IA: How Do Structure and Search Make An Effective Design Together?
Designing Information Architecture (IA) for your Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution is especially challenging when content needs to be created and consumed in several different ways. Two potential approaches to design IA are structure driven and search driven. Within following paragraphs, we will discover the pros and cons of each approach. We will also see how both approaches can be used to design IA, which will adapt to changing business requirements over a period of time.
Structure Driven IA
By structure, I am referring to sites/sub sites, 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 case. Secondly, there is a limit on how you can balance the needs of content creation and consumption. Over a period of time, this may change how the content is being used. It is not a question of right or wrong but instead looks at how aligned the structure is with the requirements at hand.
- Practical for implementing security
- Controlled access at site/library level
- Initially manages your business architecture
- Duplicated efforts
- Limited changes
- Specialized skills/time are required to define accurate taxonomies
Search Driven IA
Another approach to IA design is search. Instead of fine-tuning the structure to fulfill ever-changing requirements, you can focus more on making it search friendly as well as making your content more discoverable.
- Search may provide content you are not even aware of
- Search may be useful for a large volume of loosely connected content
- Search may enable content reusability across multiple scenarios (e.g. the same product description may be used in help documents as well as the ecommerce site)
- Search analytics help refine content by enriching it with more metadata /fine-tuning relevance configurations
- Search may provide too much information
- Finding relevant content
- Sensitive content can be found (i.e. your bosses’ salary)
Since each approach has its own value within specific scenarios, it makes sense to use both approaches to support two different views. Structure oriented views 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 the content life cycle. In Microsoft SharePoint, features such as taxonomy, term sets, 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. 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 such as Content Search web part and metadata driven navigation, to support this approach.
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Saeed Ahmad is a seasoned professional with diverse experience in business technology with special focus on social networking and collaboration solutions within the enterprise space. He is currently working on solutions to help companies expedite product innovation process using social technologies. Saeed can be reached at email@example.com.