10 Key Elements of Enterprise Information Architecture (#IA) – #2 Understanding

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
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

05.03.02 - Contract Term
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.

Bob Mixon

Senior SharePoint Solution Architect, Senior Information Architect, 5-year Microsoft SharePoint MVP (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010). Family man, father, grandfather and cook. You can read my entire profile here.

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