It was 2006, I was leading a project for an enterprise information management system, where we decided to go with SharePoint. It was a few years old tool, much talked about, and rapidly gaining popularity. The project was a huge success and to this date, I have witnessed many business transformations— whole and sole by SharePoint deployment. The tool has gone through several phases of transformation and yet stays the most used collaboration solution. Needless to mention that SharePoint development services have maintained a pivotal status in business information workflows. Quite a feat for any software, I must say.
I have always been a SharePoint fan as the tool keeps evolving and yielding. Probably, the greatest advantage is its adaptability — several out-of-the-box features that are totally customizable and extend into new functionalities. With all collaboration channels and activities clubbed in a single interface, organizations can seamlessly ensure centralized knowledge distribution. But the caveat with such flexible platforms is ‘governance’. Most of the clients narrow their eyes, with the expression — ‘what is this now?’ when I talk about the need to have a governance strategy in place before the roll out. Each SharePoint development company has its own approach to deploy the platform, but if you ask veterans, every SharePoint user organization needs to have one.
People that find governance as an unnecessary appendix to SharePoint framework development reason that they have managed very well without it, for a decade. True, but it was the era when SharePoint was hosted on-premises or its application was limited to only file shares with not many people accessing the data. With SharePoint Online, the need for governance is not debatable anymore. Today, anyone can create sites and many can delete the files that are recoverable for just 93 days. With such flexibility, it is only logical to have governance in place. Now, before anybody comments that what is the point of deploying a flexible platform when we end up governing it— the idea here is TO GOVERN and NOT RESTRICT.
Any experienced SharePoint developer would assert on having rules to content deletion, site creation, site security, external sharing, and record management. Having proper guidelines in place will only help in maximizing the potential of this wonderful tool. For a mature project management, clear governance strategy paired with commitment to process excellence is the prerequisite to achieve business objectives.
Now that we have established that governance is a good thing to have, how do we go about it? I would say that keeping in mind and discussing the following points with the partner SharePoint development company will help in establishing sound governance:
1. Alignment of Stakeholder Departments
SharePoint is a comprehensive solution— it loops in various business divisions to deliver on diverse needs such as collaboration, document management, information retrieval, and sharing, etc. To make this informational flow automated and efficient, concerned departments must be on the same page regarding information compliance, individual and process-wide roles, and responsibilities. This can be achieved with centralized documentation of guidelines, policies, the structure of content flow, and related permissions— essentially circulated before getting live with implementation.
2. Dynamic Governance Policy
Since SharePoint governance is central to streamlining collaboration and exchange of ideas, it needs to be agile— evolve as the business grows. The department that acts as the nucleus of SharePoint implementation must lay out the policies for app integration, customization, or additional libraries that proliferate with business expansion. It can’t be stressed more that governance structure is not an engraving on the stone, it will fail sometimes to learn and improve. Needless to mention that dynamism is not achieved in silos. It is possible only when people, policy, technology, and process are in sync.
3. Governance Automation
As the adoption is usually wide in scale— velocity, variety, and volume of data in SharePoint pose a big challenge. Therefore, governance must be automated at the organizational level, essentially in parallel to SharePoint implementation. I have observed that without built-in controls for governance automation, the vantage of such a sophisticated tool is narrowed. With automation, end users are more or less self-governed with minimum intervention from the IT department. To this end, implementation should include SharePoint or hybrid Office 365 provisioning and management policies. I always make it a point to discuss with clients that rigid provisioning or manned security solutions will drastically reduce adoption.
4. Granular Areas of Governance
Governance is not just about compliance and monitoring criteria or management of user requests. It needs to have guidelines for UI look and feel (trust me it has big implications on user adoption). As the structure matures and sites or groups proliferate, users get creative with customization. Be it background, the color of the menu or typeface, and site layout— users have preferences. I believe that stakeholders should encourage customization within the guidelines, of course. To prevent asking users to roll back the customization, it is only logical to define what is encouraged and what is not. I have seen a few clients in the past to periodically share SharePoint customization best practices, which are dynamic and take into account the user preferences.
5. Governance Monitoring
Most organizations underperform when it comes to monitoring the governance policies and end up failing the purpose. No single individual or team can justify the huge responsibility of monitoring with as much proficiency as automation. With distinct approval stages, automated recertifications, recording/disposal of content, site auditing, and clear manual delegations; policy adherence can be streamlined. Moreover, dividing the governance strategy into more specific areas such as Infrastructure and Security Governance, Content Governance, Training and Administration Governance, and Custom Development Governance can help in simplifying monitoring.
Next steps: Preventing Governance Failure
Just like the need to review implementation success of the platform, organizations need to review the success of governance strategy. I have seen many organizations that enthusiastically framed governance structure in early phases of MS SharePoint development, lose their way soon. The reason is they forgot to review governance and contented with just the technology’s success. They still achieved ROI, though lesser than the potential. More often than not, when we get projects involving audit of a poor-performing SharePoint implementation, we begin with diagnosing the issues with governance. Have people been creating redundant sites? Have people been deleting information beyond their purview? Have people tried to figure out who to ask if something goes wrong and before labelling the platform ‘complicated’?
One of the main reasons that a SharePoint project can fail is that there is no agreement on the steps that people must take to achieve the business objectives. They are mostly left to themselves and end up considering SharePoint as an expensive file manager. Users need reference guidelines so that the solution achieves its potential and delivers value beyond a file repository.
Even for seasoned users, my key advice for good SharePoint governance is— make sure that everything makes sense for users. Unless SharePoint governance is continually monitored and is cohesive with other governance policies within the organization, it is likely to lose its intent in the long run. Stakeholders need to evaluate the implementation and governance against measurable standards and adjust as the project matures.