Content Management Tips for SharePoint Online

Content Management Doesn't Have To Be A Headache!

For many organizations, there is a push to begin utilizing SharePoint Online as a content management system (CMS). If you’ve already invested in Office 365, SharePoint is a no-brainer for low-cost storage and easy remote access.

However, there’s much more to migrating to SharePoint Online than a point and click migration. Time and time again users get frustrated as they try to navigate deep folder structures in SharePoint. Then they ask, “Why did we move to SharePoint? How is this helping me?”

Their frustration is understandable if all they were able to do was take their current file share mess and move it to a web-based file share mess. It’s time to rethink your file structures and security and take the opportunity to put your best foot forward when migrating into SharePoint Online.

So, how do you do that? Where do you begin? Here are 4 things to think about before you use SharePoint Online for content management.

1. Don’t migrate everything over from your file share

End users are famous for that “CYA” habit – keep it all just in case we need it. However, the flip side of that coin is liability. Everything you keep can now be easily surfaced in eDiscovery – do you *really* want to keep it ALL? Besides, users are already frustrated that they can’t find anything in the noise. Let’s take the opportunity to clean things up and only bring over what we really need.

  • Only migrate active content. You don’t actually need those log files from 10 years ago, I promise. Don’t bring over content if you don’t even know what it is. If you have resistant users, you can provide the file share in “read only” status for a while until they are confident they have what they need.

  • Address Inactive Records. Although you want to make sure your migration doesn't get bogged down with bringing over ROT (Redundant, Obsolete, and Trivial) content, it is imperative to ensure that content that needs to be retained for Records Management considerations is addressed. Whether that means it is migrated into SharePoint Online, or dealt with otherwise, you definitely cannot ignore this content.

  • Only migrate the most recent version of the documents you bring over. SharePoint uses version history, so moving forward you won’t need to use v1, v2, v3. It’s best to start with a clean slate!

  • Review/revamp security. Can you grant read-only access in a scenario where you were previously copying these documents for others to view? Again, we don’t want multiple versions of the same document. Try to focus on one version!

2.  Don’t keep the same file structure

Whether you are migrating from a legacy file share or SharePoint On-Premises, properly organizing content comes down to 2 foundational design considerations:

  • Information Architecture:  Simply put, Information Architecture is the practice of applying principles of organization and categorization to information (your content in this case). At the most macro level there are really 3 high-level approaches most organizations can consider:

  • Org hierarchy structure - this is likely what your legacy file share is mostly based upon. Since we're NOT looking to replicate this mess, this is something we should take a pass on.

  • Topical - generally this applies best to educational and research/knowledge management organizations where the bulk of their content relates to well-known Topical and Interest groupings such as "Mathematical", "Adult Learning", "Dinosaurs", "Astrophysics", "Applied Quantum Theory", etc.

  • Functional Decomposition - in this approach, you break down the departmental, and possibly geographical, silos into the cross-department FUNCTIONS that your organization executes in order to do what you do. You start at the most general way of describing your major functions (ex. "Customer Order Management" or "Inventory and Materials Management", or even "Quote to Cash"), and then break that down (Decompose) into sub-levels of more detail until you get to activities. The HUGE advantage here is that by organizing your content this way it mirrors how most of your work actually happens (usually around 80% or so), which is NOT restricted to occurring solely within a single department. Obviously, there are still activities that do occur solely within a single department or team, but these tend to be mostly departmental administrative type of activities. So, you will have some org hierarchy organized content, but it should be very much in the minority.

  • Security - in SharePoint, we want to avoid setting security in deep folder structures and try to keep it at the site or document library/list level as it can easily become very time-consuming and error-prone to manage deep and complicated security structures that burrow down multiple levels of folders. Also, if you choose to use a Functional Decomposition information architecture, you will find that security tends to align fairly linearly to that approach in most cases.

For these reasons, it’s important to consider new ways of organizing your content. Also:

  • Use Content Types for common documents (i.e. policies, procedures, equipment reference manuals, product/service brochures, and so on). This has the huge benefit to be able to set yourself up to create improved search pages with a custom refinement panel leveraging these Content Types to very quickly and accurately get to a small result set that actually represents the content you need and will be the authoritative items. If your end users can shop on amazon.com, then they can easily use a SharePoint search page with refinement that are labeled with these Content Types as well as more global identifiers such as the file type (MS Word, Excel, Bitmap, PDF, etc.), language, author, date, etc.

  • Sort your content between publishing sites vs. collaboration. Use modern communication site templates when you have a lot of readers and a few contributors. Use Microsoft Teams (backed by SharePoint modern team sites) when you need to collaborate.

  • Sort your content between publishing sites vs. collaboration. Use modern communication site templates when you have a lot of readers and a few contributors. Use Microsoft Teams (backed by SharePoint modern team sites) when you need to collaborate.

3. Plan for large lists and libraries

SharePoint supports more than 5,000 items in a list/library, but you need to plan for the capacity. If you have a scenario where you’ve not been able to break your content into multiple sites or document libraries, you’ll have a few things to consider:

  • In modern lists and libraries, for lists over 2,500 items, indexes will be created automatically – but only up to 20,000 items. Long term, auto-indexing will work above 20,000 items as well.

  • If you are using a third-party migration tool (highly recommended), there have been reports that indexing is not complete prior to hitting 20,000 items. You may want to try a test run to ensure indexing is set up prior to migrating the full set of content into the library.

  • Acquire archiving tools to help if the data truly cannot be expired.

4.  Plan your Retention Policies & Data Loss Prevention

Changes to the versioning settings are rolling out across SharePoint Online. From now on, versioning will be available by default in all libraries across SharePoint and OneDrive. As an administrator, you cannot allow any less than 100 versions per documents. Naturally, this brings up storage concerns. (for compliance concerns, review this.)

  • These policies will either allow you to automatically delete a document after a certain period or ensure that it won’t be deleted prior to its required/specified retention.

  • New! You can also set retention policies on MS Teams and Groups now! Review this as part of your overall content strategy if you plan to use Teams for collaboration.

  • For those concerned about moving content to the cloud due to compliance, make sure to take advantage of the policies for manually labeling (available in an E3 level subscription) or automatically detecting (available in an E5 level subscription) documents that have sensitive or personal (PII - Personally Identifying Information) content.

So, there you have it! I realize it’s a lot of information to take in. It’s best to take your time with planning content migration into SharePoint Online and to move in planned and orchestrated phases, especially when you are dealing with content that falls under compliance auditing.

The good news is that your content is more secure than ever! Consider that in addition to all the protection listed above, you also have data encryption at rest and in motion, plus logical and barriers between tenants, and extensive physical security for Microsoft's data center facilities.

Whether you’re in modern SharePoint communication sites, Microsoft Teams backed by modern SharePoint team sites, or even classic SharePoint sites, these options can help you get the most out of your SharePoint environment. It’s a great time to get your content moved into SharePoint Online and start taking advantage of the awesome content management features available to you.

If you would be interested in getting some help to do this effectively, I would LOVE to have a conversation, so please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, or, skip the middleman, and contact me, and we can talk about how I can help!