  • Records

  • Rich media

  • Wikis

  • Blogs

  • Anonymous comments

  • Anonymous access

  • Terms and term sets

  • External data

When you think about content, consider the balance between the following factors and determine which of these factors is the highest priority for each type of content:

  • Availability   Content needs to be available when users need it, and users need to know where and how they can get to it.

  • Redundancy  Exposing a single copy of content in multiple places rather than duplicating the content reduces redundancy and provides one version of the truth.

  • Access  Consider who has access to the content. If it should be secure, is it?

Map the preferred content lifecycle. What steps need to happen when a list item, document, or page is created, updated, or deleted? For best results, start with what you want to use long term rather than a temporary solution.

As part of a governance plan, determine who does what. For example, who creates sites, who controls keywords in Search, or who manages the metadata and ensures that the metadata is applied correctly?

Much of this should be explained by the document and records management plans but also consider the storage costs for the content. Understand the capacity planning limits for documents and items, and keep performance and scale in mind.


A governance team should identify a process for periodically reviewing the site to ensure that it complies with a governance plan.

Governing information access

Another aspect of information management is who has access to content – how are you making the content available internally and externally and to whom? Be sure to consider access to content when you design a solution and sites. This overlaps with IT Governance as you consider the entire environment. Ask the following questions:

  • Permissions and Audiences

    • How do I structure permissions in a site?

    • How do I target content to specific audiences?

  • Access

    • How do I make this content accessible to internal users?

    • How do I make this content accessible to external users?

The governance team

Governance of the information architecture requires the participation of all groups that have a stake in its success. A governance team should include the following primary members:

  • Information architects or taxonomists

    If possible, include a professional information architect in the planning team and have that person participate in the governance team.

  • Compliance officers

    You also need to include compliance officers or others who are responsible for ensuring that legal or compliance requirements are met.

  • Influential information workers

    Include influential information workers to ensure that the processes and structure the team sets up will be usable.

  • IT technical specialists and IT managers

    Representatives of the IT organization should be included.

  • Business division leaders

    Because the ultimate purpose of information architecture is to meet the needs of the business, it is essential that representatives of the enterprise’s business units have a primary role in this governance team.

  • Executive stakeholders

    The executive stakeholder is a key participant in the governance team. Although this person may not attend all sessions of the governance team, inclusion of this role is essential so that the governance team is kept accountable to its mission. Furthermore, the executive sponsor helps to ensure that benchmarks are used that help mark the progress of the ongoing effort of governing information architecture.

Along with these primary stakeholders, depending on the type of enterprise, you may decide to include other participants, such as the following:

  • Development leaders

  • Trainers

  • IT managers

  • Financial stakeholders

The best way to run the information architecture governance team will be based on the culture and methodologies of an enterprise. However, here are some general guidelines:

  • Meet regularly and allow enough time, especially in early sessions, to consider every issue.

  • Exemplify good information architecture practices in deliberations. For example, you might use a well-designed collaboration site to record deliberations and maintain artifacts.

  • Report to the wider organization (and gather requirements across the organization) by using a Web site and online surveys.

  • Maintain a set of milestones and a shared calendar.

  • Consider piloting information architecture practices in some divisions of the organization and using that experience to incrementally improve the information architecture practices across the wider organization.

Resources for planning information architecture

The following table presents resources that are available to help information architects plan the information architecture of your SharePoint Server solution:

Information architecture resources

To plan … See …

The structure of sites and subsites

Document libraries



Content expiration

Records management

Moving content


Content approval

Information management policies

Social computing

Plan for social computing and collaboration (SharePoint Server 2010)

Privacy and security implications of social tagging (SharePoint Server 2010)

Case study: Governing information architecture to eliminate content chaos

Fabrikam, Inc. is a world-wide manufacturer and exporter of automobile parts such as fuel and water pumps, shock absorbers, brake pads, and various engine parts. The company has 13,000 employees world-wide and more than fifty manufacturing plants across multiple geographical divisions. Fabrikam’s IT organization owns deployment, operations, and support of information technologies such as e-mail, file management, and Internet technology, along with development of information technology solutions, such as the corporate Web site.

Content at Fabrikam had historically been stored in shared file directories which were distributed across local file servers at the various locations of the company. This contributed to a chaotic content situation. Mass duplication of key content made it difficult to determine the “official” version of a file. Content metadata taxonomy was very limited, based on what the file system could support. Because divisions of the corporation created unique, custom templates for common documents such as work orders, sales proposals, or human resource documents, it was difficult to compare documents side by side across divisions.

As the inadequacies of their information architecture based on file shares became more evident, managers at Fabrikam mandated adoption of new, portal-based technologies. They did this to accomplish several goals:

  • Modernize their information architecture

  • Move content from file shares to libraries in portal sites

  • Provide central access to content and applications such as expense report submissions

  • Provide a home page for central communications to Fabrikam employees

The next step in the evolution of Fabrikam’s information architecture had begun.

The following diagram illustrates the initial architecture of the Fabrikam portal. A corporate portal at the top of the architecture provided a central location from which to broadcast general corporate information. At the next level, a few sites provided shared resources to the organization, such as human resources, legal services, and financial services.

Below the shared resources level in the Fabrikam architecture were divisional portals for the various regional offices of Fabrikam. Initially, North America, Europe, and East Asia were piloted. Gradually other divisional portals were added: Australia, Africa, and South America. Each divisional portal contained repositories for its policies, product designs, research and development, and customer data.

Less effective information architecture

The result of the change from collaboration that is based on file shares to collaboration that is based on portals was disappointing to the sponsors of the portal effort and to the Fabrikam work force. “Content chaos” had not been alleviated. It had just moved from file shares to portal sites.

Because key functions at Fabrikam, such as materials purchasing, customer relationships, parts design and specification, and even some human resources processes occurred at the divisional level, each division had developed local content to support these functions. Policy statements, parts blueprints and specifications, personnel documents, documents related to customer relationships, and similar content was created and managed locally. Templates and metadata for these documents diverged across divisional portals. As metadata became more specific to each division it became more difficult to search for content from one division to another. When a document was found across divisions, it was often copied to another division’s portal to make it more accessible. This process made it increasingly difficult to find the “official” version of a document as duplicates proliferated. Also, some documents in divisional portals were secured in such a way that employees of other divisions could not view them. Although this was appropriate when a document was being drafted, there was no guideline for when and how a document should be made viewable across the enterprise.

To address the growing discontent with the portal, the company formed a strategy team was formed, which was comprised of managers from across the various Fabrikam divisions, core IT team members, and portal architects. The team had the following tasks:

  • Evaluate the current state of the SharePoint Server portal deployment.

  • Recommend necessary changes to the portal.

  • Determine how to measure improvement over time.

The team that developed the portal strategy concluded that the current portal taxonomy’s “divisional” organization was the root to the problem. Each division was duplicating processes and hoarding content without taking advantage of the expertise and best practices developed in peer divisions. This contributed to poor collaboration, wasted resources, and content chaos. Their insight was to move towards a more “operational” organization for the enterprise portal. Shared resources such as information technology and finance were currently exposed in the portal taxonomy above (and visible to) all divisions. The team that developed the portal strategy concluded that other operational disciplines, such as customer relationships, vendor relationships, plant configuration, and research and design should be moved from divisional silos to the same level as the shared resources in the site’s hierarchy. Instead of the content’s location, metadata would associate information with the various divisions.

The following illustration is the revised architecture of the Fabrikam portal:

More effective information architecture

Reorganizing the Fabrikam portal in this way had the additional benefit of forcing collaboration across parts of the enterprise that had similar responsibilities but were not accustomed to working together on standards and processes. For example, storing design files in a central repository forced the various divisions to standardize on a tool for designing automobile parts. This change saved money and reduced training time. Also, best practices in design were made available for engineers to view across the enterprise and to use as a basis for new design projects.

Here is a summary of the benefits of the redesigned portal architecture:

  • Provides central access to information.

  • Reduces duplication of content.

  • Makes the official version of each item of content evident.

  • Standardizes metadata.

  • Standardizes templates.

  • Fosters collaboration and sharing of best practices.

The redesign and reimplementation of the portal was just the start. The team that developed the portal strategy received executive sponsorship to become a governance team for the portal. As a result, the group represented the needs of portal users by developing policies and standards. This helped ensure accountability across the organization and provided a forum for evaluating and evolving the portal — both to improve portal features but also to help maximize the return on the enterprise’s investment in the SharePoint Server technology. The governance body oversaw the following elements:

  • Metadata standards

  • Template standards

  • Guidelines for when information needed to be made available across the enterprise

  • Compliance with corporate and governmental regulations

  • Training standards

  • Branding standards for content

Fabrikam started seeing a large return on its portal investment. A year into the project, the strategy team did an inventory of content and found that out of 500,000 documents, only 230 were duplicates. The company identified millions of dollars in savings due to the centralization of efforts. And a survey of employees showed a large increase in satisfaction with the portal. Collaboration was healthy at Fabrikam.

See Also


Site and solution governance (SharePoint Server 2010)
Governance overview (SharePoint Server 2010)
Plan information architecture for Web content management (SharePoint Server 2010)

Other Resources

Resource Center: Governance in SharePoint Server 2010