Creating Governance Solutions for Hybrid SharePoint Environments

What are the differences between SharePoint governance in online versus on-premises deployments? This question comes up regularly at conferences and events -- administrators and business owners alike want to know if their organizations need to change their administration activities for the cloud. With many organizations either planning a move to the cloud or developing those plans, they need to know whether there are differences in what you can manage and how SharePoint is managed in the cloud.

Are there differences? Yes. Will these differences impact your existing governance policies and procedures? Most definitely.

People understand that when moving from one system to an entirely new, different system, how you administrate those systems will be different. Sure, many of your corporate governance policies will remain intact -- but how you achieve those policies within the new system may require changes in reporting, auditing, permissions management and so forth.

The move from SharePoint on-premises to SharePoint Online (part of the Office 365 platform) should be approached this same way: as two separate and different platforms. Yes, it's still SharePoint, but the way the two systems are managed -- and the level of access you have to the back-end -- are very different. To ensure that all of your business and industry security and compliance requirements are being met, I highly recommend that you go through your governance policies and procedures step by step and map out how they were accomplished on prem, and how they will be accomplished online.

Should your approach be different if your plan is to maintain a hybrid SharePoint environment? Not necessarily. But definitely more complex, because now you're not simply mapping the old system over to the new -- and at some point turning off the old system as the new comes online. It's more complex because you'll need to figure out how to manage two distinct systems, and presumably expectations from your management team that they’ll have a single view of both environments. Because it's all just SharePoint, right?

Developing a governance strategy for a hybrid SharePoint environment is much the same as for a single platform … with a few more moving parts. It requires a firm understanding of your business, legal and regulatory constraints, and a solid change management system.

My intent here is not to prescribe a certain methodology or outline specific steps -- because the steps will depend largely on the complexity of those constraints -- but to give you some ideas on how to move your planning activities forward. Consider the following:

Have a Plan

There is an almost endless supply of good content available on TechNet and throughout the expert community on building a solid governance plan. You might want to take a look at Microsoft IT's own strategy as they began moving to the cloud. Microsoft has a massive hybrid deployment internally, and their methodology focuses largely on end user adoption. Take a look at this European SharePoint Conference presentation by former MSIT consultant Erica Toelle (@EricaToelle) who helped develop Microsoft's migration and end user on-boarding strategy, which is now part of the Office 365 Customer Success Center.

Listen to the experts, comb through the relevant articles, consider the best practices and develop a plan based on your organizational and project needs. Help your management team and end users understand the full scope of the project -- that it’s not just about a technical implementation, but that it is also a business process change.

Understand Regulatory or Compliance Concerns

Begin with an understanding of what you are required to put in place -- and, equally important, what your management team expects to see (scorecards, dashboards, KPIs). Are there any rules or procedures having to do with legal or financial guidelines that may dictate how you set up and/or manage your SharePoint environment? Do you need to maintain audit trails?

Know How Your Information Architecture, Including Content Types and Metadata, Will Be Managed

What are the expectations and the process involved with managing these things between on prem and online environments? Who owns it? What is the change process? Do you have defined service level agreements (SLAs) with your end users and/or customers? This might be overkill for small businesses, but is critical for larger businesses.

Have a Defined, Transparent Change Management System in Place

A major impact to end user adoption is a long turn-around time for system changes. The more transparent you make the system, the more likely people will support the decisions made as part of that system.

Create a Governance Site

Make your policies visible. When people ask questions, point them to an ever-expanding FAQ list (Use SharePoint! Don’t create yet another document). Update the site regularly. Make it functional, not just a one-time dumping ground for rarely used process documentation. And constantly refresh your governance site. This should not be a static site, but a working platform from which you manage your process, take suggestions and change as needed.

Enlist End Users and Business Owners

Give them a voice in the process. Get regular feedback from your business units and power users. Maintaining two SharePoint platforms can be a governance nightmare if you don't have good feedback mechanisms in place with the people who are using both platforms. Regularly check in and ask for feedback, and validate your requirements and overall progress.

Learn and Evolve

Nothing is set in stone. Your requirements will change, and your ability to streamline and improve management of SharePoint will improve. You’ll rarely get it right on the first try, but you’ll lose time and productivity the longer you sit idle, so the key is to take action and iterate, iterate, iterate.

Hopefully this guidance helps you to take action on your hybrid planning efforts. My advice on how to move forward remains the same: keep your governance model simple, let your processes grow and develop organically, and keep your end users in the loop. If they understand the governance model, they’ll use it. If you are transparent about the process, and can quickly respond to user requests and changing business needs because you’ve kept it simple, they’ll trust it. And if they’re using SharePoint -- whether the components that remain on-premises, or the pieces that now exist out in the cloud -- and participating in the change management process, your management team is more likely to view your overall SharePoint efforts as a success.

Maintaining a hybrid SharePoint deployment does mean managing two disparate systems, while management will often expect that it will all run as one system. However, your governance planning approach remains much the same as if it were a single platform. The more planning you do up front, the fewer surprises you'll experience down the road. Just go into it with your eyes wide open, and with a good understanding of your system constraints and how those constraints are to be managed, and you'll do fine.​

Title image by metamerist (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license