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A SharePoint upgrade can educate users about information governance

Upgrading or migrating to a new version of SharePoint gives companies a chance to clean up their content and revive information governance training.

As companies survey their information landscape, many struggle with sprawl -- content is saved in multiple locations, filenames aren't intuitive, sites are built then left idle, and document version control is an issue.

For many companies, upgrading or migrating to SharePoint 2013 offers an opportunity to address these concerns before the inefficiencies of the old system are replicated in the new. Using a migration as a chance to get one's information governance house in order was also an important theme at the 2014 SPTechCon conference in San Francisco last week.

SPTechCon speaker and governance expert Susan Hanley sat down with SearchContentManagement to discuss how a SharePoint migration can offer a chance to clean house. As president of Susan Hanley LLC, based in Bethesda, Md., Hanley helps companies design and implement successful portal and collaboration solutions. She is also co-author of Essential SharePoint 2013: Practical Guidance for Meaningful Business Results.

Hanley explained that an effective information governance policy can be hard to pin down. Organizations must find ways to make information a business asset rather than a risk, by adhering to compliance regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, for example. Hanley provided advice for striking a balance that will help manage the lifecycle of SharePoint information without frustrating users. The best strategies, she said, make information governance more automatic, building it into site templates and enforcing it using workflows or third-party tools.

How can an organization planning a SharePoint upgrade concurrently improve its information governance strategy?

Susan Hanley: People realize that where they are today is not where they want to be, and the opportunity to rethink things is great when you can upgrade to a new version. It's like when you move to a new house -- you get a chance to redesign how you want the rooms to look. And then you can sort through and decide, 'Do we still want this, or do we send it off to Goodwill?' From an information perspective, this might mean deleting old content or sending it to the records archive. And 'What do we take into the new house? Where do we put it in the new house?' You now have permission to rethink things because you can tell your users, 'Instead of just migrating as is, let's use this as an opportunity to get more value.'

An important guiding principle is, 'What happens in SharePoint stays in SharePoint.'
Susan Hanleypresident of Susan Hanley LLC

What challenges does IT need to address in order to deliver additional value?

Hanley: I've heard some people say, 'SharePoint is really easy to implement … badly.' We get SharePoint in our organizations because it's an incredibly empowering tool. Part of the vision we have as IT is to allow our business users to create solutions for themselves. Unfortunately, in the typical deployment, IT brings in SharePoint and then tosses it over the fence and says, 'Here, do it!' Without some guidance -- which I think is one of the most important parts of governance -- it's very easy to make suboptimal choices. It's not the business users' fault; they don't have any guidance. So one of the biggest governance challenges is that it's easy to 'solve' the problem by building a new site, and we get this proliferation of sites, many of which are abandoned when whoever created them is no longer interested or no longer in the organization.

What kind of guidelines can corral the unnecessary growth of sites and content in SharePoint?

Hanley: Think about it in the context of, 'What are we trying to do as an organization?' If we're going to implement SharePoint for collaboration and get it right, we really ought to think about the business goals that we want to accomplish. We need just enough governance to get there, and no more. Anything else is just going to be annoying to people. We shouldn't be trying to put rules on things that don't contribute to our business objectives.

If you want to cure 'versionitis' -- [when multiple people in an organization are working from different versions of the same document] -- one of the most important guiding principles is: one copy of a document. That should be the mantra. If you don't own it, if you didn't create it, and you're not agreeing to maintain it for its lifecycle, you shouldn't publish it. You can link to it, but it's not yours to publish.

Another guiding principle [to improve version control] is: What happens in SharePoint stays in SharePoint. Realistically speaking, most people are not creating their content in SharePoint. If you're going to create it in Microsoft Office and upload it to SharePoint, then once it's there, get rid of any other version of it.

Can you outline some advice for applying good information governance in a way that doesn't hinder productivity?

Hanley: First thing is, don't have any more rules than you need to. It's about balancing risk. Is the risk of allowing someone to do something going to be greater than the benefit they achieve by doing it? It's tying it right back to 'What are we trying to accomplish?' and not getting in the way of ourselves. We want our governance policies to enhance our business. So here's how to help enforce this:

For more on information governance

Delivering business value with information governance

Information governance drives records management

Breaking information governance paralysis

  1. Build templates with built-in governance best practices. Understand what you need to do and build it into the template so you're not handing someone a blank piece of paper. In other words, you're making it easier for them to follow the rules. People are fine with constraints. They just want the constraints to align with their business objectives.
  2. Explore third-party tools. Governance is one of those places where SharePoint needs friends. There are third-party tools that help monitor where people are going off the rails, and then fix [problems] where possible. Then you need someone who's paying attention to this. You can create teachable moments by identifying where people have gone off the rails. You can also use these tools to prevent that from happening.
  3. Give people permissions aligned with their training. You don't have to give everybody full control even if they're an owner of a site. You have to think, 'Is the person tech-savvy enough to know what to do?' Many organizations don't give anyone full control of their site. I don't totally agree with that. If we never allow anyone a little privilege to try things, then they may never explore and learn. So I'm not a big fan of locking everything down unnecessarily, but I am an enormous fan of giving people only enough permission that they've been trained to use.
  4. Give users training just in time, and not before. No one is going to read a governance plan in a big book. They won't pay attention to it until they need know. There's a great tool that helps embed training based on permissions, right in the ribbon, called VisualSP, and I know that there are more "just in time" training capabilities to come [from Microsoft and others]. In the meantime, you can also do it your own way by editing the pages where people upload documents [for example] and inserting links like, 'New to this? Here is a link to our File Naming Recommendations and help on how to upload a document.'

For more on SharePoint migration, check out our guide.

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