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2012 is the Year for SharePoint Governance

Posted in Security & Governance

In 2012, governance is a hot topic in SharePoint. New adopters may wonder what all the fuss is about, but, as SharePoint continues to see double digit growth year after year, all those new users surging onto the platform will require care, channeling, guidance, and oversight. Governance can take many different forms; but, at its most elemental level, governance is really guidance.  It not only keeps things on track, but it is an essential response to widespread adoption and a necessary component for fostering sustained growth and usage.

As you might expect, there are many competing definitions of governance. I’ve heard antivirus software described as governance. I’ve also heard site provisioning workflows described as governance. Establishing and sustaining governance programs is twice as hard if you can’t get agreement on what governance means ...

Let’s cut through the clutter and review Microsoft’s own definition of SharePoint governance from TechNet:

“Governance is the set of policies, roles, responsibilities, and processes that guide, direct, and control how an organization's business divisions and IT teams cooperate to achieve business goals.”  [Emphasis added, reference below].

In 2012, a lot of enterprises will implement governance as part of their SharePoint solution.  It’s important to remember, however, that governance is an implemented program.  You can’t just install “governance” on your farm. Unfortunately, too many enterprises will adopt this sequence of events:

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Does that make sense?  Do you wait until your car is already off the road to take hold of the steering wheel?  Of course not.  The preferred sequence for SharePoint governance looks something like this:

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During 2012, too many enterprises will wait until their tires are off the road before they start to talk about governance. Many organizations already have decent governance in place for SharePoint’s most traditional features – document-based collaboration and content management.  It’s the “next wave” workloads – social networking, business intelligence, custom development – that present a challenge.  Some are afraid of uncontrolled usage, so they keep those functions turned off.  Others turn them on, but provide little guidance to users and wonder why more people aren’t flocking to these new solutions.

The best answer is to understand that governance is an ongoing, evolutionary program.  You can’t just install it at the end of a project. And, it’s more than a one-and-done document, written during the early phase of your rollout.  Governance provides the business-oriented guidance to shape roles and processes through the lifecycle of SharePoint in any organization.  Governance typically cycles through multiple core processes. 

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Establish stakeholders

Although it often begins as an IT initiative, SharePoint is really business software for business users. Just as successful SharePoint implementation projects need to engage a cross section of business owners, it’s important to make sure that governance gives voice to business goals, operations teams, technology management, and users.  Stakeholders may be fluid through the years, but continuous stakeholder engagement should remain constant beyond the original implementation project.

Gather requirements

Governance begins with an understanding of business goals.  Over time, it also transits to include tactical needs, and system capabilities and constraints. Shepherding this process is complicated. Working with business and technical disciplines requires education, tact and really careful translation to assure that all governance decisions are made in consideration of commonly understood goals.

Develop governance framework

Policies and procedures are the key outputs of this activity. Turning governance requirements into effective, enforceable policies and procedures is a complex process. Usually the most visible sections of your environment require the most attention. Policies and procedures should be documented as much as possible.

Implement governed operations

Training and communications are essential aspects of implementation. Procedures should be automated to the extent that is practical. Matching the tactical execution to the governance strategy requires perception and cultural awareness. Practical governance works across multiple user scales – from individuals through an entire user ecosystem. It also may vary from broad usage guidelines to tightly controlled and restricted policies. Implementation may include additional software tools or custom development, it also may lead to new technical training and operating practices.

Measure results

Sustained governance programs require some degree of evaluation. Initially, much of this evaluation is based on qualitative or narrative feedback; but, in more evolved organizations, statistical evidence can be gathered, such as monthly site requests compared to actual site creations.

Evaluate success for next steps

All governance programs require ongoing evaluation to determine if they are effective in channeling SharePoint to help achieve business goals, and to figure out what to do next. One of those next steps may be identifying additional stakeholders.  In that case, revert back to the top of this list!

Creating your governance program empowers you to move into new frontiers for SharePoint. In 2012, we’ll see forward-thinking end customers requiring application developers to create applications that integrate prebuilt solutions to improve manageability, governance and portability, all of which can pose challenges with custom solutions. We’ll continue to see the greatest challenges for governance coming from the newest functions in SharePoint – business intelligence, social networking and taxonomies. Having a governance program will prepare you for what’s to come.  Good luck!

Reference: Microsoft publishes a lot of SharePoint governance material at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint/ff800826.aspx