This content is part of the Essential Guide: The pros and cons of SharePoint continue to divide users

The top 10 SharePoint Online governance tips

A crowded, mismanaged SharePoint repository spawns sprawl, poor governance and usability issues. Governance is the only way out.

As users pile onto online content management like defensive linemen onto a quarterback, SharePoint Online administrators...

are increasingly challenged to maintain order and ease of use with enterprise content -- making effective governance a bigger issue than ever.

Because SharePoint Online is cost-effective and cloud-based and its content can be accessed from anywhere, it's becoming an attractive content management option for many companies. Still, just as with SharePoint on-premises, a crowded, mismanaged repository will lead to SharePoint sprawl, poor governance, and usability issues with search and retrieval of documents. SharePoint Online needs discipline to work either in the cloud or behind the firewall.

What can SharePoint administrators do to keep SharePoint Online content well organized, and the CMS itself responsive and efficient? Quite a bit.

Five SharePoint Online governance dos

  1. Keep an open channel. A SharePoint administrator is generally enforcing governance process and best practices on an on-going basis. This means regular, consistent communication with various site owners, content owners and app owners within the environment. This dialogue is easily enabled -- SharePoint-integrated Yammer is a popular and convenient choice -- but it is up to SharePoint admins to initiate that conversation and keep it going, with prompts, notifications and encouragement to keep everyone engaged.
  2. Automate, automate, automate! Workflow is innocuous in a SharePoint environment, and a wise administrator will make it one of his primary governance tools. For every access request, suggested enhancement, reported issue, item recovery or site added, background workflow can provide follow-up actions and audit. All of this serves to ensure that changes undergo quality control.
  3. Hold users accountable. SharePoint Online's convenience and utility are empowerment-based, giving a great deal of responsibility to users themselves. For an administrator, this means setting and enforcing storage quotas, expirations, upload limits and so on. Most of this can be done with workflow.
  4. Archive, archive, archive! As a general rule, the older content gets, the less you need it. Have site and content owners provide estimates of the shelf life of content, and put a process into place to archive content once it reaches a certain age. If your SharePoint environment is hosting projects, do the same thing with those.
  5. Monitor activity and notice when it drops off. How do you know when a subsite or a project has reached the end of its usefulness? Often it's not the age of an asset, but rather that no one comes knocking anymore. It makes sense to put a process into place to monitor sites, projects and libraries for attrition and to create workflow that will prompt a review of any site or project that no longer draws users -- and archive or delete it.

Five SharePoint Online governance don'ts

  1. Don't let users delete things. There will be exceptions to this rule, and it's a question of business context -- but as a default, it is often better on a publishing site or a site other than a team site, to leave the power of deletion in the hands of the site owner or someone with similar authority. The alternative is having to give many lessons in how to use the recycle bin or having to go to the trouble of a selective recovery, when the deletion goes undiscovered.
  2. Let no content go untagged. With SharePoint, you have a term store, managed navigation, and search capabilities -- use them. Ensure that content is tagged, and tagged properly, at the time it enters the environment. Don't permit standalone, undiscoverable content in the repository unless there's an explicit reason to do so.
  3. Don't use InfoPath. After a checkered history, Microsoft is retiring InfoPath. If you deploy forms created in InfoPath, you'll be replacing them soon. Consider a Microsoft Access app, which permits dynamic form performance and other features as an alternative.
  4. Don't permit customization of sites without justification. The Azure cloud is not customization-friendly, because updates and patches to the hosting environment might not work well with customized code. An incompatibility can clobber site functionality or even crash it altogether.
  5. No sandbox solutions. If you must customize, use the new app model rather than the standard sandbox solution model. Sandbox solution code executes in isolation, with Microsoft's position being that since it isn't its code, there's no reason it should bother with optimizing its execution. Not so within the app model, where custom code will run more cleanly.

Next Steps

SharePoint users wrestle with usability issues

Navigate our simple guide to SharePoint migration

SharePoint in the cloud isn't a zero-sum game

Dig Deeper on Enterprise SharePoint strategy