Somewhere around the turn of the millenium I interviewed a guy who said he was an “Information Architect”. At the time, I had never heard the term and thought “that’s a cute, dot commish, fancy term for a consultant who deals with information”. Nothing really new about it. Just a new name.
Over the past couple months we’ve had more opportunities with clients to work on SharePoint engagements. SharePoint is the most rapidly adopted Microsoft application in history. It’s everywhere. But for many organizations it’s a bit of a mess. Lots of documents scattered in lots of team sites; redundancy; difficulty in navigation. In the end it often takes the old problem of disorganized file servers and just puts it in a browser.
There are a lot of fairly simple ways to make SharePoint much more effective. Here’s a few:
(1) Think through a solid taxonomy. What are the dimensions of files and the way people might want to find them? How can they be tagged effectively? What are the ways people think about files when they begin looking for something (document type? business function? product line?)? Figuring this out will help inform how to tag them. If you can tag files in the ways people intuitively initially think when they are looking for them (“Where is the pricing guide for the e-widget product line”?) you’re on the right track to making document retrieval easy.
(2) Get out of the mindset that you still have to have a hierarchy of folders. With the web and with meta-tagging and a solid taxonomy you can flatten your directory structures and make them more nimble. Instead of browsing folders thinking “where did I put that file?”, you can filter with one or two clicks and easily get to what you’re looking for. In the above example if I filter on Document Type and choose “pricing guide” OR on Product Line and choose “e-widget“, or both, I’m likely going to get right to what I need…even if it’s in a single folder with hundreds of other documents.
(3) On that note, create pre-defined filters for teams, departments or even individuals so they see files, content and other information that is relevant to them. If I’m a customer service rep specializing in the “e-widget” product line, my default view might pre-filter Product Line on e-widget. Simplify the access and make the content meaningful by providing pre-filtered access to relevant information…but still the ability to easily change the viewpoint.
(4) Design the presentation of content in the context of the workflows that matter to that individual. If I’m filling out a sales quote on-line in my quoting system, provide a pre-filtered view for “pricing guide” in that process flow. The document I need will be right at my finger tips.
(5) And use SharePoint to create simple tools that enable simple processes.
You don’t need custom development and deep technology expertise for these things. With just some clarity of thought, clarity of purpose and a little planning and design work, SharePoint can be much, much more effective than when it’s first installed.
This isn’t Rocket Science. It’s just, well, I guess it’s just “Information Architecture”. There’s nothing new about it.
(By the way, things didn’t work out with the Information Architect at that time. But over time things seem to come full circle…he’s now part of TiER1 doing, among other things, Information Architecture.)