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Streamlining SharePoint: Improving governance within your organization


Many organizations implement, or consider implementing, SharePoint solutions to automate processes, make current information more available to employees and improve document control. Unfortunately, many companies implement a tool with few guidelines for how content is to be managed and shared. Without effective governance, these organizations do not maximize their platform with appropriate organization and rules, which ultimately leads to noncompliance, low user adoption and dissatisfaction.

The battle with unstructured content is a constant for some businesses, leading to confusion, incorrect document usage and poor user adoption. The problem becomes more evident when organizations are considering implementing a new version of SharePoint or seeking to optimize an existing instance of SharePoint by redefining content areas or work flow. Those situations are comparable to moving into a new home and deciding what items to keep and which to dispose of.

During implementation, almost every organization develops policies and practices in an attempt to govern SharePoint usage, but they often do not have the monitoring controls and oversight required to ensure adherence. Establishing how information is managed is a complex process. For example, depending on business needs, policies can either reside within the affected business unit's repository or in the compliance area of the site.

In other cases, inconsistent policies and processes present significant challenges to SharePoint governance efforts. Navigation and structure should be similar across business units, sections and portals, but variances in these elements are a common issue that result in confusion. Within organizations governed by regulatory or compliance requirements, we find that a portion of their documents are very well structured, but other, more general information is not as disciplined without rules to guide them.     

Without an effective SharePoint governance plan, your organization is left vulnerable in many areas, especially with security and user access. Employees may have access to information they should not view, while others may not have enough access to what they need. Without the right level of attention, you may not be leveraging the depth of work flow and process automation capabilities for your content.

SharePoint should be a go-to location for employees for current and relevant data and information. Without the right oversight and a well-designed plan, your project can begin to miss the mark quickly and lose steam. We often see a lot of excitement from the business users during the planning process, but if the execution is not structured or well thought out, the excitement will most definitely lead to frustration.

If user adoption and usage are low or declining, that is a direct message that issues exist. If employees start to abandon SharePoint and return to manual or outdated processes or provision their own solutions using external, consumer-grade collaboration tools, the danger of using or distributing the wrong information becomes much higher. You may also hear user complaints about not having the right access or locating information.

To address these concerns, organizations must establish a governing body to dictate how information is stored and develop an overall governance strategy. A steering committee or group of key stakeholders can define processes and rules to manage content and create an environment for employees to more effectively search, retrieve and utilize information.

This steering committee should be a representation of all departments or functional areas within the organization. Many times it is assumed that information technology or compliance should dictate and preside over the plan; however, the business needs to work together to make it happen. A thorough SharePoint governance plan should start with a few key questions:

  • Who has the ability to change the way the application is structured?
  • What is the change process?
  • What are the rules for publishing, changing and approving policies?
  • Where should information live, how is it managed and how should it be approved through the platform?

There is a misconception that governance should only focus on security and user access; those certainly are key elements, but it is also about how content is structured, how work flow is automated and how the organization can more efficiently manage content and collaborate. The steering committee or stakeholder body can align SharePoint processes with business objectives and develop an appropriate structure and rule base to establish a consistent platform.

Having a very solid governance plan integrates consistency for employees to find what they need and better manage their work. Unfortunately, the positives of being able to tailor and customize SharePoint to your needs can also be negatives without steadfast rules and a consistent plan across the organization.

With line-of-business applications like enterprise resource planning systems, transactions are posted and data is managed a specific way. Conversely, SharePoint presents many choices and possibilities. The good news is that when you have a consistent governance plan in place, the platform becomes much more productive. However, when you don't take the time to establish and enforce it, issues arise quickly and employees become frustrated with the solutions.

Wherever you are with your SharePoint deployment, if you have an older solution, or you are implementing a new platform, a cohesive and comprehensive governance process is the main factor in ensuring your success. The importance of paying close attention to how information is managed and establishing a steering committee or stakeholder group to make key decisions and develop guidelines cannot be underestimated.

If you are struggling with SharePoint processes or are unsure about the effectiveness of your platform, it is often helpful to undergo a governance review process to help establish rules and realign content. It is never too late to evaluate where you are, determine where you need to be and develop a plan with consistent oversight to ensure a successful SharePoint experience.