Information Architecture Defined
Information Architecture (IA) is the structural design of shared information environments; the art and science of organizing and labeling content, websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability.
A simplified definition would be; Adding Structure to Unstructured Content.
Imagine being inspired by a movie one night and deciding to go to the library and find the book it was written after. When you arrive at the library you find this.
With all of these uncategorized books everywhere, how are you going to find what you are looking for? You might stumble upon the book; however, it could take hours, even days, to find.
Now imaging arriving at this library, looking through the index and quickly finding the book you are looking for.
In a library, books are organized using the Dewey Decimal system of categorization.
This same principal applies to the content being managed in a document management solution. Without applying Information Architecture and categorizing techniques, finding information will be virtually impossible.
Benefits of Architecting Information
Because of the advanced features found in SharePoint, categorizing your content is one of many techniques used to organize and manage your information. Other benefits of architecting your information include:
Reducing the question “where do I store and manage this content?” – From a usability perspective, users must have a clear and concise place to store and manage all of their content. Applying sound Information Architecture principals and techniques will improve consistency and allow users to execute their daily duties with greater speed and confidence.
Foregoing Information Architecture, grouping principals and categorization, leaving users to each determine the best approach to storing and managing content will result in mayhem. You will quickly find that users don’t recall where they stored information and duplicate it and are unable to find their content and become frustrated and distrustful with SharePoint.
Improving Information Findability and Aggregation – Applying consistent Information Architecture techniques, adding structure to your unstructured information, surfacing relevant search results and producing accurate content aggregation becomes possible. Creating scopes (result sources) and faceted filtering are the primary means by which we produce relevant search results and aggregate content to support various contextual needs.
Set Default Metadata Values – Applying specific grouping principals allows us to configure default metadata values. This reduces the amount of metadata values that need to be manually edited by users and dramatically improves overall accuracy.
Improving Trust and Adoption of Solution – Only when users have a clear understanding of where content is stored and managed in SharePoint and are confident they can find it, will they begin to trust it and adopt it for their day to day business operations.
Searching and Aggregating Unstructured Information
There is a misconception I am frequently confronted with. Many people believe that unstructured content can be surfaced and aggregated with a high degree of relevancy simply using out of box SharePoint search facilities. This is an absolute fallacy. Don’t get me wrong, the FAST search services that are now an integral part of SharePoint 2013 Enterprise, are amazing and full featured. However, there is only so much that can be done with unstructured content and, without information architecture, you will be disappointed with the results.
In SharePoint, the basic fields stored and indexed, for a document include creation date/time, the user who created the document, modified date/time, the user who modified the document, file name, title. In addition, the content of the document itself is indexed by the search services.
Imagine hundreds of thousands, or millions, of documents in your SharePoint Intranet. The search facilities have but only a small amount of information to search for; i.e. the file name, title and content of the document. If a user searches the term “contract”, the search facilities will return all items that contain the term “contract” in the file name, title or contained within the document. The result could be thousands and thousands of documents; virtually zero level of relevance.
Adding structure, through information architecture techniques, allows us to produce highly relevant search results and content aggregation.
Information Architecture and Library Sciences are techniques most individuals can understand. Applying those techniques to technology, such as Microsoft SharePoint, are complex and time consuming. When you start your SharePoint implementation process, I recommend finding someone internally (or hiring a consultant) and utilize their knowledge to increase your success.
- Information Architecture Articles (by Bob Mixon)
- Information Architecture (Wikipedia)
- Library Science (Wikipedia)