SharePoint systems can be freewheeling environments in which business users have wide latitude to set up collaborative workspaces and use them without the heavy hand of corporate oversight. To some degree, that's the nature of enterprise collaboration: Give users tools that help them work together more effectively, and then let them do just that.
But giving them too much rope can lead to problems: inconsistent data, inaccessible documents, unmanaged corporate records and possible regulatory compliance issues. That's a lesson Telenor Group, a Norway-based mobile network operator, learned the hard way, pushing the company to implement a new information and records management program designed to impose more order on the use of its SharePoint system.
"Telenor really burned their fingers in the sense that [the system] got out of control and data quality got so bad," said Kåre Friestad, a consultant at IT services provider Altran Norge AS in Oslo. Friestad, who is helping Telenor with the SharePoint records management project, spoke about the effort along with a company representative at the Association for Information and Image Management's AIIM Conference 2013 in New Orleans.
One of the goals, Friestad said, was to put in place the same kinds of policies for SharePoint as Telenor already had for other systems in areas such as information governance, ownership and standards. "SharePoint has some issues when it comes to governance," he noted. "It's very flexible and easy to use. You can do anything with it."
A lack of SharePoint control
SharePoint has some issues when it comes to governance. You can do anything with it.
Kåre Friestad, consultant, Altran Norge AS
Users at Telenor had done quite a bit with the collaboration software, setting up more than 21,000 SharePoint sites since the system was launched in 2008. Site creation wasn't centrally managed, though, and much of the content on sites was essentially controlled by individual users, not an official owner, according to Friestad. There was no common data taxonomy or site structure, and decisions on information and records retention often were left up to users.
Under the new approach, Friestad said, creation and deletion of SharePoint sites is managed through an automated workflow process, and the structure of sites needs to be based on a company-wide taxonomy with standardized metadata. In addition, all content must have a designated owner with the authority to manage the information throughout its lifecycle, including the application of retention schedules for preserving or disposing of records. And the CEOs of Telenor's 12 business units now have overall governance responsibility for the information in their operations, with broader oversight by an information governance council.
Telenor is upgrading to Microsoft's new SharePoint 2013 release as part of the implementation of the new governance and records management policy, but Friestad said data from the existing collaboration system won't be automatically migrated to the new one. That was deemed too large of a task, he added; instead, the company is leaving it up to users to move data they want to retain into the upgraded SharePoint system themselves, hewing to the new metadata and governance guidelines.
The legal department was a big proponent of the move to tighten controls on SharePoint usage, but Friestad said there was some pushback from other business units that viewed the new requirements as an unnecessary burden. Now, though, "users seem to accept it," he said. "They've got no option. There are compliance rules, and you need to adhere to them."
Records management tools available if needed
Doug Miles, director of market intelligence at AIIM, said that when SharePoint first became available, it often resulted in "a nightmare of content fragmentation" across the various collaborative sites in user organizations. But he added that Microsoft has built an "adequate level" of records management capabilities into the collaboration platform starting with SharePoint 2007. "SharePoint provides just enough [functionality]," Miles said. "And any degree of records management is better than no records management."
More on managing an effective records management program
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American Nuclear Insurers (ANI) uses SharePoint for collaboration and document management, and Daniel Antion, its vice president of information services, said he's looking at tapping the software's records management tools as well. ANI, a Glastonbury, Conn., company that insures nuclear power plants, doesn't have a records management program. But Antion said he hopes to move toward one and get workers to "start thinking about where to draw the line between documents that should be well managed and ones that can qualify as corporate records."
For example, ANI needs to ensure that insurance policies and reports its inspectors prepare on nuclear plants are preserved and protected. The inspection reports are now being created electronically and stored in SharePoint, without paper copies as a backup, Antion said. They previously were stored in file shares, he added, "but because of SharePoint we can declare that the digital document is the record. They're born digital, and they stay digital."
Craig Stedman is executive editor of SearchContentManagement. Email him at email@example.com.
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This was first published in June 2013