SharePoint: Information Organization and Access (IOA)

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SharePoint is a complex system with many architectural components. To succeed with an implementation you not only need to have the right technical architecture but you will also need a solid information architecture to get the best return on your investment. This is where Information Organization and Access (IOA) concepts can help.

What is IOA?
IOA is all about findability … can people find the important information stored in your SharePoint environment? Extending the construction analogy one of my colleagues started in a previous SharePoint Governance post, IOA is all about where to put the furniture once you have your beautiful mansion built, so you can find it when you need it.

There are two major paradigms in IOA: browse and search. Browsing, or topic browsing, is what most people use when storing documents on their computer or a shared drive. Each folder is a different topic, or refinement of a topic, that people use to find a document. Search has become very popular with the successes of Google and Bing relating to Internet content. Type a keyword, get results, and start looking to see what is most relevant to your query.

There are many heated debates about which one is better but the truth is they are both needed in most environments. Browsing can become troublesome when the topics aren't globally understood or when documents aren't the perfect fit for a single topic. Search can return lots of results but finding exactly what you are looking for can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Why is IOA Important?
Just like most people wouldn't put pots and pans in the living room, there are certain ways to organize your information that are more effective than others. The reason most people don't store their pots and pans in the living room is because they would be out of context and not readily available when they needed them. The same goes for your business information stored in SharePoint. The better you can identify the contexts in which people work, the better you will define what they need easy access to at that time.

Unlike physical items like pots and pans, electronic information can be made available in multiple locations even though it, too, is physically stored in one location. Adding attributes, or metadata, to your information and creating the right views of the information allow you to look at the same information in multiple ways. For example, in the context of an IT project, you may want to find all the documents related to a single project number or you might be looking for project charters across all projects. With the right metadata you can easily fulfill both needs without having to duplicate the document in multiple locations.

Getting started with IOA
1. Identify an initial context - Who are you organizing information for? What information do they have available to them? What exactly are they looking for?

2. Identify critical attributes – An attributes can be something that brings information together, like a project number, or something that provides deeper clarity, like a document type.

3. Create information views - Create the right views of the information so people can easily browse to what they are looking for. The real power of views is to be able to display the same information in multiple ways, either based on preferences or due to different scenarios within the context. In SharePoint, views can be list/library views, pages or even entire sites dedicated to a specific context.

4. Define search scopes - Now that you have those critical attributes assigned to information, define search scopes to increase the relevancy of the search results. Make sure people do not need to scan through hundreds of results for something that should be easily found.

As you can see, IOA is all about findability, and findability is what makes people more efficient. Spending less time searching for information and spending more time using it is the true payoff of IOA. I know it’s hard to quantify, and even harder to get someone to believe your numbers, but the benefits of findability are easy to see after a good implementation and you'll wonder why you didn't spend more time on it before.

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