There have been many changes in the SharePoint world over the past few years. Many organizations still wonder how they should structure their SharePoint site to make the most out of Microsoft modern workplace. Microsoft recommends opting for a flat architecture in order to simplify the structure and support sustainability and growth. Perhaps, it’s time to modernize your SharePoint architecture.

In this article, we will explain why a flat architecture makes sense and how your organization can benefit from this architecture.

First of all, let’s start with the basics.

What is SharePoint Information Architecture?

Sarah Haase defines SharePoint Information Architecture as “the art and science of organizing and labeling the content (documents, data, and sites) to support findability and usability”. Information architecture is an ongoing process where organizations need to keep measuring, evolving and keep it pertinent to ensure user adoption, utilization, and long-term success.

What is a flat architecture?

With a classic SharePoint architecture aka nested architecture, organizations typically have a hierarchical system of site collections and subsites, with inherited navigation, permissions, and site designs. Once this structure is built, it can be challenging to maintain as it is rigid.

A flat architecture corresponds to the modern SharePoint experience where every site is a site collection, and every site collection is a distinct unit of work. This structure allows flexibility and adaptability and makes it easier to evolve the structure and navigation.

For example, imagine there is a Pay and Compensation team in the Human Resources department and they are dealing with sensitive information that they don’t want to share with the entire HR team. With a flat architecture, you would just need to set the necessary permissions on the root site of the Pay and Compensation team site collection as it works independently from the HR department’s hub. With a classic SharePoint architecture, you would need to stop inheriting permission from the parent HR department site and create individual permissions that can lead to support issues over time.

While the classic SharePoint architecture was amazing a few years ago thanks to its tools such as SharePoint Designer, InfoPath, SharePoint workflows, etc., the launch of SharePoint Online and Office 365 has changed the game.

Microsoft Modern Workplace: Flatter is Better

When Microsoft launched Office 365 and SharePoint Online, organizations started to migrate their assets into the cloud. However, in order to make the most out of Office 365, organizations need to go one step beyond; transform to become a modern workplace.

Classic vs Modern SharePoint

Microsoft SharePoint currently supports two basic User Interfaces (UI) designs: The “Classic” experience, and the “Modern” experience. At the moment, the classic experience remains available, but the focus and innovation are on the modern experience.

The “Classic” SharePoint experience offers a highly customizable user interface that integrates with SharePoint lists and libraries.

Modern SharePoint is available in SharePoint Online and on-premise (SP 2019) and introduces a whole new user experience. It has been designed from the ground up to work on mobile devices. But the real game-changer to modern SharePoint is its integration to Office 365 Groups.

Office 365 Groups

Office 365 groups rely heavily on a modern and flat architecture. Office 365 Groups is an object in Azure Active Directory with a list of members tied to applications such as SharePoint team site, Yammer Group, Shared Exchange mailbox resources, Planner, Power BI, and OneNote.

What makes Office 365 Groups so compelling, is that it empowers users to grasp the full potential of the Office 365 productivity suite.

Why modernize your SharePoint Architecture

The benefits of a flat architecture

1. Governance made easier

When a site collection is no longer used, you can flag it as “stale” and from there, you can archive or delete it without impacting any other site collection. This makes the SharePoint governance easy to sustain.

2. Security maintenance is clearer

With a flat architecture, only a selected group of users such as the owner or a member can access the site collection. This way, it prevents unauthorized users to view the content of another site collection and protect your corporate data.

Since every site collection works as an independent “work unit”, the security inheritance burden disappears.

3. External sharing

Now, you can easily and securely share a site collection to an external audience. This option is not available in SharePoint at the subsite level (it has to be for the whole site collection).

4. Adapt to ever-changing organizational changes

With a flat site architecture, you can easily modify the subsite hierarchy without migrating subsites to new site collections.

To sum up, a flat SharePoint architecture prepares you for long-term success. Site collections allow you to better manage permissions, features, storage, branding and keep data privacy at a more targeted level.

However, flattening your environment means that you need to change your SharePoint site conceptualization and governance strategy which might be daunting.

If you would like to modernize your SharePoint architecture and need some help, contact Softlanding now.

Caroline Blivet
Written By:

Caroline Blivet

As Softlanding's Marketing Lead, Caroline and is responsible for driving lead generation, developing a go-to-market strategy and, delivering marketing campaigns. Outside of work, Caroline enjoys hiking the beautiful trails of British Columbia.

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