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Ideas for a better Information Architecture with SharePoint (Intro)

Last Saturday I presented at the SharePoint Saturday event in Belgium. The title of my presentation was ‘A document is not a document. And a workflow not a workflow.’ The objective of the presentation was to try out some new ideas about structuring information in SharePoint. This is a short resume of the line of thinking that I presented.

SharePoint is about sharing information. The big difference between centralized document storage and local storage is that the way the information is structured must be clear to all users of the information and not only to one individual or a small group of users. So the challenge is to find a common basis that is clear to everyone. What is common to all people working in an organization, is that they execute steps in one or more business processes. Hence the hypothesis: What if we took Business Processes as a basis for structuring information in SharePoint?

Here are the steps to develop this idea:



Every document has its process

If I remember well this was the tagline of Lotus Notes when it was launched in the early 80’s. Think of it: can you name any document in an organization that is not related to any business process at all? If we accept this idea, then maybe BPM can help us in understanding better how documents are created, modified and published in an organization.

Types of processes

BPM classifies business process in 3 categories:

– Core Processes: these are the processes that serve the external customer of the organization

– Supporting Processes: these are the processes of which the customer is an internal customer

– Management Processes: these are the processes that given direction to the organization and that control the compliance too what was agreed.

What strikes most is that the audiences of these processes, i.e. the people that create and consume information in these processes are different groups of people: people working in the core operations of the organization, management, etc. Let’s keep that in mind.

Types of documents

Another consideration is that the types of documents that are used in these processes are very different.

It is very important to make a clear distinction between:

– Procedural Documents that describe HOW the organization operates, and

– Operational Documents that indicate what the process or operation is about.

Read more about types of documents in Part 1 – Every Document has its process.


Every type of document has its own workflow pattern

The way in which information is created and published in SharePoint is very different depending on the document type. One can identify roughly 4 workflow patterns:


– Pattern 1: Information Push without workflow

– Pattern 2: Information Push with version control workflow

– Pattern 3: Business Process

– Pattern 4: Collaboration

Read more about workflow patterns in Part 2 – Every document type has its workflow pattern.


Every type of document has its own author/audience pattern

When one looks at the workflow patterns defined above, one can derive also different patterns of author/audience pairs:

– 1 to many: 1 author with a very large audience (e.g. news items that are published)

– few to many: 1 author/reviewer/approver versus a very large audience (e.g. a new procedure that is published after approval)

– few to few, structured: in a typical business process only the actors in the process are both author and audience

– few to few, unstructured: in a workgroup or committee, all members are both authors and audience for the same document

Read more details in Part 3 – Every document type has its author/audience pattern.


Every type of document has its own collaboration or publication structure

In reality most of the SharePoint structures hat you see are based on organization structure, each department having its site or site collection. Documents that are created in each department are also stored in the department’s environment. This puts the burden of finding a piece of information on the shoulders of the audience: Is the procedure I am looking for an HR or a Finance Procedure, and where can I find it. By considering types of documents and related workflow one imagine a completely different structure.

The creation process and its environment and the publication environment are different for the document types that were identified.

– Procedural documents are (or should be) stored in one place for all audiences once they are approved for publication

– Operation documents are stored in a process environment for all people participating in the process

– Documents that are still in the creation phases in the context of a committee or project are stored in a collaboration space until they are ready to be published

– Every department has its own environment for all information that is strictly limited to employees of the department.

Read more in Part 4 – Every document type has its own collaboration or publication structure.





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