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This is the second instalment in a multi-part series on Information Architecture (IA) and how it should be considered in a SharePoint world.

So Seb, What the heck is Information Architecture..?

A great question and one that will have many people diving behind the back of the sofa and cowering for mercy.  It’s not something to be feared but it is, potentially, quite a vast and complex concept, especially when considered in its widest contexts.  If we want to understand what IA is, perhaps we need to understand the constituent parts of the term, right?

So, let’s look at defining “Information”.  By considering many definitions and juggling them around a little we can come up with a simple to understand definition that we will use, when needed, in this series:

“Information is how people share knowledge by making it available so that it can be communicated to other people.”

In its widest sense, information can be made available in many forms that include spoken, written, pictorial, etc. but for the purposes of this series we can be a little more SharePoint specific allowing us to specify types of information most typically held within SharePoint. 

By thinking in this SharePoint-centric way we can refine our information definition to specify information types that could be held within SharePoint thus giving us a SharePoint focused definition of “information”:

“Information is how people share knowledge by making it available as documents, list contents, databases and other forms of SharePoint content so that it can be communicated to other people.”

I’m pretty happy with this definition, I hope you’re happy to run with me for now.

Now, let’s look at “Architecture”.  Again, by looking at multiple definitions, we can come up with a concise and easy to understand definition of “Architecture” that can be used within this series and again can make sense in the context of SharePoint:

“Architecture is the design of a construct to meet an articulated or predefined purpose.”

As a term, “architecture” is probably more misunderstood than the term “information” because people tend to look at architecture in a very one dimensional way, thinking only of the detailed framework design of something such as a building. 

If you speak to Architects of buildings they are adamant that they do much more than design buildings.  For sure, they design the framework of a building, but they also design the flow of a building; how people move around, how utilities can be delivered, how heat and light can be made efficient, how people enter and exit, how people move between floors, etc.   In this context, Architects not only design the construct of a building they also design the functionality of a building and how it meets the needs of the owners, residents and tenants.

Thinking about how this relationship between architecture and functionality exists in buildings, we can use this thinking to come up with a concise definition for Architecture that we can use in the context of SharePoint, and be confident that it makes sense:

“SharePoint Architecture is the design of a SharePoint system to meet the knowledge sharing needs of users of the system”

Again, I’m happy with this definition and as you’ve read this far, I’m hoping you’re also happy to keep running with me.

If we now look to bring the two definitions together, we can come up with a SharePoint focused definition of IA that is accurate, relevant and easy to articulate to others:

“Information Architecture for SharePoint is the design of a SharePoint construct within which information can be stored and retrieved enabling knowledge to be shared effectively.”

I like it and can live with it.  With any luck, you’re in agreement.

Ok Seb, you’ve sold me on the definitions, but now what..?

Most of this post has arguably been a semantic discussion of terminology, working towards a single sentence that allows us to comfortably define IA in the context of SharePoint.  Great stuff, but not particularly useful when we’re asking for budget, or when explaining to business executives why we need to spend time and invest in effective IA.

But Seb, why should we really be interested in IA for SharePoint? 

I’ll ask you another, related question – Where can SharePoint really add value within an organisation?

The value of SharePoint is not only in its ability to present users with information, it’s in its ability to enable the sharing knowledge that would have otherwise not have been shared and presented to users as information.

Read the paragraph above again and think about it, ponder, cogitate and then ruminate over it.  It’s a key point to why IA is so important within SharePoint.

In the next part of the series, I’ll begin to outline the elements of IA and how they relate and translate into the SharePoint World.