SharePoint governance

5 strategies to stop SharePoint content sprawl

Is uncontrolled SharePoint data sprawl causing governance chaos within your organization? Learn how to prevent it by implementing five simple strategies.
James Done
August 18, 2023
6 min to read

SharePoint is a fantastic tool for collaboration and document management, but poor site management can lead to the creation of dozens if not hundreds of orphaned, duplicate, or barely used SharePoint sites. Allowing users to create sites without restriction can cause chaos within an organisation, with people struggling to find the information they need or being left unable to gain access to important resources. Fortunately, five simple strategies can help prevent SharePoint content sprawl and keep your organisation ship shape.

Strategy 1 - Define a governance plan with guidelines and rules.

To define a SharePoint governance plan, start by identifying the key stakeholders and their roles in managing the platform. This may include administrators, content owners, and end-users. Next, establish guidelines and rules for site content creation and management.

When it comes to site creation It is important to decide whether you want your users to be able to create their own sites, how they might go about it and how much control over the creation process they should have.

As an administrator, it might be tempting to stick with SharePoint’s default settings and allow users to freely create their own sites, but while this approach would save time and effort in the short term, it would almost certainly become an administrative nightmare in the long term. In just a few months you could be looking at a large amount of duplicate, orphaned or abandoned sites and you will need to spend time dealing with requests for changes of ownership, merging duplicate sites, and discovering and removing unwanted sites.

A better option could be to require users to request a site and have a SharePoint administrator create it, but that comes with its own complications because you will need to field every request, making sure that you have the required information to create a site that is fit for purpose and potentially wasting time on a site that might end up abandoned anyway.

One of the best solutions is to make a set of business-relevant templates available on which requests can be based, and then include guidelines for their use. Depending on the volume of requests it might be a good idea to consider automating this process.

Whatever your decision, your plan should be communicated to all users and enforced consistently. It should also include guidelines for naming conventions, metadata, and permissions to ensure that content is organised, secure, and easily searchable.

Additionally, the plan should outline procedures for content migration and archiving, to ensure that content is effectively managed throughout its lifecycle.

Strategy 2 - Put the correct templates and labels in place.

Start by identifying the needs of the different departments in your organisation and the types of content they create most frequently, such as project plans, reports, or marketing materials. Then, create templates, content types and sensitivity labels to meet those needs, ensuring that they have a consistent structure and functionality and are easy to use.

This will help users create new content in a structured and organised manner, and the use of content types and sensitivity labels to categorise and tag content will make it easy to search for specific items and will ensure that your files are only accessible to users with the correct permissions.

By taking the time to put the correct templates and sensitivity labels in place, you can save time and frustration down the road, and ensure that your SharePoint environment remains organised and efficient. It is important to note that you probably won’t be able to create a set of templates that will cover all of the needs of your organisation out of the gate, so start with a few generic templates and expand on them as you get input from your users on their suitability.

Strategy 3 – Educate your users

Many people may not understand the importance of proper site structure and organisation, leading to the creation of unnecessary sites and subsites.

If you are intending to allow users to freely create their own sites, it is important to provide training and resources to explain how to create sites and organise content effectively. This should include training and providing site creation and management guidelines, descriptions of any provided templates, and examples of best practices for site creation and management, as well as how to properly tag and categorise content.

It is also worth noting that users that are required to submit site requests will still need to know which templates to choose and how to manage their sites. By educating users on the importance of proper site structure and good navigation habits, you can help prevent content sprawl and ensure that your SharePoint environment remains organised and efficient.

Additionally, regularly auditing existing sites can also help identify areas for improvement in user education as well as ensure that sites are being properly maintained over time. By taking a proactive approach to user education and site management, you can help prevent SharePoint content sprawl and ensure that your organisation’s content remains easily accessible and manageable.

Strategy 4 - Enforce policies through automation

One effective strategy to minimise SharePoint content sprawl, and the confusion, inefficiency, and security risks that it gives rise to, is to enforce policies through site creation automation with a SharePoint site builder. A site builder can enable administrators to create pre-defined templates and workflows for site creation, ensuring that sites are created with the proper structure and organisation. These sites can be configured to enforce policies and standards, ensuring that new sites are created with the appropriate settings.

For example, you can require that all new sites include specific sets of metadata fields by being created with standard content types to ensure consistency across the board. You can also set permissions and access controls for each new site, ensuring that only authorised users have access to sensitive information.

You could also enforce the selection of multiple owners during site creation to lessen the occurrence of orphaned sites. By automating the site creation process, you can also reduce the risk of users creating duplicate or unnecessary sites and ensure that all content is stored in appropriate locations.

Additionally, setting up approval processes for new site creation can help ensure that sites are only created when necessary.

Strategy 5 - Continuously monitor and analyse data trends

To prevent SharePoint content sprawl, it is important to continuously monitor and analyse data trends within your organisation. This can help you identify areas where content is being duplicated or stored in inappropriate locations. By understanding how your users interact with SharePoint, you can make informed decisions about optimising your site structure and organisation. Use tools like the built-in SharePoint analytics (or in larger organisations third-party tools like tyGraph) to track usage patterns and identify areas for improvement. Regularly reviewing and analysing your SharePoint data can help you stay ahead of content sprawl and ensure that your tenant remains organised and efficient.

One effective way to monitor SharePoint data trends is to track the number of documents and files being added over time. If you notice a sudden spike in content, it may be a sign that users are struggling to find what they need and are creating duplicate files.

You can also use analytics to identify which sites are being accessed most frequently, and which are being ignored. This can help you make informed decisions which you can communicate to individual site owners to organise your content in a way that is intuitive and user-friendly.

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