Practical Guidance for SharePoint Governance Planning

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At the SHARE Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa last week, I spoke on the topic of ‘How Social and Cloud Impact Your Governance Strategy’ and about how organizations who otherwise might have a solid governance strategy and processes in place tend to forget all it when contemplating new technologies. It’s as if the new tools or platforms are “above all of that,” or somehow people assume that all of their governance concerns are automatically covered. Companies need to much more proactive in defending their governance requirements when reviewing new technologies.

Back when I worked at Microsoft, one of the internal phrases that really struck a chord with me was “You need to manage your own career.” The idea behind this was that while Microsoft provided many tools and trainings for career development, the responsibility for managing your career path was not your managers, your HR leads, or Microsoft leadership – but yours alone. As an organization, you need to take a similarly proactive approach to SharePoint governance, ensuring your unique requirements are being met, and making the appropriate management decisions based on those requirements. 

imageWhen I talk about governance, I like to present the image of a new community, where streets and subdivisions are planned with proper access to power, water, and communications lines. In this context, governance might be like the planning commission that is put in place to manage the growth and change, ensuring laws are being followed and standards being met – but as to the design of your individual house and what you do inside of your home or business, the planning commission has very little to say….unless what you are doing begins to impact others within the community. You might have some communities that are much more restrictive, with one-way streets, limited access to resources, and huge fines for over-stepping boundaries. Others are the opposite — very open communities with communal swimming pools and shared services, allowing you to customize your home with very little interruption from city leaders. There is no right or wrong here: the governance principles should match the organizational culture and business needs. But in either case, there is a governance strategy in place, with an alignment of growth to that strategy.

Two of the biggest disruptors impacting your organization are Social and Cloud. While there is a tremendous amount of sales and marketing hype surrounding both, the latest social and cloud solutions are not yet as mature as your other enterprise platforms, and managing them can introduce many hidden costs and as-yet-foreseen impacts. For example, everyone is well aware that the cost of cloud-based storage has dropped dramatically in the last several years, and so the assumption is that the cloud is simply cheaper for storage. However, while the cost of storage per Gb has dropped, the cost of managed storage has slowly but steadily been on the rise. Why? For one, organizations have stopped deleting anything. The average SharePoint server is over 1TB, growing 50 to 75% per year. Storage has become so cheap that we have stopped purging outdated or irrelevant data because its just easier to keep everything. Another hidden risk / cost is accessibility to content for eDiscovery. Many organizations that have very strict eDiscovery requirements, but who also want to embrace some of the latest social solutions often do not think about the impact of this change, and how current transparency and data request requirements will be met when half of the relevant “content” that needs to be surfaced and presented is within Yammer, for example. How do your requirements change when data is split between on premises (SharePoint) and online (Yammer) content?

The net-net of my presentations – and my guidance to customers – is to make sure you are asking these kinds of questions when looking at new technologies. I am a huge supporter of moving content and collaboration into the cloud, and of the latest social capabilities, but I also prefer a pragmatic approach to these things.

As you begin to consider these new platforms, there are some questions you should always ask: How do I manage permissions? How do I maintain taxonomy? What are my storage options? How are my audits and compliance requirements accomplished? What kind of reporting is available, and in what format? Is there real-time monitoring? How can I manage and enforce my governance policies?

Additionally, the governance best practices I recommend are as follows:

  • Make governance a priority. If you are not proactively assessing the impacts of new technologies, nobody else will do it for you.
  • Look at your systems holistically (across existing and future tools and systems) regardless of where the servers sit (on premises or in the cloud).
  • Define what policies, procedures, and metrics are needed to manage your environment, and then look at what is possible across your tools and platforms.
  • Clarify and document your permissions, information architecture, templates, content types, taxonomy — and ownership of each, and review them (and iterate) regularly. I’d say that this is a monthly activity, at the very least.
  • Be prepared to regularly iterate on your strategy as the business grows and changes, as the cloud and social platforms mature, and as your understanding of what the business needs also adjusts and matures.

I hope you find this information helpful. There has been such a demand for this kind of practical guidance that I am putting together material for a half-day workshop that I plan to start giving this fall at a yet-to-be-announced event. More on this as dates and venues firm up.

Thanks again to Brad, Warren and Craig from the GTconsult (@GT_consult) team for hosting me for the week, and for all of the attendees who stopped by to say hello and talk SharePoint at the show. I always thoroughly enjoy my visits to SA, and am hoping to get back to the region soon.

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Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.