SharePoint offers a comprehensive portal and information management platform which has over the
years expanded to become a complete information management platform. When SharePoint is deployed
with a mature project management process, clear governance, and a commitment to on-going excellence,
it becomes a productive tool to solve the problems faced by information workers. It offers a simple method
to find, manage, and gather information across multiple sources. When combined with other Microsoft
technology offerings, SharePoint becomes the modern workplace’s best information management
However, many companies do not achieve the business objectives or ROI they expected to receive from
SharePoint. The reasons for this are many, but one of the primary causes of failure is the lack of established
and formal governance program. Like any other large IT initiative, SharePoint installation requires a group
of responsible stakeholders whose roles are clearly identified in the process. It is also likely that clarity in
ownership of the deployment process can cause challenges. Stakeholders may believe that this is the
responsibility of the IT team, however, the IT department may not be empowered to engage the rest of the
organization to adopt. Thus, to summarize, lack of governance can be the single biggest factor that could
cause the whole process to be a failure. Combine this with resistance from users due to ignorance, fear of
change and lack of a good process and every single step can be set up for failure.
So, what is ‘governance’?
IT departments are uncomfortable with ambiguous terminology and unfortunately ’governance’ may
mean a range of things to different people – though the word’s purpose itself is to create a clear process or
set of processes to achieve business goals. Wikipedia suggests that IT governance exists to “assure the
investments in IT generate business value and mitigate the risks that are associated with IT to encourage
desirable behavior”. This complex definition is one of many.
Gartner, for example, defines IT governance (ITG) as the processes that ensure the effective and efficient
use of IT in enabling an organization to achieve its goals.
CIO.com defines governance as ‘Putting structure around how organizations align IT strategy with
business strategy, ensuring that companies stay on track to achieve their strategies and goals and
implementing good ways to measure IT’s performance’.
And Microsoft, the makers of SharePoint define governance as: “The set of policies, roles, responsibilities,
and processes that guides, directs, and controls how an organization’s business divisions and IT teams
cooperate to achieve business goals.”
Thus while there are several published definitions, the underlying meaning of governance is that it
provides direction and guidance on how a solution or service should be used to improve the current state
of a business. It creates a situation where the business and IT must work together to achieve the common
goals of the business
Governance on a general scale encompasses four important pillars of any business, i.e. people, policy,
technology, and process. When all the four work in harmony, then the organization has established its
foundation for efficiency, return on investment and long-term achievement of business goals.
SharePoint governance, to summarize, is a well-defined program which clearly articulates the objectives of
SharePoint deployment, along with identified stakeholders. Governance helps to meet business needs
even as it remains agile to evolve as the business grows. It is the set of roles, policies, processes &
responsibilities that guides controls & directs how an organization’s business divisions & IT teams
cooperate and collaborate to achieve business goals.
SharePoint Governance – Why and How
With increased adoption, the velocity, variety and volume of information and content generated within
SharePoint are always a big challenge. Rapid and widespread adoption also necessitates that governance
must be automated. Because of its complexity, establishing governance for SharePoint is challenging and
raises the question as to whether it is really necessary. However, SharePoint is a complex solution, unlike
many other products in the market and it delivers on diverse needs such as portal, collaboration,
document management, search etc. The more complex or comprehensive is an organization’s use of
SharePoint, the higher the need for governance.
SharePoint is a complex solution and governance will help to ensure its effective usage. It has the capability
to deliver on diverse business needs and, therefore assumes more complexity. This is one of the key
reasons why there needs to be a SharePoint governance process in place. The SharePoint governance can
itself be simple or complex depending on how deep the usage will be. For example, most people may use
basic features like document management and group/team sites. For such simple usages, the governance
may also be fairly simple. However, the decision to deploy SharePoint at the organizational level is to
improve efficiency and achieve business goals. This requires a change in user behavior. The problem with
many organizations are, they go by the simple analogy – “build it and they will come”.
SharePoint Governance is like a guide which provides direction on usage which minimizes risk while
The content flow should have a structured life cycle, i.e. managing expanding number of sites, storage, and
overall content. Most organizations struggle with a proliferation of content, much of it redundant. But
where does one actually keep this content? Who exactly knows its lifespan? SharePoint offers the
technology to manage these challenges but only with governance can this content on SharePoint be
Data quality is another factor which can be addressed only by governance. SharePoint can store data but
who is ultimately responsible for data accuracy. Governance helps to assign owners and this is key to
In a survey conducted by aim.org, user adoption, expansion and governance rank high on the ongoing
issues with SharePoint within organizations.
Here are more compelling reasons for implementing SharePoint Governance:
Failure to have policies defining storage boundaries can lead to undesired growth of data and can soon
cause the platform to perform at slower speeds leading to reduced efficiency.
Manage User Adoption
Governance helps address the adoption problem by providing clear guidance on how and by whom
SharePoint should be used. By resolving the component of people, you manage the adoption rate. A better
way is to deploy SharePoint in an organization for a small team, then to business units, then for the entire
Provide Structure to Content Lifecycle
Without a governance strategy for content, data propagation can cause performance and storage issues.
File servers will grow in an uncontrollable manner. Hence, it is important that at the very beginning we
have governance around the content lifecycle established.
It Sets Standards for Content Quality
Data stewards are not only responsible for managing the content, they also ensure the quality of the
content. As more assets flow into SharePoint, it can quickly become the standard for organizational
knowledge. People rely on it to perform daily tasks and make key decisions. If SharePoint contains a high
degree of out-of-date, inaccurate, or inappropriate content, its perceived value diminishes. Perhaps
worse, this creates mistrust and subsequently destroys user adoption. A vicious cycle now exists, one that
is very difficult to break.
Governance plan ensures that data stewards/information providers have the standards and tools
necessary to maintain quality content in their SharePoint deployment. For example, if a sales executive
goes to her dashboard in SharePoint and notices that certain charts are based on outdated or inaccurate
numbers, who does she contact to resolve this problem? She may stop using the system, or perhaps
worse, she may have colleagues making decisions on outdated information.
It Sets Standards for customizations
SharePoint governance policy should define what features in SharePoint are available to developers. This
includes features such as Performance Point, Excel Services, InfoPath Form Services, SQL Server Reporting
Services, and other Service Applications. The supported services should be communicated to developers
and operational team.
In the event, that a developer or vendor requires a potential feature that is not available. The governance
policy shall determine the process for evaluating, approving, and deploying the addition of the new
Components of SharePoint Governance
Before moving on, an important point to be remembered is, governance cannot be isolated or work in
silos. Its ability and potential lies in its ability to encompass the entire organization and that is a key
Applying the same principle of people, policies, processes and technology, SharePoint’s governance can
be better established and understood. By going through them, we can better understand how to evolve
SharePoint governance policy.
People, for example, are the nucleus of the organization. People work together, collaborate and contribute to the success of a business. Their role is integral to the success of any organization. SharePoint’s key value proposition is its ability to let people find, collaborate and exchange ideas and information.
It is important to accept the fact that many organizations which have adopted SharePoint will have users
who claim to be using SharePoint efficiently. However, on digging deeper it will emerge that many see
SharePoint as a ‘file dump’ or a storage area. They may not have the guidance or knowledge to use the
system in a way that improves their day-to-day efficiency which can directly impact the business in a
This brings us to the next important contributor, i.e. Policy. Policies are most often related to legal or regulatory requirements. Nonconformance can attract penalties which can damage the business itself.
SharePoint ensures that these policies are documented, up-to-date and available when required.
A business process consists of steps taken to achieve a business goal. The output is usually a product or
service. Every organization has business processes, whether formally defined or not. You likely have
business processes for paying invoices, onboarding new employees, or producing TPS (Testing Procedure
Specification) reports. SharePoint often introduces new processes in an organization while retiring others.
In many cases, SharePoint asks users to work differently, to change their habits in ways that improve the
current state of an organization.
One of the primary reasons that a SharePoint project can fail is because it is deployed before reaching a
consensus on how the business will use the system and what steps people must take to achieve stated
goals of the system. It is important to note that users, when left to themselves, will not simply “figure out
how to use SharePoint”. They may be capable of opening files and modifying tasks, but will they use the
system in a way that improves their day-to-day effectiveness and does that improve the current state of
the business? Sadly, for many organizations, SharePoint becomes little more than a content dump for files.
Users need guidance – be sure that your governance plan provides just that to ensure your solution
delivers value beyond a file repository
Technology is the next important component. As SharePoint expert Dan Holme writes, “You must
understand the technology that you are trying to govern; you can’t ask it to do something that it cannot
The scope of an organization’s SharePoint and/or Office 365 governance strategy should be tailored to not
only provide the information listed previously but also clearly define the following granular areas:
Branding and “look and feel”
Monitoring and compliance policies and procedures
Management of user requests (new sites and custom development requests)
Defining SharePoint and/or Office 365 SLAs for System Architecture and the overall underlying architecture
Defining SharePoint and/or Office 365 Maintenance
SharePoint and/or Office 365 Security Governance
Site Provisioning Governance
Lync Server and OneDrive for Business Governance
Defining compliance and regulatory governance
Custom Development Governance
Development of organizational SharePoint Development Standards
Creation of Deployment and Code Promotion Standards
SharePoint and/or Office 365 Branding Governance
Visual Studio 2012/2013 and Team Foundation Server policies and procedures
Policies for Enterprise Content Management
Policies for Storage (quotas, file upload limits, and so on)
Policies for My Site and Social Computing
Guidelines for Power User and Content Updating
Policies for Executive and Legal Content
Policies for Apps, Libraries, and List Configuration and Customization
Training and Administration Governance
Guidelines for SharePoint and/or Office 365 Training
Guidelines for SharePoint and/or Office 365 Communication Plan
Support Model for Enterprise SharePoint and/or Office 365
Guidelines for Executive SharePoint/ Dashboard Reporting
SharePoint Governance Steps
A good SharePoint Governance plan must begin with a Governance board of cross-functional, i.e. IT and
business people who will develop the high-level plan. The members should be those who are affected by
the SharePoint solution. If legal information will be included, then members from the legal office should
also be invited to join the group.
Since SharePoint is a business and technical solution, it should have a cross-functional board to develop
the high-level overarching governance plan. Membership should include key departments that are
affected by the SharePoint solution.
The next step is to develop a governance plan. The plan will be driven by business requirements but will
necessarily define time-lines, budget and resources that will work together to achieve the objective.
Critical steps and activities that organizations can leverage for greater benefit are listed below.
Identify business objectives
Prioritize and map objectives to technology solutions
Develop technology roadmap and identify technical objectives
Provide communication, incorporate feedback and engage users
Provide tactical operation planning and coordination
Provide tactical development planning and coordination
Provide tactical support planning and coordination
Repeat and review these steps
What follows is an extended outline of each of these governance steps which includes their supporting
activities and some example artifacts that come from performing the activity
One of the best practices for a SharePoint deployment also applies to governance plan, start small and
grow it incrementally. For example, we wouldn’t recommend on day one to turn on every SharePoint
feature. With many capabilities of SharePoint, turning on every feature confuses users and makes
governance planning impossible. Start by enabling a small subset of features to match only some of your
business objectives. Perhaps start with social collaboration or enterprise search with just a subset of
users, your pilot group.
Define groups for controlling policies and standards for SharePoint
Define how the SharePoint and/or Office 365 application is delivered
Define how sites are provisioned
Ensure that the appropriate access levels are provided to users to ensure that compliance is strictly enforced
Define resolutions for conflicts and required support
Which brings us to the next point of defining objectives. Since SharePoint will exist to optimize operational
efficiency, the key business objectives which will be affected by SharePoint need to be recorded.
Once the business priorities are identified, SharePoint features need to be mapped to the objectives.
Along with this mapping, a technology roadmap needs to be defined and rolled out
While SharePoint governance is not simple, understanding what it is, what’s involved, and how to properly
approach it will help make it less formidable. With the need to provide guidance to users, manage content
lifecycle, adhere to compliance regulations, and define roles and responsibilities, governance is not just a
nice-to-have, but a crucial part of a successful SharePoint story
Remember, there are four key components to SharePoint governance: people, process, policy, and
technology, all of which change as businesses evolve. Your governance needs to both provide guidance
and make sense for users. Continuously monitor your SharePoint governance to ensure that it works with
policies within other kinds of governance in the organization. Evaluate your processes against measurable
standards and adjust as necessary so that it continues to work for your people. Incorporate choice
technology to help facilitate the three other components to help maximize efficiency while adhering to
your SharePoint and corporate governance.
SharePoint Governance should be an intrinsic part of your SharePoint deployment and operation. With
the right people defining the right policies and processes, incorporating the right technology and being
ready to adapt to changes, you can provide the guidance and structure necessary to promote continued