Over the next five week’s I’ll offer advice and tips on SharePoint 2013 collaboration. Today’s blog focuses on information architecture at scale, site sprawl and version control.
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” – Yogi Berra
In many ways, that’s become SharePoint’s problem in its second decade. We take it for granted.
Now, don’t feel bad for Microsoft. SharePoint has an enviable track record of sustained double digit growth, with hundreds of millions of users on premises and in the cloud. Now on its fifth major release, SharePoint 2013, SharePoint offers peerless document-centric storage and collaboration on a platform most enterprises already own.
It hasn’t been a seamless rise, though. The first version of SharePoint Portal Server 2001 offered web-based document storage, but it was primitive and low capacity. It wasn’t until SharePoint 2003 that enterprises began moving substantial content from legacy file shares into SharePoint.
SharePoint 2003, from msdn.microsoft.com
However, while the platform has continued to grow and evolve over the past decade, many business user expectations haven’t moved on from the days when Kid Rock ruled the music charts:
- All documents on a site had the same permissions
- One library per site
- A different site for each kind of content
- Documents described with naming and titles, not metadata
- Maximum of 2 million documents
But that’s not SharePoint today. Let’s look at some of the tools and tips that make it a far more powerful tool for collaboration. Pretend that the last ten years never happened, and SharePoint 2013 is the first version of the platform you’ve used. Where to start? What have you missed in the last ten years?
Let’s get caught up. We’ll start by looking at baseline changes in architecture, permissions, communications and versioning. Then we’ll look at how you can add color to your documents with user interface design and metadata. Finally, we’ll conclude with a review of SharePoint’s new collaboration features, like co-authoring.
SharePoint’s collaboration foundation
Information architecture at scale
Ten years ago, most SharePoint farms were organized as hierarchies, limited to Active Directory logins. You had a corporate home page, a few departmental sites, and most “Team Sites” were temporary collaborative spaces, set up as children of a parent department.
- Home Page (One big site collection)
SharePoint 2013, on the other hand, has the capacity to handle vastly increased amounts of content, and to have multiple libraries on the same site – with granular permissions possible for each document. In addition, multiple hybrid authentication schemes leveraging “claims” make it possible to unify internal AD users and external stakeholders on the same sites. These collaboration areas are likely to be independent site collections, so sharing there doesn’t require giving permission to child or parent sites. It also allows for a “flatter” information architecture.
Getting rid of site sprawl
SharePoint ‘adoption’, at one point, was mostly about pointing people to the right subsection of the site. And if there was another team that needed similar information, people copied those files to the other site. In the example above, if the IT department was supporting ProjectX, it was likely that some of the ProjectX documents were added to the IT site to make them “easier to find”. Many enterprises kept all their sites in one massive site collection – leading to great security complexity. Also, because of authentication complexity, internal and external stakeholder seldom shared the same sites.
As a result, you’re more likely to see site structures like this:
- Internal Home page
- Collaboration Home page (Web Application)
- Projects (Managed path)
- Project1 (Site collection)
In this example, the division and department sites are, more than likely, publishing content to be used INSIDE the enterprise.
Finally, SharePoint 2010 and 2013 introduced a new site template – the Document Center. Document Centers are designed to be large scale, common document repositories for 250,000 documents or more. Whereas SharePoint 2003 required a new site for each library, leading to LOTS of small libraries, you can store thousands of documents in the same place, and use security, dynamic access, and filters to generate focused views of the content.
One version of the truth
SharePoint 2013 is a high capacity platform. Expansions in SQL and storage optimization, along with tools like Remote BLOB Storage create nearly limitless capacity for enterprise documents – up to 4TB under the right conditions. But that’s no reason to allow SharePoint to proliferate with redundant or obsolete content.
Have you ever seen a file share, or even a library, with files named:
- 2009 Proposal
- 2009 Proposal_AKedits
- 2009 Proposal_Final
If you add those files to SharePoint, all three can be edited independently. It’s far better to keep all three “linked” as part of one logical document. Versioning can be enabled for any library in SharePoint, allowing you to see who edited the file, what changed, and when. Once enabled, the context menu […] can bring you to the version history inside the browser.
And once enabled, the versions are also surfaced inside Office 2013’s ‘Backstage” controls (the colored leftmost tab in the UI.
From Office or the browser, you can review, compare, or rollback older versions. In more advanced use cases, you can also require documents have to be “checked out” before editing – ensuring only one person can make changes at a time. You can still maintain a clean interface because you’re not showing redundant copies of the same thing – but they’re all still there, stacked “behind” the current file in Version History.
In part two, I’ll look at sharing and sending documents as well as storage.
 Or you could use Dynamic Access and use metadata classification to define security.