Finding Information – Or Why You Need SharePoint

There are a few common themes that motivate many of our clients to start a SharePoint project. This post shares a few thoughts on one that seems to be especially prevalent: “I can’t find what I’m looking for!”

The natural thought is that the problem stems from:

  • What you’re looking for is out “there”, you just don’t know where in the haystack your needle is.

In most cases, these are also culprits:

  • There are a few versions of the thing you’re looking for.  You were looking for 1 needle, but you found 5 that look 100% the same.
  • It’s not out there. You were looking through a haystack that doesn’t even have your needle.

Many times, there’s also a fourth, related issue that wasn’t on the radar, either:

    • There’s other information out there, which is not necessarily what you are looking for, however, if you were aware of it, your comprehension of the information you’re looking for would be better, richer, or clearer. It may even trump your need to find the information you thought you needed. You’re looking for a needle not being aware your company just issued a new policy that all sewing is now outsourced to “We Sow for You.Com”

Let’s start with tackling the first issue (BTW, solving the first usually solves the third, too, because once your users have confidence the system will quickly lead them to information if it exists, they’ll have confidence that if that they don’t find anything right away, it doesn’t exist – it needs to be created.)

The process typically looks something like this:

      1. Understand what the scope of information is that needs to be found.
      2. Understand where that information is currently coming from. Typically sources include:
        • Documents on a central file share
        • Documents stored on people’s local computers (and you wonder why you couldn’t find things!)
        • E-mails
        • The related but different documents that exist only as attachments in e-mails
        • Line of business applications
        • External sources – e.g. industry data feeds
        • Physical paper documents
        • And more
      3. Understand where you want information to live. A natural inclination for SharePoint implementations is to say all information will live on SharePoint. However, that’s impractical, and not the right answer in many cases. You do not have to store all information in SharePoint to use SharePoint to find it. For examples:
        • You still need line of business applications to serve particular functions
        • It’s not practical to migrate all information into SharePoint Immediately
        • Putting all the information into SharePoint doesn’t necessarily fit your organizations work style
        • Some information doesn’t fit – for example, although SharePoint can store documents up to 2 GB, above 10 MB things start to get unappealing, especially if you are using hosted SharePoint or SharePoint in the cloud
      4. Understand how people look for information. This is as an often skipped step, which is unfortunate because it is critical for informing the next step.
        • What kind of search terms do they look for?
        • How do they think about things?
      5. Develop a means to categorize information. This means understanding the different types of information and the key attributes to identify it (often called metadata and dictated by a taxonomy.) Here it is important to take into account:
        • Use cases defined above
        • Ease of use: more attributes makes it easier to slice and dice information, but also makes tagging more tedious for people and results in additional training to ensure everyone understands the categorization scheme.
      6. Develop rules around the above. For example:
        • You may require that some attributes are required while others are optional.
        • You may require that values for certain attributes are fixed and must be picked from a list e.g. list of departments, list of office locations, etc. while others are free form e.g. document keywords, etc.
      7. Develop a content strategy. It is quite a process to categorize large volumes of existing information. A thoughtful plan must be put together regarding how you will tag existing information, taking into account time involved and relative value derived. For future content, thought must be put into training users on how to use the new tools, how to tag information, and how to find and manage information in this new organizational scheme (Guess what – it’s easier!, but your users won’t know that unless you help them understand it)
      8. Implement it. You’ve done the planning, now you’re ready to implement!

In a future blog post, we’ll talk about strategies for addressing the other items in our list above.

– Software Delivered as Promised. No Surprises.

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