A guide to SharePoint governance

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When companies use SharePoint for the first time, many report the same problem: they quickly lose control over the platform. After overcoming the initial obstacle of driving end user adoption, they find that they’ve failed to put processes in place to ensure everyone uses SharePoint in a consistent, organised way. No-one knows who’s in charge and no-one wants to accept responsibility for setting things right, so the business ends up with an unmanageable sprawl of files and folders – not to mention potential compliance risks.

So, how do SharePoint veterans avoid this sad state of affairs? The answer is through governance. By setting end user expectations from square one, a company can exert control over SharePoint and help it grow into the exquisite, harmonious ecosystem it was always meant to be.

Unfortunately, many individuals – even those with extensive experience as SharePoint users – have only a hazy understanding of what an effective governance plan actually entails. They could fail to consider how certain end user behaviours can be enforced, or that the site needs to uphold various compliance obligations. Or they might labour under the impression that the longer and more in-depth a written policy is, the more likely it is to succeed.

In order to work out how these problems can be remedied, let’s start by considering what governance actually is. Helpfully, Microsoft itself has defined the term vis a vis SharePoint: “Governance is the set of policies, roles, responsibilities, and processes that control how an organisation’s business divisions and IT teams work together to achieve its goals,” it says.

In essence, effective SharePoint governance is built on the twin pillars of people and processes. The human end users must have well defined roles and some degree of responsibility for the project’s success, while the technological aspects should be put to use to provide information classification, discovery and compliance. And both, of course, need to work towards concrete business goals.

Steering your end users in the right direction

For newcomers to SharePoint, it might seem counterintuitive to stress how important it is to exert control over human end users. Surely, after all, one of the central tenets of the platform is that it’s democratic – everybody can use it to share documents, access self-service intranet applications and leverage data in exciting and innovative ways.

However, it’s critically important that everyone pulls together, which means setting out some guidelines on how each stakeholder needs to act. First and foremost, SharePoint must have leadership, and this should come from business decision makers with a vision of how the platform benefits the company as a whole. A governance plan should also outline the responsibilities of technical specialists, such as IT and compliance staff, to advise on how the legal and regulatory requirements of this vision can be met.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, of course, is managing rank-and-file workers. These stakeholders are the lifeblood of a successful SharePoint project, but it can be tricky to ensure they always act in efficient and compliant ways. Effective governance, therefore, should lay down exactly how end users are expected to behave. It should determine which content they are allowed to open and edit, and which content should be blocked off from them, as well where and in what circumstances they can create files and folders. This could be a complex endeavour, depending on the size of the organisation and SharePoint site, so it might require putting certain staff members in charge of end user education.

Promoting efficient and effective processes in SharePoint

Implementing SharePoint as a replacement to another system, or set of systems, represents a fundamental change to an organisation’s business processes. Whether that means introducing a new way for employees to book holidays through a self-service intranet form, or revamping the company’s system for logging sales calls, SharePoint can fundamentally alter how an organisation works internally.

If it so chooses, a company can simply document its proposed processes in a written governance plan. However, this kind of policy can be alienating to end users, not to mention difficult to enforce.

This makes a case for starting work on SharePoint governance concurrently with the implementation process, providing an opportunity to address potentially problematic processes by leveraging the technology itself. For example, if it looks like employees are going to have to regularly repeat a finicky procedure, the organisation might consider setting up an automated workflow to promote efficiency and reduce the risk of failure. Similar technology-led processes could also be implemented to drive consistent classification of content.

Governance should be ongoing

Finally, it’s important to remember that effective SharePoint governance isn’t a one-time deal. An organisation shouldn’t devote weeks at the start of a SharePoint implementation to developing a governance plan that never gets updated – it should keep things simple and update its policies as its business requirements change. This means regularly reviewing the project’s objectives, auditing compliance and ensuring the company’s current organisational structure is reflected in governance.

The modern business environment is fast-moving – it’s no use developing an inflexible SharePoint solution that can’t be adapted to new circumstances and therefore won’t be fit for purpose in a few months’ time.

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