What’s information architecture & why is it important anyway?


In many organizations, SharePoint has emerged as a multi-purpose platform to manage information and automate business processes and activities.  It’s often times easy to rush into building a solution without thinking enough about something called “information architecture” (IA). 

IA is a term that most of us probably haven’t heard of before SharePoint.  In traditional content management system implementations, the focus was on developing a taxonomy as part of the solution.  Rarely was the term IA used.  So what is information architecture anyway?  According to our friend Wikipedia, information architecture refers to the analysis and design of the data stored by information systems, concentrating on entities, their attributes, and their interrelationships. While that may sound synonomous to taxonomy, the categorization of the information is really only part of developing a sound information architecture for SharePoint.  When it comes to SharePoint, IA is essential and provides a necessary foundation for everything we do and every solution we develop on the platform. 

So why is IA important?  A solid approach starts with the end in mind and there are 3 key drivers to think about when designing your information architecture for SharePoint:

1. Findability (search)

2. Usability (reporting/browsing/filtering)

3. Security

It doesn’t matter if your looking to leverage SharePoint for your intranet portals, for collaborative team spaces, ECM, web 2.0, business process workflows or business intelligence.  Before you jump into the solution and start created sites, you’ll want to first think about what information is being stored, who has access to this information, and how will people find what they’re looking for.  As I mentioned before, developing a taxonomy for the a SharePoint document library or content types may only part of large IA approach.  At a broader enterprise or solution focus, three key things should be considered:

1. Sites

2. People

3. Content

Is there specific metadata you want to associate with your sites (or site collections) that relate to how they’re provisioned or secured or that map to your organizational structure?  Do you intend to have a site directory to make it easier for people to navigate and browse for what they’re looking for?   If you plan on leveraging SharePoint to search for people, what metadata will help users find someone they’re looking for?   Will individuals have certain security classifications that prevent them from accessing certain areas of the installation (e.g. a farm or site collection)?    Of course content is more obvious and is where content types and taxonomies come into play.

No matter how you intend to use SharePoint or what solution you plan to develop, start by addressing your information architecture needs.  Those “information architecture” related questions I outlined will definitely have an impact your deployment and ultimate adoption of the technology.

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