SharePoint and SOA Architectures

SharePoint as a communications and collaboration solutions provides robust faculties to build out scalable and extendable architectures that conform with SOA. We will begin by defining how we use the information architectures terms, information management, document management and content management. Because these terms are considered interchangeable concepts, it is best to clarify the definitions as followed:

  • Document Content Typically, the human mind tends to separate a document from the actual contents. So for example, instead of saying, I read what you wrote we are saying, We read the document. Therefore, we are conveying that we not only saw the document, but we also read the contents.
  • Document Containers Because of the existence of computers, the human mind has begun to regard documents and files as two different items. Instead of saying The data is in that file we say The required data is contained within that document. We have begun to distinguish between the container and the document.
  • Document Vehicles The document has become a mode of transportation of its content. The age of electronic files or documents, allow for easy transportation via email. So now instead of searching for specific information to send electronically, you can send the entire document electronically.

In the above three descriptions you found three different document concepts. These documents could hold digital images or information; however, if there is no context within the document, it is nothing more than a data collection. Because of this analogy we have come to define the document as, a container that serves as an information vehicle, stored in a SharePoint document library. In regards to building our information architecture with SharePoint which can leverage the XML web service asset, when you have a document it is a river of characters, the structures internally come to serve as and information vehicle in regards to the data contained in the characters.

The main issue that causes a problem is that the human mind tends to be far too restrictive when it concerns the definition of a document. We appear to understand a document as something that is written on a piece of paper or that of its equivalent electronically. What is being described is that a document is not limited; it can mean a wide variety of things such as, instant messages, forum messages, e-mails, processes, graphics and many other forms of data.

You see, information that we gather is usually only derived from the typical document in small quantities. We tend to gather and learn more information in regards to other means such as meetings, discussions and email. We tend to only strive to learn what they give us, we typically do not step outside of context to gather information. Items such as a sales report, emails or a meeting can all contain knowledge that can be extremely valuable.

In general, companies tend to offer a variety of manuals, guidelines and visual guides that are written to guide a user in the direction of the way the company would like to run. This helps to ensure that nothing can be forgotten or left out because the documentation is always present. It is true that people tend to retain knowledge with the use of visual aids, this means not only the printed or written words but holds true for images as well. We develop visual cues that is geared to guide us with reading as well as maintain and understand the information. Cues are used as signals in understanding the information in a way that the creator has intended. For example, within a document if the creator emphasizes a word using Bold, Italics or Underlining it will draw the reader’s attention to the specific area. If a writer were to do all three at once, this would let the reader know to pay particular attention to that sentence.

When we use visual aids within the structure of a document we are enabling the mind to process it and understand the content at a better rate. However, it is important to use these visual aids with caution, the format requires that the reader be able to recognize the cue and understand it. When using written words in your document structure, people generally make use of captions, emphasis, titles and headings, these are things the mind typically understands. For other documentation, the reader may need to be able to understand the vocabulary that is used within the document. For example, a computer, if you use a workflow diagram, the computer will not understand the cues you are giving it. It will need to know what to do when it encounters this vocabulary as well as how to recognize it. This is the same scenario as markup, you are giving the processor a cue to the action or actions you need it to perform on the content.

Management of content requires information to be organized in an upstream manner. This has to occur in a way where the individual ingredients of the content is able to keep each identity until the time of use. Doing so will allow the client to individually choose them or the ability to combine them when they feel it is necessary. This type of organization creates a clear and precise choice for the user, as well as allowing the information to be configured in a different manner for reuse.

We will now take a look at a few topics that are closely related to each other, these will include upstream content organization, then we will investigate the impact they have on authors.

Structure plays an important role in all types of documentation. For instance, when sending an e-mail to a colleague or client we will structure it in such a way that is appealing to the reader. We will spend time thinking of a title that is catchy and give great thought to the recipients of the e-mail. Rather you know it or not, this is structuring.

When looking at it in terms of content management, we but begin to understand that the text within the document cannot be a group of characters, instead we must understand that the content is made up with the following:

  • Specific content building blocks or pieces of information
  • A reference or references of other pieces of information with the same content or outside of it.
  • Specified rules that state how the blocks can be created and the configuration of the content.

Packaging is just as important, each block of information must have a package that will allow the information to be stored, delivered, and moved without losing any of the content or damage to the content. In general, every block of information must have the ability to be independent, if the information is generally part of a whole, the relationship of all aspects needs to be known.

Packages that we create typically share properties and characteristics that are important to each other. It is important to maintain predictability with any type of content processing. You must be able to understand and describe the characteristics so offer this predictability. To better understand this, consider a word processing package template. In order to maintain a certain model of use, you must pay close attention to all particular details. By leveraging SharePoint and SharePoint XML web services, you are allowing this type of predictability that is needed.

This type of packaging and content are made useful in a variety of aspects in the world today. Many people create various items for users such as, form letters, templates and models. These are typically provided bundled with an application or the user will have the ability to create their own structure using any tools that are built in the application, for example, application programming languages or macro editors. When a user conforms to any of these molds they are establishing structure, that are similar to database form fields, and all of the content becomes managed within the mold. No matter the tools used or the approach that is used the goal remains the same:

  • The ability to eliminate tasks that are repeated when creating text of similar structure
  • The ability to maintain control over the way the information is provided.

The molds are typically created to use with presentations, however many people feel they are used to receive content that is predefined and of a type that is expected. In general, these are created prior to the texts that are to use them. It is important that if you should find yourself using a structure feature that is provided by a commercial package of word processing, that you be certain to use design features instead of default. Specifically, you should try to map their use with the structure within your content.

One of the first steps to take in regards to content management is to knowledge molds that any enterprise would use or create. It must be understandable, because if the content is not created correctly the first time, time has just been wasted because of the damage repairs.

Here are some important things you should remember:

  • Be certain the content works well with the mold. If it does not work, you should not break the mold, search for another mold that will allow the content to work well. For example, if you have a mold that is created for an email you will not be able to fit a sales report into that mold.
  • Be certain that contents can still be identified by the ingredients, a user should be able to specifically identify an area of text that give a description of your process or holds your forecast in sales.
  • Knowledge molds should create an environment for an author that will allow them to be concentrated on the content instead of the structure. Additionally, it should provide support in the areas of validating and adding any information in regards to reference.

Proper labeling will allow for a package to be identified in the proper manner. It is important to note that even though the labeling and packaging may be clear, it does not allow for identifying the quality of the content. It is important to understand and manage how your content will find the way into the package. You will need to manage who is allowed to put the content in, how to apply the quality controls, a required sell by date and what will allow you to determine that the content processing is completed.