Piloting Office 365 and SharePoint

Office 365 and SharePoint
You have finally made your purchase of Office 365 and SharePoint. As IT professionals, you understand that this is the best platform for you and your business to progress. However, it is the rest of the business you need to convince. Many organisations that we work with have a large number of projects fit for SharePoint. Often, they are unable to get sign off on these until the entire business can see how they can increase their efficiency. This is where a Pilot Project comes in. Pilot Projects enable the full features & functionality of SharePoint to be put into practice, whilst solving a business problem and increasing user adoption. It is important to ensure that your Pilot Projects are not just throwaway pieces of work, and can continue to provide a service even when the fully-fledged Intranet is released. This avoids the creation of a silo. The following elements need to be addressed throughout your Pilot to ensure that it will stand the test of time on an ever-expanding SharePoint environment…

1.      Site Structure

It may seem like an easy solution to create a new Site Collection when trying to pilot SharePoint, but it is critical to ensure that the project is built somewhere it can continue to work with future systems. SharePoint functionality does not always work across Site Collections. If your future plan for SharePoint is to provide workspaces for all departments, as well as a fully fledged Intranet for internal communication & knowledge sharing, then you should have a clear indication of where it will sit within your full Site Structure. Essentially you are working on a small piece of a larger puzzle, before fully mapping what the completed puzzle will look like – so it is easy to create a pilot project that then becomes disconnected with the rest of your implementation. We would advise creating a Sub Site under the main Site Collection, as opposed to adding lists & libraries into the top level site which should be reserved for “Intranet” content. When analysing the SharePoint project, you may also see fit to create empty Sub Sites as placeholders to avoid having to move/replicate the site when more functionality is added. As an example we recently worked with a Borough Council who required an Asset Management System to be built in SharePoint as a Pilot Project. The assets in question were Property and Real Estate. The organisational structure defined that the Asset Team reported to the Property Team, who then reported to the Project Planning Team. This provided us with the following structure: Pilot sharepoint structure For the pilot, this was created as a site structure, giving a sensible home for the work that was being done.

2.      Managed Metadata

Metadata is information about information. In SharePoint; metadata can be used to improve filters, search and automated processes. Managed metadata consists of tags that are defined by administrators and grouped in hierarchical sets within the Site Collection Term Store. These tags can be embedded within lists and libraries, through the creation of Managed Metadata columns. It is beneficial to create terms within the Term Store that can be added to in future projects. As an example, most pilot projects involve some form of document management that requires a column to control document types e.g. Contract, Policy, Report, Minutes. Creating reusable terms at this stage reduces the workload within future systems and ensures that new document types are continually inherited by the Pilot Project.

3.      Content Types

Content Types are reusable groups of Site Columns. These allow common sets of metadata to be shared amongst multiple lists and libraries. Content Types can also contain document templates, so each new document uses the same template. The critical element of Content Types is to ensure that inheritance is defined, to allow for a scalable solution. Moving back to our earlier Asset Management example, we may create the following content types;
  • Intranet Core Document: this Content Type will inherit directly from the SharePoint Document, and will go on to store all Site Columns that are required for all documentation within the Site Collection.
  • Asset Core Document: this Content Type will inherit its Site Columns from Intranet Core Document with the addition of metadata that is unique to the Assets project
  • Asset <Document Type> Documents: these content types will all inherit from Asset Core Document but will be in place to handle document templates, and any unique metadata for that particular type of document e.g. Lease Agreement may need metadata to define the Termination Date.
The above example provides administrators with the ability to add metadata into multiple areas with this being inherited. What this means is that a new piece of metadata may be added to the Intranet Core Document, such as “Language”, which then enforces all Content Types below to require this information. Using this strategy with a fully configured SharePoint Search will ensure that all documentation within your Pilot Project can still be easily discovered throughout the growth of your SharePoint environment. Content Types can continually be created without the need for Site Columns to be added. As with Site Structure, it is beneficial to create an inheritance pathway, even if Content Types higher up the chain do not yet have a defined set of metadata.


In summary, Pilot Projects are an ever increasing method to gain insight into the use of SharePoint, as well as increasing user adoption & awareness of the platform. Just because a project is classified as a pilot does not mean that it will not continue to form a core part of your organisation’s infrastructure. It is up to the analysts and project managers to build a system that continues to be scalable and work with the proposed SharePoint roadmap to ensure that work doesn’t have to be repeated.