If you’ve ever wondered how to structure your SharePoint sites, you’re not alone. Those working with SharePoint for a while may be aware that there has long been a debate about where to put department sites in SharePoint. Are they classified as publishing or collaboration sites? Or both? Are they sub-sites or collections of sites? How can we structure sites so that we can secure some content while still publishing content for others without overcomplicating things? This concern frequently leads to a successful intranet build, but it prevents true collaboration in SharePoint. We watch as our HR, Finance, and other departments resist moving their most secure content into SharePoint (especially into the cloud!), although the file share is no longer the best place for that content. This problem becomes even more complicated when we consider Microsoft Teams, which are supported by SharePoint sites. We want to discuss what is no longer considered a good approach, followed by a replacement, modern approach to site architecture Office 365.
Previous go-to solution and legacy site architecture approach.
Set up site collections for more secure content. This provided two advantages:
- There was a clear distinction between the site that shares content with others and the site that secures information for the department (Example: HR provides 401k benefits information to everyone (root sub-sites), but employee reviews must be restricted to a small group of individuals (site collection)) – This reduced confusion and security blunders.
- Easier to configure the additional sites and corresponding navigation if you did more complex branding on your intranet site collection. Giving your collaboration sites a more basic appearance and feel made them easier to manage and helped users understand whether they were in a secure or publishing site.
Another approach that you would see frequently would look something like the figure below, where the secure subsites have been placed below the publishing site to simplify the end-user. While this has never been my preferred approach due to security concerns, I know many organizations that have implemented it this way. This further complicates the idea of “where does my content belong?”. I still consider it one of the lucky ones – good luck to those of you working your way out of the security structures at the folder and item level!
Our Approach Must Change
While these approaches worked “okay” in legacy SharePoint versions, the complexities of managing broken inheritance and moving subsites around during re-organization always hung over us. More importantly, Microsoft has now issued a strong warning against using sub-sites. This is not without reason!! Sub-sites provide little benefit in a modern site collection, and they are practically unsupported.
Yes, you can still create subsites and break permissions, but do so at your own risk – we’ve heard reports of modern search failing in some of those scenarios.
We still want a clear distinction between a *publishing site and a collaboration space* One area with many readers and few content owners/creators, and another with many collaborators without compromising security. So, what do we do now?
Modern websites accompany modern approaches.
The fog is lifting, and we are beginning to see and hear a clear methodology emerge from Microsoft. The Microsoft World is indeed FLAT! It’s time to flatten your site architecture from those deep legacy structures into an architecture that’s simple to manage, secure, organize, and re-organize as needed. We’re also sticking to our policy of keeping published (intranet) content separate from collaboration content. So, what does this imply? Our new structure will resemble the following:
The specifics of the realistic example
Contoso Marketing curates corporate announcements, and Human Resources publishes content such as 401k benefit guidelines and links to health care benefit websites. Marketing is in charge of the News & Communications site collection (secluded security). HR maintains its own Communications Site collection for publishing benefit-related content (secluded security). Both of these websites are linked in the navigation (manually).
Independently, HR has a Microsoft Team and a corresponding SharePoint site collection where they can collaborate on new policies and procedures that should not be seen by anyone until they are finalized. They can also store sensitive content, such as salary information and employee reviews, without fear of it being exposed on the publishing site.
Do you see what’s going on here? One site for each function– simple security and a clear purpose for what it provides and who owns the content. This is simple to track! You shouldn’t be concerned about the number of site collections; Microsoft limits up to 500,000 per tenant and up to 25TB per site collection!
Planning: How do I know when to use Classic Sites, Modern Communication Sites, and Teams?
We have two current site templates in Office 365 and SharePoint Online that we may employ while still using classic sites when necessary:
- Classic Team or Publishing Site – Because modern is not yet accessible, this will continue to be your root site collection for the time being.
- To help bridge the gap, use Modern Pages on Classic Sites.
- At your own risk, modify the masterpage (changes are always possible that could break your site)
- Suggestion: Use search web elements to share news rollups, provide links to internal and external applications, or even embed a video from Stream here! CEOs enjoy sharing their message from the most recent TownHall meetings on the home page.
- You may also use a redirect from here to bring them to a Modern site.
- Communication sites – Ideal for the remainder of your publishing sites (intranet sites)
- These sites cannot be “grouped,” which means they are standalone SharePoint sites that are not part of a Group or Microsoft Team.
- Excellent for communicating and posting material, as well as for the mobile experience.
- This is the alternative for your legacy intranet! Each department has one Communication Site (site collection).
- Collaboration with Microsoft Teams
- Every Microsoft Team that is built is supported by a modern SharePoint team site.
- Excellent for team collaboration and the ability to use SharePoint alongside Planner, Stream, PowerBI, and other tools from a single interface. All of this is secured by a simple AD Group that the Team Owner may manage themselves.
- Teams can use a file share to replace shared folders.
- Teams should not be department-focused; instead, think functionally! How do you collaborate? You might find that organizing Microsoft Teams around “Projects” is easier to manage!
What if I’m not prepared to use Microsoft Teams?
Do you have to go this route? Only if it makes sense for your company. If you haven’t yet implemented Teams, strive to construct your collaborative SharePoint sites as Modern SharePoint team sites whenever possible. Your sites can later be “grouped,” allowing you to use Teams and Groups when you’re ready. Don’t worry, you can progress into features as your company becomes ready. we are a huge proponent of introducing Office 365 in stages. This results in satisfied customers and a less-overburdened helpdesk. So if you are interested in modernizing your site architecture, please contact us.
At Alcero we offer personalized advice on everything you need to know to make it the perfect management tool for your company. Learn more about the benefits of using SharePoint. Ask for more information about our EDM services at 514-316-5064 or [email protected].