IA: How Structure and Search make an effective design together?

Designing information architecture (IA) for your ECM solution is always challenging especially when content needs to be created and consumed in many different ways. Two potential approaches to design IA are:  structure driven and search driven. In following lines, we will see pros and cons of each approach and then we will see how both approaches can be used to design IA which will adopt to changing business requirements over period of time:

Structure Driven IA:

By structure, I mean deciding  sites/subsites, libraries and their hierarchy.  It may be inspired by business departments, locations or timeline. Typically, any proposed structure will have biases towards a specific type of use cases. Secondly there is limit how you can balance needs of content creation and consumption. This is because,  over period of time, it may change how content is being used. It is not a question of right or wrong, instead how aligned structure is with requirements at hand.


  • Useful for implementing security. You can control access at site/library level.
  • May be useful to reflect your business architecture initially.


  • If no one can find the content because it is buried under multiple level of folder hierarchy, then it is of no use,  and eventually  you may reinvent the wheel.
  • Once you have huge volume of content, changing structure may not be an option.
  • Defining accurate taxonomies requires specialized skills and it may be time consuming/never ending process as well

Search Driven IA:

Another approach to IA design is search oriented.  Here,  instead of fine tuning structure to fulfill ever changing requirements, you focus more on making it search friendly and make your content discoverable.


  • Search may provide content you are not even aware of it.
  • Search may be useful for large volume of loosely connected content
  • Search may enable content reusability across multiple scenarios. e.g. Same product description may be used in help documents as well as ecommerce site.
  • Search analytics can help to refine content by enriching it with more metadata or fine tuning relevance configurations.


  • Search may provide too much information. Not all of that information is needed. It simply makes difficult to find right information by avoiding information overload
  • Finding relevant content is always challenging. Context — like time, location or user –plays a bigger role in upcoming search technologies to provide more relevant search results
  • Security:  All of us can tell stories show sensitive content becomes available through search. I remember noticing an excel sheet with financial information being used by our customer to manage multiple vendors including us or you may find salary sheet of your boss in search results.

Since each approach has its value in specific scenario, It makes sense to use both approaches to support two different views. Structure oriented view can be created for content producers.  It may help to implement appropriate access controls and workflows. However, structure should not be designed to support immediate usages scenarios. What is needed here is to capture enough metadata which can last long enough during content life cycle. In SharePoint,  features like Taxonomy, Term sets, and metadata columns, libraries and folders,  can used to implement this approach.

Search should drive content consumer views. Based on the specific needs at hand, appropriate views can be created using search technologies by utilizing content metadata.  It this way, if business requirements change or new usage scenario emerge, your content will be able to support it without requiring restructuring. Microsoft SharePoint 2013 has introduced various features like Content Search web part and metadata driven navigation,  to support this approach.

Employee Engagement: How Social Networking and Collaboration Technologies can help

According to Gallup “State of the Global Workplace” survey 2013, only 13 % employees are actively engaged in their workplace. This figure must be troubling for any business leader. Although there are many factors involved in engaging and motivating your employees, we will see how social and collaboration technologies can help business leaders to rally their staff around company vision.

There are different ways employee engagement can be defined. The way I define it is that you feel engaged at work place when you see a connection between yourself, your work, your company and broader society. If any of the link is missing, it impacts your interest and motivation level.  First, let’s see couple of complaints people have when they describe their workplace environment:

  • Feeling of not being listened
  • Lack of clarity around company strategy
  • Job at hand and skills/interests are not aligned
  • Lack of recognition for effort
  • No socialization opportunities at work place

To engage and motivate employees, business leaders have to look at it from multiple dimensions. Many factors may be contributing to low engagement levels. For example, it may be compensation strategy,  communication gaps between management and employees, team structure, company organization ,or any specific management practices being used.

In this digital age, technology can help a lot to alleviate lot of the complaints without incurring significant costs. In subsequent lines, we will see how social and collaboration technology can play its role to address each concern effectively.  Social Networking technologies have already proven their value in consumer space. Now it is time to exploit these benefits in business space.  Here are couple of the approaches that can be used to exploit social and collaboration technologies to enhance employee engagement. This is not the complete list as such about how these technologies can be used. You can tailor these approaches keeping in mind your specific context.

Communicating Company Vision and Strategy:

Often employees find it challenging to relate their work with broader company strategy and roadmap. They cannot see a link between what they are doing and what company is trying to achieve. Corporate Portal can be used for internal communications to share company strategy and how it relates to each department, team and individuals. CEOs can conduct online town hall meetings which can be broadcasted across whole company. CEOs can share broader strategy and explain why company is pursuing specific initiatives and projects .  This will help employees to see how they are contributing to broader company objectives.

Socialization Opportunities:

Often times, people have very well defined jobs and hence they get few interacting opportunities with other people in their workplace. They may become isolated from rest of the company and may know little about what is going on broadly in the company.  Enterprise Social technologies can be used here to create communities around specific topics.  These topics may be related to work or may be generic one. People can then join these communities based on their interest and share knowledge with other community members. This may enable people from different departments to collaborate informally and solve business problems which may not be directly related to their primary job. On other hand, it also creates socialization opportunities to build relationships among employees.

Performance Recognition:

If you have a corporate news feed in your corporate portal, a one line update by a manager, recognizing efforts and performance of an employee,  can do wonders for him as well as for rest of the employees. Public recognition, like this, simply sends a strong message to everyone that management recognizes all the efforts and work done by employees.

Regular Corporate Communication:

Sharing regular updates with employees keeps every one informed. Many times, information is not shared regularly with broader audience which creates communications gaps. People may be unaware of the new exciting project that fellow team is working on. You may be working on a problem which other team has already solved. Such scenarios also indicate opportunities for knowledge sharing. Managers sometimes send email updates which have limited impact. If something is shared on corporate news feed or portal, it stays there forever and has much more impact than occasional emails. Also, this gives a reason to everyone to visit corporate portal.

Opportunities to express yourself

In digital world, it is much easier to share your ideas and opinions. A corporate blog and wiki site can be used to create a platform where everyone can share his or her ideas and get feedback from fellow employees.

Like any other initiative, overdoing or doing it without proper control and oversight may have its own implications. There are specific best practices to make social initiatives successful but I will leave this topic for another day. One thing is sure that social and collaboration technologies have established their value in consumer space. It is up to the business leaders to decide how they can bring these technologies in business world and reap huge benefits out of it.

Delivering Portal and Intranet Projects Successfully

We recently implemented a corporate portal for a large retailer. By any definition, this was a successful project; project was completed within time and budget,  and business customer was satisfied about final product. Many factors contribute towards delivering a successful project, however, I would like to share two key practices that we followed during this project.

Engaging Business Customer:

Typically developers view business users as  someone they should avoid. Business user is viewed as someone who always keeps changing requirements or does not understand technology architecture and design. This is not to blame anyone because most of us go through same process during our professional experience. However, as we start working closely with business users, we realize that they are not as bad as we perceive them. They just explain whatever they do on daily basis. They expect consultants to suggest solutions to their problems.

In this project, we closely worked with business from day one. Our intention was to really understand their business processes, their specific needs, and work practices. Insights gained from this exercise were used to design new portal. During whole project and specifically during development phase, we had in-depth review of portal with business users  every two weeks. Objective of these reviews was to:

  • Understand business requirements as soon as possible
  • Validate each new feature by actually using it with business users
  • Keep business users on-board during every design decision and share its pros/cons
  • Build trust which helped us in lot of different ways
  • Keep communication channel open throughout the project

Believe it or not, we were able to control the project scope at every stage. All new ideas related to product features were discussed in detail and decisions were made to make sure that we select only those features which are feasible within  given time frame.

Short Development Iterations:

Our team has been adopting agile practices to help minimize project risks. Planning short iterations to manage development effort helped us in many different ways, namely:

  • It reduced the risk of building wrong thing
  • Output of short iterations became handy in review sessions with business users. Every two weeks, after each iteration, we had something to show to our business partners.
  • It served as a great tool to manage time and budget
  • Short Iterations became a decent tool for project planning
  • Individual productivity became very visible as everyone had to show his contribution in each iteration

There is nothing new about these practices. You will find tons of books which explain similar ideas under the umbrella of Agile Methodologies. Yet there is huge percentage of projects which fail altogether or don’t meet stakeholders expectations. I believe that Agile practices can help a lot to minimize project failure risks.  It is always challenging to adopt new practices and follow them on day to day basis.  I would recommend that instead of following any new methodology as per book, try to adopt few practices in each new project. After couple of projects, team would definitely see the value in new process and its practices.

Smarter Selling Review

Recently, I had a chance to read about selling , especially relationship based selling. (Please do not assume that I am becoming a sales guy, I am still IT guy…:)). One particular book that is very interesting in this regard is “Smarter Selling” by David Lambert and Keith Dugdale. This covers very basic and practical ideas, applicable especially in IT consulting where each company has few clients and managing relationships with existing clients is very important. Here is brief listing of what is covered in this book:

  • How clients perceive you based on your behavior
  • What are different types of business relationships, especially between B2B
  • Assessing these relationships and how to move these relationships to partner level
  •  Understanding different individuals and their role (decision maker, influencer, gate keeper)
  • How conversations take place and what should be discussed there
  • How to build and cement rapport, trust and credibility
  • A questioning model (SHAPE) for uncovering needs
  • How to conduct presentations

I would recommend this book to anyone who is directly involved in facing clients and is interested in contributing towards better client relationships. There are only 200 pages…:)