If you are a practitioner of Sharepoint, then sharepoint information architecture is useful for you for explaining how the content is modelling in the customised format.  It tells how the information should be represented on a intranet or website.

With a large number of companies using Sharepoint to create and manage websites, it has become one indispensable part of the information management system across organizations. The easy and mobile storage, sharing, access and organization of information has led to SharePoint being a one-stop destination for flawless content management.

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What is SharePoint information architecture?

Sharepoint information online architecture refers to the plan or layout in which the information is stored and labelled such that it facilitates easy access and usability over it. The information can be in the form of documents, files, images, videos, data lists, social content, forms, etc. it is essentially a collaboration system based over the website to facilitate integrated working across an organization. It allows you to store and segregate data based on several measures keeping in mind the business and user requirements. In order to be able to do so, the SharePoint architecture deploys several components that serve as the building blocks to it.

Components of SharePoint information architecture

#1. Site hierarchy:

The site hierarchy is a strategic view of your SharePoint environment. This step requires you to think and curate a blueprint of how your SharePoint environment is going to look to your users. By doing so, you will have an idea of how the users will be able to use it. To have a clear vision of this, you will need to answer a few questions like:

  • In what form will the content be added to this environment? Will, there be any back-up storage for not-so-frequently required data or will this be the sole repository of all kinds of data?
  • What is your customer base? Is there a provision to give access to external users who are not a part of your company?
  • How are you planning to compartmentalize your data? Will there be different sites for different domains?
  • What is the size of your organization and how many different site collections will be required?
  • Are you aimed towards only managing and providing data access or do you wish to build a robust intranet?

Answering these questions will give you a clear idea of how to design the outlook of the SharePoint environment and how many site collections do you require. Generally, small scale organizations manage their data within the single default site collection that appears on the homepage. But if you are looking forward to building a true intranet that is explicitly defined and customized, you can create different site collections depending on different domains.

If you have different site collections for user-specific data, you will be in a better position to control the access of data. However, if you have a single site collection, the data within it will be accessible to all the users who are granted permission- both internal and external.  Once you are done with the segregation of the site collections, now you need to impart hierarchy to them. This means you need to put similar site collections under a particular dashboard. Remember, hierarchy is only for clear segregation of the data, do not make a nest out of it which will further complicate things.

#2. Search and Navigation: 

This is the part in which your end-user is actually interested. Navigation and search refer to the interface of the structure that will be accessible to the end user. Under the hierarchy part, you were doing the homework of simplifying data into easily accessible collections. Now, how will that data be presented is what we are talking about here. You will need to work upon the search configuration aspect of your SharePoint architecture and make sure the users easily find what they are looking for. Few things to keep in mind here are keyword searches, filters, sorting lists, etc need to be implemented for quicker and better navigation.

#3. Taxonomy:

Taxonomy refers to the classification of your data and site collections into different broader genres that group inside them the closely related domains. For example, when you use the SharePoint metadata feature, you are allowed to use the built-in properties. Let us say you are planning to categorize departments then under the “Department” property you can add to the several departments in your organization like human resource, finance, operations, etc. This can further be divided into documents sets that are labeled as payments, projects, employees, etc. In this way, you are storing a set of related data under one tab. This is unlike saving your information in folders where every data type is saved in isolation.

#4. Security:

With business data involved, security is a major concern. You would not want any of your data going into the wrong hands even by mistake. Hence, you need to control who sees what? This can be done by either restricting access at a very basic level or the site collection level. However, doing so can restrict authentic users from accessing the data. You can also divide people on the basis of their accessibility grants. This way you will immediately know who gets to see or access how much.

#5. Webserver:

Web servers are the server pool that does the information passing to and from the user. These servers take information requests from the user, process it and return data accordingly. The larger your customer base grows, the more the number of web servers you require. These are also called front-end servers. To maintain a balance between these servers, a device called network load balancer is used.

#6. Database server:

These are the most important and largest of all databases. All the data or information along with other servers- application server, search server, and web server are stored in the database server.

#7. Search server:

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Search servers can work both independently and along with the application servers. The basic functions of a search server are the facilitation of indexing, crawl, query processing, analytics, content processing, and search administration. Although most of these features are present in the application servers as well.

#8. Application server:

The servers responsible for hosting service applications are called application servers. It is deployed in a 3-tier farm to host central administration. Depending upon the version of SharePoint architecture you are using, you can make the intra-farm exchange of service applications as well.

#9. Farm:

The farm is a common term used to depict the collective working of all the servers (application, database, search and web) that returns the desired results in the form of data is called a farm.

#10. Tenant:

When a larger farm is divided into smaller subsets, the sliced section is called a tenant. This is done in order to provide individual and dedicated services to different clients.

Using these basic building blocks and components, an information architecture plan can also be built for any particular organisation. Here is how;

How to prepare an Information Architecture (IA) Plan for an Organization?

The Sharepoint online information architecture can be built by using the basic building blocks of IA into a set of features that fits the organization best as per business needs. Lastly a flair of experience in the whole scheme can work wonders to make the setup feel and work organically.

 The building blocks are:

  • Site collection layout
  • Subsite layout
  • Navigation
  • Corporate taxonomy
  • Content types and metadata
  • Document libraries and lists
  • Security Models

The organisations can use a combination or all of these building blocks to create features that the end-users can use. These features can be:

  •  Content-type hub
  •  Content organizer
  •  Records management
  •  Information management
  •  Search integration
  •  Data governance
  •  Governance plan

Once the fundamental components are laid in a need-based feature setup, the experience factor can give the finishing touches. This includes understanding and knowing what suits the organisation best, what to keep and what to eliminate. 

These components and building blocks have been added over several years with the evolution of Sharepoint into a robust framework.

How has SharePoint information architecture evolved over the years?

Sharepoint architecture has a history of around 20 years. First launched in the year 2001, it was used as a simple content management system. The second iteration came in the year 2003 and the next in 2007. The initial versions had issues in data search and retrieval. It was until the version released in 2007 that the concept of Enterprise Search was introduced making searching and returning values more relevant and to the point. Yet, there was a lot of scope for improvement in the existing system. 

The next version of Sharepoint was released in the year 2010 wherein the terms metadata, store and navigation system were actually put into the process. There were social features in this version like “I LIKE IT” and “TAG & NOTES” were introduced in this version to broadcast any relevant data. 

The next version of Sharepoint is 2013/2016 in which features like “Share”, “Follow” along with all previous features were introduced. Though the issue of information overload still persists in this version, information discovery, search and retrieval have become much easier. 

In the most recent version Sharepoint 2019 and Sharepoint Enterprise 2019 most up to date, features have been added. These include improved user experience, infrastructural enhancements, OneDrive, Team Site improvement. This version also supports advanced business communications and business processes. 

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Distinguish between flat and nested SharePoint? Which is better?

The SharePoint architecture can exist in two different forms- nested architecture and flat architecture. As the name depicts, the nomenclature and organization are done on the basis of the extent of hierarchy in each.

A flat architecture is one where every site is a complete site collection and can be linked to the hub site.

A nested architecture is one where site collections are divided into sub-sites across different levels creating a huge nest of hierarchy. This is characterized by a series of permissions and grants.

A flat architecture is preferred over nested architecture since it is easier to use, more simplified, more flexible and allows easy grant management across different site collections.

Benefits of creating a flat site structure:

A flat site structure essentially means there is no or minimal hierarchy in the site hierarchy of your organisation structure. Apart from the reduction in inter-looped site hierarchies, there are several benefits of adopting a flat site structure. Some of these are:

#1. Controllable permission levels

When you go for a flat site hierarchy structure, you can manage the extent of permission you wish to give to your user base. This will allow you not to share the complete site collection and keep the access limited to a particular domain as desired. 

#2. More flexible to organizational changes

Since there is no top-down ladder in the system, the flat site structure allows easy adoption of any new organisational changes at different levels. 

#3. Easier site management

In a flat site hierarchy, the site collections work independent of each other and are extremely easy to be maintained and managed. Any changes or alterations in one site collection can be made easily without thinking about the repercussions on the others. 

Conclusion:

Using SharePoint architecture in your organization can simplify content management and information disbursal to a great extent. With the freedom to control the access points, security is never compromised with a better tool to search for the desired information.

 

Have further questions on SharePoint architecture? Feel free to ask in the comments section.