O365 Information Management Disrupted

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When talking to customers, I often lean on my trusty diagram below to demonstrate the different structure and governance requirements for Information Architecture (IA) and Information Management (IM) in a typical SharePoint corporate environment.

My trusty IA/IM SharePoint diagram


My general guideline has always been everything above the pink line is where you want to incorporate more IA, structure and governance. IA below the pink line for Project Sites/Workspaces, Team and Community Sites (sections 3 and 4) is a judgement call dependent on the specific requirements of the content being placed there. For example, if you need to enable retention policies, customize search, document templates or workflows you will want to have at least some basic IA configured. I still believe these guidelines are sound.

Although Personal Sites (section 5) may have some Information Management (IM) configured (For example, a Deletion Policy to delete content not modified in the past 3 years), it will usually not have any IA structure. This is your personal OneDrive for Business where you put content you’re working on alone. This should not be where you collaborate with others in your organization nor where you require more rigor around specific content types, workflows, etc. If that is required, you should move into sections 3 or 4.

While building out a new presentation titled “Information Management in a Collaboration world”, I started thinking about my diagram and where the new collaboration services rolling out in O365 would fall within it. More importantly, would they affect the guidance I usually give on IA/IM?

Short answer… yes.

Collaboration Options Galore!

Adding to the O365 universal toolkit, the collaboration services currently rolling out to O365 all fall within sections 3 and 4 of my diagram:collabsection

Office 365 Groups is Microsoft’s cross-application membership service that makes it easy for people to move naturally from one collaboration tool to another.

Tools like Skype for Business, OneDrive for Business, OneNote and SharePoint aren’t going away. We now have more options!

As of December 2016, the collaboration tools rolling out under the O365 Groups membership service includes:

  • Group – when you provision a group, it will include a distribution list, Calendar, Planner, OneNote and SharePoint team site. This is a very email-conversation focused tool. When you create a Group you create a Planner.
  • Microsoft Planner – technically the same as an O365 Group, just created from a different endpoint. This is a task management tool with all the artifacts that come with a Group including  distribution list, Calendar, Planner, OneNote and SharePoint team site. When you create a Planner you also create a Group.
  • Microsoft Teams – chat-based team workspace built on top of an O365 Group and includes Skype, Planner, SharePoint, Power BI, Delve, OneNote. This is a very chat-based focused tool. When you create a Team you also create a Group and a Planner.
  • Yammer – enterprise social network tool soon to include a Group, SharePoint team site, OneNote and Calendar. Communication will happen thru Yammer conversations rather than Outlook conversations.

The technical implementation of the above services all rely on the underlying O365 Group  framework and are simply tools integrated with it. Where the challenge comes in is explaining the use-case differences among them from an end-user perspective (the “when to use what”) to business users. The differences are nuanced.

What about the old stuff?

Do traditional SharePoint web templates like the kind shown below still have a place in this new collaboration world?  I think so, albeit they’re definitely being usurped by some of the new modern collaboration services.


Here are a couple of examples where a traditional web may still be the appropriate choice:

Example 1: Formal Project Server sites for enterprise projects will still exist as they will typically have more IA and IM than a Microsoft Planner site ever will. Although they are both filling the niche of managing project work within an organization, I believe Planner is targeted more toward Information Workers wanting to manage simpler tasks whereas a Project Server site is for more complex organizational projects managed by a Project Manager.

Example 2: If there were business requirement for heavy use of content types and workflows, a standalone SharePoint team site may still be the appropriate choice. If that level of structure isn’t required, an O365 Group or Microsoft Team may be a better choice.

How can we help?

Circle4We need to understand the collaboration options available, work with businesses to identify their unique needs (including their requirements for IA and IM) and work with them to develop appropriate guidelines for deciding which option(s) to select. I’ve been involved in many conversations on this topic and they inevitably end up at the “when to use what” question. It’s a gap and we need to fill it.

Due to this, starting today I’m officially adding some “when to use what” talking points to my Information Architecture/Information Management discussion notes I have with customers and co-workers.

To be clear, I don’t think hard-and-fast prescriptive guidance is the right answer. Although that may be what some organizations are looking for, I believe a more successful approach will be to make the best recommendations based on the needs and services you have today knowing that these recommendations may change over time for any of these reasons:

  • Where the organization is on the collaboration maturity spectrum will change over time. What worked last year/month/week may not anymore.
  • Guidance must adapt as new products/services are introduced.
  • SharePoint and OneDrive Information Governance is one of the five core pillars Microsoft is investing in to govern data retention, discovery and deletion policies. I’m confident much work will be done in this area in the coming months and years within these new collaboration services. Due to this, the guidance I provide to customers for “when to use what” will also change accordingly to ensure their data remains secure and compliant. Refer to Site Classification in SharePoint and OneDrive.

Wrapping it up

Answering the “when to use what” question is a classic example of “it depends” being exactly the right answer. My job as a consultant and adoption specialist is to be able to take that answer a step further and communicate what it depends on.

Thanks for reading.



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