Friday, 5 September 2014

SharePoint and the 'continuum of control'

So, for the past year or so I have been heading up a SharePoint implementation project within Jisc.  It has proved a very interesting task and has got me thinking in all sorts of directions.  It has also been an extremely useful opportunity to refresh whatever professional skills and knowledge I may have and to reacquaint myself with life at the sharp end of records and information management.    

As some of you will know, a recurring area of interest of mine for some time has been the shifting foci of power that we have witnessed in recent years when it comes to information creation and control: away from the organisation and towards the user and what, if anything, our professional response should be. 

SharePoint, it appears to me, sits at an interesting point along this continuum.  Or, more interestingly still, can potentially be made to sit at pretty much any point along it from ‘bolted down corporate repository’ (mandatory metadata, records declaration and retention management etc) to ‘free and easy user-focused solution’ (create a Team site, store content, share it with who you like).  It is this range of potential management, control and usage options that interests me as I suspect it is pretty unique within this landscape.  After all, if you let all your users loose with Dropbox or Googledocs, you are always going to be limited in the range of centrally defined management controls that you can put in place across it.  Alternatively it would be difficult to try to turn a full blown EDRMS into a collaborative tool which is entirely at the user’s discretion when it comes to information creation and management. 

So the benefit, in theory at least, of SharePoint is that it does at least give you as the information manager the potential to find your own ‘sweet spot’ on this ‘continuum of control’: to decide which elements you want to enforce and which you wish to leave to the user’s discretion; to determine how much information management policy and rigour you wish to implement, and how much you want to leave to individual whim.  Finding exactly where this sweet spot is for your organisation is, it seems to me, half the key to success when it comes to implementing SharePoint: enforce too much control and you may find it a near impossible feat to convince your users that they should abandon their GoogleDocs accounts for it; but include too little and you may find you are simply replacing one unmanaged and ungoverned mess of information with another. 

And, of course, if our experience is anything to go by, you are likely to discover different sweet spots exist from department and department and function and function within your organisation with some users demanding a level of rigour and governance that others would find totally off putting.  Trying to be ‘all things to all men’ may seem like a tall order, and perhaps it is from a practical perspective but at least it is theoretically possible within SharePoint.

Yesterday I took part in a UCISA Webinar that explored some of these themes and which explained a little about the decisions that we have taken here at Jisc with regards to managing information and records within SharePoint.  I started with a brief(ish)overview of some of the history that has shaped the interplay between user andorganisation with regards to the management of information and a copy of the script for this is available.  I also gave a presentation which explored how we have approached SharePoint withinJisc, and in particular how we have implemented the types of records management controls that we consider appropriate for our needs.  The whole Webinar is also available for downloading (1.5 hours) if interested and which not only includes the above with narration, but also a presentation on University of Highlands and Island’s experience of using SharePoint and all the questions and discussions surrounding the presentations. 

Now that I have got the blogging bit between my teeth again I’ll perhaps elaborate a little more on the approach we have taken in future posts in the near future but think this is probably enough to be getting on with for now…

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