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Tips & Tricks

The SharePoint Way: How to Find Your Information

How much time do you spend looking for a document, or notes, or maybe an email you know exists, but you just can’t remember exactly what it was called, or where it was put. When managing information, for yourself, and especially for an entire organization, a key success metric is the ability to find information quickly. Or, as we experts like to call it, “findability” (I know only experts use this word because it’s not yet even in the dictionary).

In SharePoint, most people, especially in the beginning, naturally think of finding things the same way we’re used to doing in a physical or electronic file system. We start by breaking our information into a fixed hierarchy, and often the one that comes to mind is the org chart. So, we end up with a SharePoint implementation that is organized by department. Then, within each department, we might create a library for each subgroup. Or maybe a library for each process. Or maybe forms go in one library, and documentation in another. Or you could have just one library with folders meant to narrow down information so that it’s naturally findable (just like your C drive). Or we could create a subsite within a subsite to further narrow down the information. You get my drift.

This is a system we all naturally understand, but I suspect we also understand that it does not always, nor often work to make things self-evidently findable for all users. So, let’s take a step back and look at how a tool like SharePoint can free us from the constraints of a fixed hierarchy and allow our users to find information in more than one way they may naturally classify it.

First of all, it is helpful to recognize that the hierarchy of sites and folders, just like the org chart, is really a way of describing, or tagging, the information along a particular dimension. Which is to say, for instance, that while I am located in an org chart in my company, I am also located in a family tree in my family, at an address in my city, as a homo sapiens of the multitude of species, and on planet earth in the Milky Way galaxy (usually). Files and other information are the same in that they not only belong to a department, but are authored by specific people, on particular dates, about certain topics, for the purpose of various business functions and processes, and to be consumed in a variety of applications.

All of this is leads to another word we often hear bantered about when it comes to SharePoint: taxonomy. While this one has been in the dictionary for a while, it is also an expert-level word that is guaranteed to increase your consulting rate. And it comes from science, and French, and ancient Greek. When we say taxonomy, though, we are really just saying, how we should tag or classify our information to make it as findable as possible. In SharePoint, we’re not limited to a single rigid hierarchy of storage location as the primary means of describing information. In fact, we are free to abandon that method of findability altogether. Instead of jumping right to figuring out how to organize your sites and libraries, start by identifying 3-5 of the most intuitive/widely perceived dimensions or classifications of information you wish to make more findable. Org chart is often one. Other common classifications are business function, business process, subject matter expert, author, timeframe, customer, and many others. But talk to your users and limit it to just a few, or you’ll create other findability and process issues.

Then, learn about at least the following SharePoint features and start imagining the possibilities. Note that I’m listing these in an order I recommend learning them in as each feature largely builds on the those listed prior. Likewise, the value and range of possibilities expands as you work your way down this feature list.

  • List columns
  • Content types
  • Syndicated content Types
  • Managed metadata
  • Managed properties
  • Search refiners
  • Web parts such as Content Search

If you have any question or would like to learn more about SharePoint and how it can help you contact Thrive today!