4 Tips to Get Your Office 365 Implementation in Line in 2014We've started a new year and that usually means we make resolutions on how things will be different, better. Let’s make a resolution to design and manage our Office 365 environments right so we can find the information we need to get our work done.

You might already have your Office 365 environment up and running, or it may be you are just getting started. In either case, here are four tips to get you moving in the right direction.

Tip #1: Get a Handle on What’s in Your Environment Right Now

It often happens that after an Office 365 environment is set up the organization let users run wild, or at least use it the way they see fit. This could be because it’s a pilot and the organization is simply trying to get a feel for how the service works and what they can do with it, or it could be because users think they know their information best, so they organize it the way it works for them.

The trouble is, without a clear information architecture and governance plan, things get lost -- quickly. So what you need to do is take some time to understand what’s there right now, how it’s organized, who’s using it and how. It’s like a site audit, capturing information such as number of sites, size of sites, number of libraries and lists, number of documents, and so on.

Collecting this information will provide a quick view of your Office 365/SharePoint sites, providing key data points that will guide you on how to best manage your environment going forward. This could include expanding storage needs, reorganizing information and/or archiving content not used, changing security permissions and more.

Knowing what you have is the first step to a solid information management and governance strategy.

For those that are starting out with a brand new environment -- use this time to either collect stats on your on premises installation (assuming you are migrating to Office 365), or to collect information on the content you plan to move into Office 365 (this is a much bigger, harder task).

Tip #2: Clean up Large Lists

The maximum size for a list is 5000 items. That’s a lot of content. It’s not uncommon for SharePoint administrators to have to find and resolve issues with lists that have grown too large. It’s very likely that much of that content is no longer used or required. But it’s still there and it causes the information you really do need to become lost in a very large pile.

The idea is to provide a place where information can be easily found and consumed. A large list is not that place. So find those large lists in your environment, determine if there is information in the lists that can be archived or deleted and clean them up. You can also implement some controls, such as limiting the number of versions, to help keep the list under control going forward. Or, you may want to split a large list into smaller lists in some logical way.

For those that are starting out with a brand new environment -- Be proactive in your list planning and implement versioning rules from the beginning. Also, look at the content that will be placed in a list, estimate how much content that will include and determine if more than one list is required.

Tip #3: Promote or Demote Sites

It’s not uncommon for a SharePoint environment to have a large number of Site Collections and/or Sites within Site Collections. A SharePoint Administrator may have set the structure up in a way that made sense at the time, but as usage of the environment grows, or the organization changes, the structure may need to adapt.

Dealing with sites and collections can become a daunting task for even the most experienced SharePoint Admin, but it needs to happen. If it’s been a while since you looked at how your environment is structured, then doing the first tip above will help. Compare the structure you have in place to how the organization is structured -- in many cases they should look very similar. You also need to take security requirements into consideration.

It’s possible you have too many Site Collections, when you could more easily manage one or two collections with different Site groupings. Maybe you have a Site that should really be its own Site Collection. Whether you are one of those SharePoint Farm/Tenant Admins who passes out Site Collections at any request or one who requires a valid business need (or somewhere in the middle), there will come a time where you will either need to demote an unused Site Collection or promote an overused site to its own collection.

Be proactive and start looking at how your environment is used and then reorganize, and/or archive or delete Site or Site Collections as necessary.

For those that are starting out with a brand new environment -- It’s a very similar process. Lay out how the Site Collections/Sites need to be designed based on organizational structure and security, as well as amount of information to be stored, and decide on the best structure for your environment.

Tip #4: Clean Up Security/Permissions

It happens. Someone leaves the company, someone moves to another department, roles change. With these changes, access to SharePoint Sites and associated content usually changes as well. It is important to clean up permissions as these things happen. A new year often kicks off with organizational changes. If someone leaves the company, you need to remove all access to information completely. If they are only moving to another department or a different role within a department, then you need to understand how their access needs to change.

Too often SharePoint Admins don’t know what organizational changes have taken place until someone needs access to something. Be proactive and ask about any changes that may affect how the security is set up in your Office 365/SharePoint environment. Then take the time to do your “new year” cleaning.

For those that are starting out with a brand new environment -- Security planning is a critical aspect of a SharePoint environment. Document the security/permission needs based on Site Collections and Sites (and where necessary, go deeper) and proactively manage that security through regular monitoring and reporting.

But Don’t Stop There

These tips are a great way to kick off a new year, but don’t think that you only need to do them once a year. Spend some time developing your information governance strategy, then put together a plan and a set of processes to regularly monitor and manage your Office 365/SharePoint environment. Continual, ongoing management is the only way to stay ahead of the problems that will inevitably occur.

Title image by vetkit (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: See what Steven thinks is in store for SharePoint in 2014 in his 6 Predictions for SharePoint, Office 365 in 2014