Category Archives: Content management

What about the humble file – there’s more to life than documents

This is effectively Part Three in a series of blogs on managing content across the organisation, as part of moving to a cloud. I’ve previously mused on Microsoft Teams and Office 365 Groups, as well as the complex issue of ‘Putability’.

It’s easy to think that covers everything, but every organisation has huge quantities of legacy content which can’t or shouldn’t be placed in a modern content management system. You can legitimately think about these being files and folders stored on a file server, with this commonly being mounted against a Storage Area Network (SAN).

As organisations either commit fully to the cloud and seek to remove their existing local servers, or are faced with having to upgrade their SAN yet again because of growing data volumes, they are often strongly tempted to offload some of this into their Office 365 cloud storage. There is a whole article on effective migration strategies, content cleansing etc. which should be the subject of a future blog. For now, I want to consider a much simpler problem of whether you should migrate legacy content and if so, to where.

 

Chances are you’ve found a file in your file share! It’s probably buried deep in a set of folders (and you can read what I have to say about that here). There’s probably a 50% chance that it’s out of date, duplicated multiple times and has no obvious or existing owner. It’s almost guaranteed that any metadata happens to be attached to it is wrong. It properly has siblings, tens of thousands of other documents in a similar state, all-consuming expensive and fast tier 1 storage. Something must be done!

 

Simplistically, you have three choices; the trick is to choose amongst them wisely and here are our thoughts (with thanks to Alan Ruan for the discussions that led to this).

Do you need to share this file or document on an ongoing basis with colleagues in your organisation? If not, it’s probably a legacy file or document that no one actively needs. Now the question is do they need it at all?

If not, you can delete it. If so you need to archive it into an inexpensive storage tier. Once upon a time this could easily have been tape or a JBOD array. Today the chances are you look at something like Microsoft Azure StorSimple appliance which will synchronise content to the cloud while leaving a file stub that makes it appear to be local to your filing system. It’s pretty cheap, starting at about £100 for the virtual appliance per month plus storage at about £1200 per terabyte per year, which includes full redundancy etc.

If so it’s probably a live document and should be pushed into your digital workspace. I recommend going back and reading the blogs referenced in the first paragraph. However, you can’t put everything into SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business etc. Many file types are actively blocked and some of the files you may be storing, such as video, CAD drawings, disc images and MSI files are just too big to comfortably move there. There are options to setup BLOB storage linked to SharePoint, of course. Equally you may be happy to leave this kind of content on something equivalent the file server as such content tends to be relatively small in quantity and often has a reasonably effective taxonomy which can be managed using folders. Once again, an option like StorSimple will allow you to move this to low-cost storage while retaining access and control.

As I said, it’s pretty simple. It’s even simpler when you can see it as a diagram:

file storage

 

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Putability – More thoughts on Office 365 for collaboration

My thinking has evolved a little further with regards to using Office 365 collaboration since my last blog. This is driven by some further investigation into the recent upgrades to Office 365 Groups and Microsoft Teams.

As mentioned before, these are somewhat interchangeable in terms of their intended purpose and both have a proper SharePoint team site on the back end which extends their capability into being actively useful. For those that remember Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) or the more recent SharePoint Foundation, Groups and Teams essentially are the modern successor. The most immediate difference between them is that Groups are email-centric while Microsoft Teams is (Skype) chat-centric; however, there are some different components presented in each. Stand-alone, they are great for very lightweight intranets and team collaboration; combined with other parts of Office 365 they offered the ability to build out midrange digital workspaces. They fill a very useful role for unmanaged or lightly managed collaboration, though some organisations will choose OneDrive for Business for their unmanaged collaboration needs, leaving Groups and Teams for lightly managed role.

When it comes to OneDrive for Business, we propose a Best Practice folder structure to that consists of:

  • Private
  • Shared with Team (<owner name>)
  • Shared with Everyone (<owner name>)
  • Shared Externally

We also commonly recommend a mechanism for managing organisational Office templates using OneDrive for Business, where we add the Custom Office Templates folder to our OneDrive for Business and point the Office clients at that.

OneDrive structure

Then there is Yammer… This also can store and share documents and allow a form of collaboration around them. Using Yammer in this way never felt very natural to us, but it was part of the original design of the product before Microsoft acquired it, and it may well suit some organisations. However, by embedding Yammer within a SharePoint page in an intranet, it becomes particularly useful for wrapping a shared conversation around a document, or conversely adding documents to a shared conversation.

The trouble with all this is that users are uncertain about where to store information. It’s a problem we’ve talked about before; with the excellent search now available across Office 365 through SharePoint and Delve – combined with an effective metadata strategy – the problem of ‘Findability’ is largely addressed. Unfortunately, ‘Putability’ – knowing where to store your content -remains a challenge.

 

The lovely people at Tata Steel have put a lot of thought into this which aligns closely with our thinking and so I share this extended version of their decision tree with their permission:

Putability

As you can see, it’s fairly complex and this reflects the complex nature of the content that we expect people to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It is, however, fairly easily explained as follows:

  1. Keep your own stuff in OneDrive and if you need to, share it with your team unless you have a team site or group for that
  2. Team and project content should go into the relevant intranet team site, or a Microsoft Team or Office 365 Group if it doesn’t have sophisticated processes wrapped around it
  3. If it doesn’t need collaboration, then publish it to an intranet publishing area such as the HR site or a Document Centre
  4. If you need to shared externally and consider a dedicated extranet, though OneDrive for Business could be used for non-sensitive content
  5. Anything which isn’t reliant on storing the document could be done using Yammer or email

 

There is no harm in embedding the above in a governance or user guide which is actively shared with your users. The better they understand where to put their content the easier it will be to find things later and much easier to keep everything managed.

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Filed under Cloud, Content management, Intranet, Office 365