While the buzz and excitement around the launch of SharePoint 2010 is now firmly in the past, the reality of working with it is now becoming a daily problem. We say problem in the sense that there is still a very steep learning curve for many enterprises and users before the full capabilities can be released. Metadata in SharePoint 2010 is a good case in question.

While this not the first time we have visited this subject, and undoubtedly it will not be the last, a recent paper by Christian Buckley, director of product evangelism for Axceler (news, site), on developing a metadata strategy for SharePoint 2010 is a good starting point.

SharePoint cannot solve all your business problems -- after all, it’s just a tool -- but an effective metadata strategy will go a long way to releasing the potential of SharePoint 2010, which has been outlined in many different places.

The Role of Metadata, Taxonomy

Many companies, Buckley argues, still don’t get the importance of having a clearly defined metadata strategy and goals.

While there are many administration and user issues that enterprises need to understand, behind many of them is metadata and keyword taxonomies that will have a significant impact on the success of a SharePoint 2010 deployment.

Many of the popular features, for example, such as adding documents to libraries, entering and participating in enterprise workflows or the new social search features all depend on effective metadata.

In fact, he argues, the number one reason why SharePoint deployments fail to capture the attention of the targeted user group, is because ineffective metadata does not enable many of the functions that users want.

Defining Business Goals

Unsurprisingly, the starting point behind all this is defining and understanding business goals. It would seem that, given the number of times this has come up even in the past week with business processes or the deployment of enterprise collaboration tools, a lot of enterprises are not really doing this.

Questions like what your enterprise is trying to accomplish need to be answered first, and then whether SharePoint will actually be able to realize those goals, even in an ideal world, also needs to be considered.

Without this kind of understanding, it will not be possible to outline the scope, scale and functionality of what is to be built. It provides, in fact, your first step to developing effective metadata.

Understanding Your Metadata Strategy

So why is a metadata strategy so important? The first thing to remember, Buckley says, is that it provides more than just search terms for uploaded content. It is the power behind search, making the social media functionality work through contextual relationships.

Without it, users will not be able to find the content they are looking for, or discover where it is located -- remembering that all content should have metadata -- and if users can’t find the content they need when they need it, the deployment will be a failure.

Metadata Building Blocks

So, where do you begin? There are three important building blocks, Buckley says. While some enterprise teams will already have a metadata system in place from existing enterprise content management systems, or even within SharePoint, most teams start building their deployment from scratch.

1. Mapping Your Taxonomy

Taxonomy is about organization and classification, and to build an effective taxonomy you must understand what is in your system and how users are interacting with it. Much of your model will depend on whether your environment is centrally managed (tightly controlled), or decentralized (used as a collaboration tool).

Either way, enterprises need to map out their sites, content types and navigation of the environment, outlining what content applies to the entire enterprise and what will only be used on low-level or even individual sites.

2. Service Application Framework.

With the new service application framework, and, in particular, the Managed Metadata Service (MMS), enterprises are able to centrally manage things such as enterprise keywords, enabling end users' autonomy in how they use SharePoint.

With MMS, enterprises can build a taxonomy that can be used like a service, thus ensuring not only controlled content across your site, but also consistent content so users will be able to find content no matter where it is located within the entire SharePoint environment.

3. Governance Strategy

Governance raises its head here again. While this should be obvious, it probably merits repeating. Enterprises need to set up a governance model that will guide the maintenance and development of your keyword strategy, as well as those keywords that are generated by users. Without management of this, everything could get out of control and the search experience will be considerably weakened.

Buckley points out that taxonomy is always a work in progress, not something that is applied at the beginning of a process and remaining static afterwards. As a result, different parts of the taxonomy need to be assigned owners, who will grow it as the environment grows. A mature keyword taxonomy and accompanying governance infrastructure is at the core of every successful SharePoint deployment, he says.

While these are only starting points, they are good blocks to be building with. A final consideration is that, while there are vendors that will provide specific taxonomies for specific industries that can be plugged in, they cannot replace users’ experience and knowledge of their industry and clients.

To get the best of your SharePoint deployment it is important, as a result, to build it with the cooperation of all stakeholders so that all the angles are covered.