A simple and effective approach to the proliferation of enterprise digital assets in SharePoint and Office365.SharePoint; asset; content

Business Context & Objectives

The proliferation of digital assets across multimedia formats (image, video, audio, documents) and channels (television, radio, print, web, social) presents a number of challenges. Over time, an informal body of content grows on organisational file shares or the personal file storage of employees. These systems are notoriously difficult to search or browse quickly. Commonly, our customers report the impacts summarised below, the resolution of which may forge the success criteria of your SharePoint project:

  • Time cost – the classic economic analysis where time spent by staff locating assets is not time spent producing, servicing or selling
  • Duplication of effort – recreating material from scratch because assets could not be found or were not shared in the first place
  • Inefficient requests – repeated, time-consuming requests for the supply of materials because of the lack of a good self-service system
  • Loss of IP – difficulty in sharing assets via email due to file size restrictions may result in staff turning to uncontrolled file share services which are harder to govern

Typical Functional Requirements

The typical functional requirements that you should expect to fulfil are as follows:

  • Upload and simplified categorisation of assets with metadata to drive good search results
  • Search and “Amazon” style refinement of results based on content taxonomy
  • Sharing and/ or workflow of assets for review and approval by colleagues
  • Sharing assets with external parties, for example, marketing and design contractors
  • Following specific subsets of “content I am interested in” via alerts

Implementation Steps

It is assumed that the readers of this blog are comfortable with core SharePoint information architecture concepts and implementation routines. As such, the following are summarised:

  1. Defining a taxonomy of assets – For small groups of users, this may be achieved easily through a simple mind mapping exercise and establishing a consensus about the smart way to proceed. For larger user groups, you may wish to put some more science behind it and undertake a card sorting exercise to consider how the bulk of people logically categorise the content.
  2. Implement the information architecture – Sites, navigation, content types, libraries, columns, managed metadata, views etc: It is recommended that the base “asset” library be used for storing content because it provides a modern tile style approach to the selection of an asset and includes various out-of-the-box content types and columns for tagging rich multimedia assets.
  3. Driving search – Drive effective search routines by extending default search with the addition of custom search refiners (Amazon website style), based on metadata properties and tags that you defined in step 1. These are added through a refinement web part to the left hand of the search results page.
  4. Plan content migration – Determine who is responsible for and how existing content will be migrated to the new system. Give a realistic time frame in which it is expected to be achieved. Duplicate systems for accessing content can (and often does), dissatisfy users.
  5. Promoting high levels of user adoption – Finally, it is entirely possible for an IT department or external consultancy to produce a perfectly good solution to a business problem only for the application to be poorly adopted and not generate a return on investment. While user adoption techniques make for a whole other topic, it should start with clear articulation from leadership down about the reasons for and benefits of, the coming change and then the provision of good quality training.

Design Considerations

  1. How many different term sets are necessary to drive good search? – Information architecture workshops are often a forum in which people are, for the first time, forced to think logically about how they categorise and understand. While this is good and ultimately a shared understanding of taxonomy is what we want, it doesn’t always help for staff to go too deep into niche categorisations.  In the absence of any formal rules,  it is fair to say that the number of metadata properties with which an asset is tagged need not go any deeper than is required for good search or filtered views.
  2. Mobility requirements? – As with any information technology solution, the devices on which users expect to access content should be considered from day one and not a rushed afterthought. This could take the form of using SharePoint’s own out of the box mobile device channelled views or the more expensive route of responsive web design or mobile “apps”. SharePoint 2016 is likely to provide some native mobile experiences.
  3. Single or multiple libraries? – It is a good approach to reduce the number of libraries in which a content administrator needs to visit to upload content by handling categorisation concepts with different metadata columns. While this is generally a sound approach, there may be some benefits to splitting assets up into multiple libraries. For example, a user may follow a specific brand by using-out-of-the-box alerts configuration on a library dedicated to that brand. Where assets are concentrated in a single library, additional filtering logic or workflow beyond the domain of end users may be needed to achieve the same results.
  4. Branding to promote user adoption – Depending on budget and timeline, consideration should be given to applying branding features via themes or alternate CSS that make the default SharePoint experience slicker and give the user a sense of professional finish to the solution.