Information Management, Why the Term Governance for SharePoint is OverhypedI wish I had a quarter for every time the words “governance” and “SharePoint” were used in the same sentence -- I’d be pretty darn rich right now. But I’d be an unhappy millionaire.

Why? Because I believe the term governance is so overhyped when it comes to SharePoint that all we seem to do is talk about the concept of “governance” and not about the solutions required to solve the problems it is supposed to deal with.

What’s In A Name?

Defining "governance" is easy. Wikipedia says “In the case of a business or of a non-profit organization, governance relates to consistent management, cohesive policies, guidance, processes and decision-rights for a given area of responsibility.” You could narrow it down even further by defining “information governance," but in the end it means the same thing.

The idea of governance is not exclusive to SharePoint, it’s something that organizations have to think about regardless of what technology platform they use. We just seem to hear about it more with SharePoint (partly I believe because people want to tear it down, partly because the SharePoint community overall wants to ensure its success).

I don’t like using the term. I don’t talk to customers or prospects about the need for proper governance. What I talk about are the actual challenges these organizations are facing every day to organize and manage their information. These organizations don’t come to me saying they need governance tools, they come saying something isn’t working and how can I help them fix the problem.

It’s About the Solutions, Not the Concepts

For example -- SharePoint is often a grassroots implementation. You can easily be up and running with a basic SharePoint install, making it available to anyone -- team, department, committee -- who wants to organize and collaborate around a specific set of information. That’s how it gets started and the trouble tends to begin. Once each group starts working with SharePoint, they use it differently, organize their information differently, share it differently. Sites grow and grow, sometimes out of control. This is what many refer to as “SharePoint sprawl.”

I would question why you would want to stop a grassroots implementation if it gets people collaborating more efficiently? Is it the optimal solution to a SharePoint implementation? No way.

But if you allow some groups to start using it, they see the value it offers and their support of the platform grows. Now you are ready to step back and consider the best information architecture based on the needs of those already using it, and those likely lined up to get access. You can think about proper planning of sites, training of users, security of data and slowly move your existing users into a proper SharePoint model.

In a perfect world, the IA would be done and SharePoint set up properly from the beginning. Perfect worlds don’t exist.

Another example -- organizations are like living creatures, they evolve. People move from department to department, new people come in, some people go out. Some people are religious about how they only share information to the right people at the right time, while others forget to lock their desktops when they go on break, leaving a lot of confidential data sitting on the screen in a well-organized SharePoint library.

In a perfect world, we set SharePoint up right from the beginning and never have to change it. In a perfect world, everyone is keenly aware of the information they have access to and ensure it stays secure and confidential. Let the SharePoint admins find somewhere else to work, we don’t need them here. Yeah right.

Probably one of toughest jobs is being a SharePoint Admin because there are so many changes happening within organizations. Admins have to be ready to make environment changes quickly. This is where policies and procedures come in handy.

What do I do if John Doe gets fired? Didn't he use Google Drive to work at home? Sally Ann was just promoted to VP of Finance, what access does she need now? Peter Parker moved from marketing into sales, what access do I remove, and what do a grant him? New guy just joined, and he’s been tasked with getting a new highly sensitive project up and running, what do I have to do for him?

And a final example (though I could do this for a long time) -- there are many tools/technologies in use in organizations today, and they aren’t all on premises. File sharing sites like Google Drive, DropBox, SkyDrive, Amazon abound, and many people take advantage of them. Why? Because it gives them an easy way to not only share documents, but take their documents with them. Work from home, work in partner’s office, work at Starbucks, doesn’t matter because you can place your files in the cloud somewhere and get access to them.

These can be files you check out of SharePoint, or files you've yet to check in. The question becomes, how do you keep track of where your organization’s information is? How do you ensure only the right people have access to it? This is a challenge that is bigger than SharePoint -- it’s cross technology and cross organization -- but it’s a SharePoint administration challenge just the same. I could describe your perfect world in this situation, but you’d laugh, so let’s just chalk it up to say -- ain't going to happen.

Governance Means Many Things to Many People

Where am I going with these examples? The reason I dislike talking about governance is because it’s a loose concept that means many things to many different people.

If you sit in a room and go around a table to get a great view on the challenges organizations are facing today to manage their information, it’s unlikely someone will say “we need proper governance.” What does that mean? Does that mean policies for how SharePoint sites are created and archived? Does it mean how taxonomies are developed and maintained? Does it mean procedures for ensuring permissions are always correct?

Yes. It means all that and more, a heck of a lot more. Instead of trying to work through what the concept of governance really means for an organization, let’s take the time to understand how the organization works, then look at the problems they are having with SharePoint and information in general, and let’s put some solutions in place to deal with the problems. Whether that’s a supporting technology, or simply better policies and procedures, let’s just get to work.

Title image courtesy of Thomas J. Sebourn (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more of Steven's thoughts on SharePoint in 5 Critical Steps to SharePoint Information Architecture Planning