SharePoint hub sites: How do you know when you need one?


As SharePoint enthusiasts, we’ve eagerly anticipated the arrival of hub sites. Hubs provide a new means of logically grouping our SharePoint sites, changing the way many organizations will manage their intranet and information architecture. But the use and management of hub sites also brings up key questions. How should site owners determine when a hub site is necessary? And what processes should organizations put in place to manage the provisioning and use of hub sites? This blog post provides an introduction to hubs and explores key criteria for the evaluation of hub sites.

What are hub sites?

Hub sites enable logical grouping of SharePoint Online sites with a common navigation and branding experience. In a March 2018 Tech Community article, Mark Kashman calls out 4 key elements of hub sites:

  • Cross-site navigation (navigation that spans multiple sites without requiring manual creation for each site)
  • Content rollup (automated aggregation and display of news content from multiple sites)
  • Consistent look and feel (common site theme and branding that drives familiarity and make sites feel connected)
  • Scoped search (ability to search all sites in a hub quickly and easily)

While there is no limit to the number of sites you can associate with a hub site, you cannot associate a single site with more than one hub. (In other words, there is no opportunity to “parent” a site under two different hubs.)

Enterprise governance of hubs

If you work in a large enterprise, be prepared to govern your use of hub sites. While Microsoft hasn’t provided much guidance on what should constitute a hub site, they initially capped the usage of hub sites to 50 per tenant. In August 2018, Microsoft announced they’ll be doubling hub site capacity, enabling a maximum of 100 hubs per tenant. This increase will begin rolling out to Targeted Release customers in September 2018, with worldwide rollout targeted for completion by the end of November.

In order to ensure your hub sites are being leveraged appropriately, I recommend putting key questions and criteria in place to govern what constitutes a hub site. Since sites are elevated to hub site status via Powershell, tenant admins can establish governing principles and/or processes to manage the creation of hub sites. If you are a SharePoint administrator, you will need to determine how hub site promotions will take place. Will you require your site owners to submit request forms for new hub sites? How should they justify whether the hub site is needed? And how much rigor will your enterprise team go through in validating these hub site requests?

To get you started, here are a few hub site questions. The questions are intended to guide site owners through the process of justifying the need for elevating a site to a hub site. You’ll want to modify these questions to suit the specific needs of your organization.

  • Do you need to centrally control the branding theme for multiple SharePoint sites?
  • Do you need to relate multiple disparate sites together with a similar branded look and feel?
  • Do you need a common visual experience for 2 or more sites so users view them as “belonging together”?
  • Do you need to apply the same navigation settings to many different sites?
  • Do you need to update your navigation settings in one location and have it automatically applied to many other sites?
  • Do you need to aggregate news from multiple SharePoint sites into a single aggregate feed for a specific audience of users?
  • Do you need a targeted search function that searches across multiple disparate SharePoint sites quickly and easily?
  • Do you have multiple sites that fall under a logical business area (e.g. Human Resources, Legal, Corporate Communications)?
  • Do you have a functional business reason to link your sites together into a hub site?
  • What value will a hub site provide to your site users?
  • What value will a hub site provide you as a site owner? (In other words, do you have a clear business objective for your hub site?)

You should also consider what operational standards are required for the management of your hub sites. With only 50 hubs to work with, you should consider:

  • Who can approve use of a hub site?
  • Will hub sites be reviewed or audited to ensure they’re still being used? At what interval will auditing take place (e.g. 6 months, annually)?
  • Will you set up thresholds for hub site management (e.g. when you reach a total of 30 hub sites in use, will additional reviews be required?)
  • Will certain key business units (e.g. Corporate Communications, Information Security, etc.) be provided a hub site right away?
  • Should hub sites be “public” by default (e.g. be viewable by all employees)? If not, why not?
  • Will you set up a required minimum number of modern sites that will be joined via a hub? (e.g. you must have a minimum of 5 modern sites to qualify for use of a hub site)

Enterprise governance of hub sites is in its infancy. Most of us are just scratching the surface, trying to determine how much (or how little) governance will actually be required. If you plan to use hub sites, start having open dialogue about hub management now. As you continue learning more about how your site owners (and your organization) engage with hubs, you can build in appropriate governance processes and checkpoints to ensure effective management.

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