This article is the third in a series of ten that will help you better understand the 10 key elements of Enterprise Information Architecture. To read the previous articles and the complete table of contents in this series, please click here.
The manner in which information is presented can dramatically improve its value. Applying Information Architecture principals and techniques can afford us the ability to query and present information in many different formats thus supporting many different business contextual needs.
During the Subject Matter Expert (SME) interview process, used in the Understanding phase, formulate questions that inspire individuals to describe how they use and view information. Some information is best displayed as simple, linear lists. Other information is best displayed as charts, graphs in a dashboard and points of aggregation. During these same interviews and other assessment techniques, you can learn more about security requirements through the understanding of persona-based information access needs. Specific personas will have different visibility of information.
It has been my experience that applying techniques that simplify the storage and management of content be your initial focus. You can then aggregate that information, through specific queries, and present it in a manner that best suits the consumer persona and contextual needs.
Multiple presentation models to support varying contextual needs
- Printed reports
- Content aggregation, Scoping and Faceted Filtering
- Senior Management
- Departmental, Line-of-Business Management, Business Unit Management
As mentioned before, the interview process will provide you with a wealth of information about the consumers of information and the best manner in which to present it. Other techniques you can employ to understand presentation requirements include usability studies, wire-frame design diagrams, screen mockup’s and proof of concept or pilot projects.
Techniques for understanding how information is to be presented include:
- Interview information SME’s and consumers
- Understand how they use the information in their day-to-day business operations leads to the best approach for presenting information
- “Day in the life of” scenarios
- Usability studies
- Wire-frame diagrams
- Screen mockup’s
- Proof of Concept’s (POC’s)
In SharePoint, information is stored and managed in sites, pages, lists and libraries. Other information can be incorporated using various tools, such as Business Connectivity Services (BCS), Excel Services, custom development, etc. To gain the most value presenting this information, you then need to first apply Information Architecture techniques; categorization, grouping, metadata, etc. Once you have architected your information, it simplifies the presentation of that information.
Create content scopes (result sources) to group information for aggregate presentation and ad-hoc search. You can then utilize the new faceted filtering (refinement) features of SharePoint 2013 to refine the scoped content and produce highly relevant set of results; to support various business contextual needs.
More on this in later articles!
This article is the second in a series of ten that will help you better understand the 10 key elements of Enterprise Information Architecture. To read the first article and the complete table of contents in this series, please click here.
Understanding information is the most important aspect of Information Architecture. Before we can create solutions around information, we must thoroughly understand how people use, think about and value it. This understanding of information can then drive solution implementation prioritization, trust in its accuracy/use and ability to aid with and improve day-to-day business operations.
Understanding information leads to:
- How people think about and value information
- How information is used by people and processes
- How information is stored and managed
- Identification of information ownership, responsibility and accountability
- Standard naming conventions
- Reduction in term ambiguity
Most people use terms and names that have meaning to them. For example, when an employee in IT uses the term Contract, they could be referring specifically to a Service Level Agreement (SLA) Contract. As humans, we may be able to automatically derive the understanding of a topic by applying scope and context.
Using the previous example; I am talking to an IT employee about server down time, I understand the term Contract means SLA. If I am unclear, I ask!
Unfortunately, technology doesn’t have the ability to automatically derive this level of scope and context. For technology to support the various contextual needs, we must categorize and label information; i.e. the basis and need for Information Architecture.
As Information Architects, there are many techniques that can be used to better understand how information is used. Having a thorough understanding of how information is used in day to day business operations is critical to designing and building a SharePoint solution that ultimately adds value.
Unfortunately, we cannot be experts in all areas of business within our organization. As such, the best approach to understanding information is to ask the experts. You will gain a wealth of knowledge by interviewing business domain SME’s, users (consumers), vendors and customers.
Most individuals in an organization are busy and may not have ample time describing what they do and how they do it. In many cases, you can better prepare yourself for these conversations through self-education. A wealth of information and knowledge can be derived by inventorying existing file structures, file naming conventions and supporting systems.
If your organization has search tools, review and assess logs; many times this can provide you with insight in to what consumers are search for.
Techniques for understanding information include:
- Interview domain subject matter experts (SME’s)
- Business domain SME’s, Users, Vendors, Customers, etc.
- “Day in the life of” scenarios
- Card sorting sessions
- Inventory content
- Assess, audit, refine, prioritize, label and categorize
- Often file structure hierarchies and existing website navigation taxonomies aid in understanding how users currently categorize and think about their content
- Review search logs
Often, as IT personnel, we fall in to the “build it and they will follow” trap. This is a recipe for failure with these types of solutions. Remember, our user base has had free access to all their content when stored on file shares, local drives and other repositories. To simply pickup their content from those repositories and drop it in to SharePoint adds no business value at all. In fact, doing so makes managing their documents more complex. For our user base to see value in using a more complex approach to managing their documents, we must add business value. The only way to add business value is to understand their information and how it is used. Only then can we transform the way information is used and improve/streamline day-to-day business operations.
SharePoint 2013 Intranet Management, Design and Architecture Training
These ten elements are defined, in detail, in my SharePoint 2013 Management, Design and Architecture Training Course. For those of you who recall my Information Architecture (#IA) course for #SharePoint 2010, this new course expands on all the new features of both on-premise and Office 365 environments.
If you are interested in learning more about how to implement a #SharePoint 2013 Intranet solution, please register for our next class.