How Office 365 has changed information architecture


I recently had the opportunity to talk with Erica Toelle, Product Evangelist for RecordPoint, about how Office 365 is changing the landscape of information architecture. We discussed how the launch of Microsoft Teams, the ramp-up in usage of OneNote and the shift away from formal site hierarchies and metadata structures in SharePoint is driving new business data management needs. This change requires librarians and information managers to shift their focus. Instead of leading card-sorting exercises to build out formal taxonomies and data models, we need to build strategies for user engagement and technology adoption. The goal is to help our users make sense of the data that is being surfaced to them every day while adapting to new methods of working and collaborating.

This shouldn’t be a difficult transition. Librarians and information managers evaluate information architecture needs for unique audiences every day. The evolutionary step is applying this knowledge to constructing user-centric adoption and education campaigns that reflect company cultures and user behaviors while also accounting for appropriate governance controls. If librarians and information managers can make the leap, they’ll drive user engagement and pioneer new information architecture methodologies that support Office 365’s growth.

Interview Transcript

Erica Toelle:
Hi, I’m Erica Toelle, Product Evangelist for RecordPoint.

Sarah Haase:
Hi, I’m Sarah Haase, Information Architect and Corporate Librarian.

Erica Toelle: 
Perfect. You have traditionally been in the information architect space being a librarian.

Sarah Haase:
Right.

Erica Toelle:                    
I think as we were just talking about before we started recording, we’re going through this shift now, where in the old SharePoint world we’d think of things in terms of hierarchies and-

Sarah Haase:                   
Exactly.

Erica Toelle:                    
… really over-designed information architectures, but in the modern SharePoint world, where we’re focused on contacts and experiences, it’s a little bit different.

Sarah Haase:                   
Very different.

Erica Toelle:                    
So, with your perspective, how are you thinking about approaching these new spaces?

Sarah Haase:                   
Right. I think it is really key, if I could even back up one second from there, I think librarians in general are something where we have had to make a big tangential shift over the last 10 or 15 years. From thinking about things in a library, in an electronic database, or in a file stack, and Dewey decimal system and all those perspectives into thinking about things from a data classification perspective in SharePoint, right? That’s where we built those information architectures that were detailed, hierarchical, they were taxonomies, right?

We had content-type hubs, and we had managed meta-data, and we were trying to control all of our term stores and really trying to manage that and now, it’s all shifted. It’s all experiences, so it’s much more about where does my content naturally belong for different types of users and different user groups? For one user group, that might be an instant message experience or a Skype experience embedded in Teams and for another group it might be a OneNote experience and for another group, it really might be a SharePoint team site or a SharePoint community site experience.

It’s really transitioning from those hierarchical methodologies to having more of an experience and it’s more of a where than a how. The how being that hierarchical data set. It’s an important switch for us to make as information architects and librarians because we have to continue to evolve our way of thinking.

Erica Toelle:                    
That makes complete sense. If every group might be different, how do scale helping them figure that out in a larger organization?

Sarah Haase:                   
That’s a really key question and it starts with education. It also starts with being able to partner strategically with different groups to figure out your personas and the types of experiences that they have. Right? There are only so many types of different personas that you’re going to run into so if you can figure out for these types of users with these types of business outcomes and needs, here are the three to five or three to seven most likely ways that they’re going to engage in content. Then you can start recommending in almost a matrix style, lining up the type of personas, the type of business teams that they are and the type of experiences that might be meaningful for them. That can give them a running headstart.

You, as a facilitator of outcome and information architecture and a technologist perspective might often be required to step in and help them on their journey to that, but at least it gives you some roadmaps and some guides so it’s not all just based on you or I going in and having that conversation with them one on one.

Erica Toelle:                    
That makes complete sense. In, kind of, the old hierarchy world, we were building content-types for example, because we wanted standardized templates, workflows, policies, do we just have to give up on that in the modern experience or is there some … What do we do?

Sarah Haase:                   
Right. Not entirely, luckily, because I still love a lot of those things, but I think it again, depends on the business needs, and what we’re doing. I think that we were really focused on those information management policies and the content types and where is the data and how is the data arranged in a hierarchical sense, and it has shifted somewhat, right? Because OneNote is one of the most compelling tools for my business users and not one of them wants my help categorizing their notebooks, and the sections of their notebooks. Why? Because they’ll do it however they want to and everybody just searches and it works.

The messaging is different and the need is different but there’s still a need for business automation. There’s still a need for those workflows or those flows and those power ops, it’s just that suddenly the mechanics and the tool sets behind it are shifting and we’ve got to be adaptable and flexible to that.

Erica Toelle:                    
And rebuild our solutions?

Sarah Haase:                   
And rebuild our solutions where necessary and hopefully redesign them and improve them as we go.

Erica Toelle:                    
Got it. How about end user adoption. Have those techniques changed in the modern workplace?

Sarah Haase:                   
User adoption is my favorite thing. I think absolutely they have changed, especially in the last couple of years. One of my favorite things to talk about is the difference between the traditional models for user adoption and the user centric models. Traditional models are the sending out mass communications, one flavor, one style of communications to everyone, and expecting that they’ll even consume it via email, much less that it’s effective for them. Right? Or, a train the trainer approach. Select one person from every department to go to training and then take back what they learned to teach everyone else. Or, even training on features and assuming that business users will make the connection between features and their business outcomes in a meaningful way.

Those are a lot of big assumptions and it doesn’t work anymore. Those types of models really separate IT from their business. I think a user-centric model is more about building strategic partnerships, being able to work with users, building those user personas that we talked about, engaging with key thought leaders and influencers who are also technology advocates and technology innovators in your organization. Partner with them, help them to build the knowledge that they have, set them loose, and have them help you pay it forward to the rest of the organization. It’s much more about how to build a movement in terms of excitement and enthusiasm rather than the traditional approach of trainer the trainer, features, and mass-market communications.

Erica Toelle:                    
Sure. I know with an audience of record managers and librarians, we have to ask if we’re kind of opening up these user experiences, being more user-centric and experience and context-based, well, what about governance? Is there a place for governance anymore?

Sarah Haase:                   
No, there absolutely isn’t. Every organization should be talking about governance, no matter where you are on that governance spectrum from the we’re going to be wide open with a lot of things and we’re going to have very few limits, to the kind of company that’s going to have to have some very specific models and fixtures around governance and how that works. I think governance is very important to think about but it’s also important to think about your company culture and how to represent that governance. I’ve worked with organizations before that have big pictures that tell the story or their governance and that’s really worked well for their company culture and for their users as a reminder of that governance. I’ve also worked for companies that had a 47-page manual that got updated frequently with a change log. It’s really about the company culture, the company industry, the type of governance that they need and you’ve got to make it fit the company as opposed to trying to make it fit a rubric or a standardized rule.

Erica Toelle:                    
Makes complete sense. Any final words of wisdom for librarians or records managers as they make the transition from maybe this more hierarchical on-premise world to the modern workplace in Office 365?

Sarah Haase:                  
I would say to be open, to be adaptable, and to say it’s okay if you’re not building out formal taxonomies, there’s new fun to be had. So, be open and adaptable to the new kinds of fun because your skill set and your experience are still highly relevant. You just have to be able to figure out how to talk to people about it every day in the new world.

Erica Toelle:                    
Perfect. Well, thanks so much for joining us here at SharePoint Fest Chicago.

Sarah Haase:                   
Thank you.

Erica Toelle:                    
Have a great rest of the conference.

Sarah Haase:                   
Thank you, you too.

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