An open source model for SharePoint governance

By Joseph Sweeney

SharePoint’s rapid installation across organisations (and especially within the public sector) is leading to fragmented deployment, which is then causing difficulties when attempting to merge or share content and applications. Organisations that are part of a federation, such as Local and State Councils – can alleviate future integration bottlenecks, reduce investments in application development, increase the rate of eServices delivery and help ensure that stakeholders can share information, by adopting the governance practices from the open source community.

The rapid uptake of SharePoint is leading to information isolation. It is also leading to difficulties when attempting to bring multiple SharePoint sites and services together, since different approaches may have been taken to architecting specific applications and data taxonomies.

This is especially true for organisations that are part of a federation, such as much of the public sector: e.g. utilities, health, education, local councils, State agencies, etc.

It is quickly becoming recognised that some form of “meta-governance” is required for federated organisations that wish to use SharePoint for collaboration not only within their own organisation, but also between other organisations within the federation.

Even if an organisation has established best-practices for SharePoint governance internally, it will still run into issues when attempting to integrate with other SharePoint sites in future, which it almost certainly will. In general, organisations have attempted to solve such issues either by setting up ‘standards bodies’ to mandate technical approaches, or by creating a centralised service to actually develop and run the technology in question.

However, for SharePoint, we propose adopting a third approach: that of the open source community. In the open source community, a central body is established that provides a platform to promote shared and evolving standards. This is a modular approach to collegial and incremental application development, and a pooling of knowledge and resources, often with self-promoting champions and leaders.

Frequently, open source initiatives are founded around a single shared portal which acts as a ‘single point of truth’ for all initiatives. Good examples of such an open source approach centred on collaboration / knowledge management products are Joomla ( and DotNetNuke (

DotNetNuke provides a particularly interesting parallel for SharePoint governance. This open source initiative is structured around the ‘core project architecture’ which defines an integration pattern for all development; common modules (which is akin to a central repository of standardised web parts for SharePoint); discussion forums; support; and finally a marketplace (which is akin to providing a platform for custom SharePoint projects developed by individual organisations within the federation to be placed up for repurposing by others.)

Interestingly, SharePoint itself could be the basis for deploying such an open source initiative. This gives an opportunity to showcase what SharePoint (and the various tools and web parts developed by the community) can do. It also brings in another opportunity: the notion that the SharePoint portal hosting the open source collaboration, web parts and code repositories could also double as a live, shared SharePoint server resource.

The benefits of the open source model are:
Acts as an internal set of case studies, where organisations can learn from each other.
Shared portal designs (master pages), including artwork and User Interface (UI) and navigation standards.
Shared set of off-the-shelf web parts allows for rapid deployment of common requirements.
Custom applications can be repurposed between different organisations, thereby speeding up project delivery and reducing costs.
Uniform approach to data architecture and taxonomies means easier sharing of information between organisations in the federation.
Uniform approach to application development architecture means it is easier to trade manpower between projects, partner organisations and even third-party contractors.

Softly, softly

The open source approach appears to work best when it is not mandated– it is governance by stealth. This means that there will still be SharePoint projects that remain ‘off the radar’ and non-compliant. However, as the number of web parts grows on the open source portal, the attractiveness of moving to the common standard will increase. This ‘network’ or ‘crowd-sourcing’ model is being used by Google, IBM, Sun and even Microsoft itself to great effect.

The approach requires either shared investment to run and maintain the open source portal, or a federation-wide sponsor. In many cases, some form of federation-wide coordination body will already exist outside of the realm of IT. Such a body would be the logical ‘owner’ of the open source portal, although the funding model needs must sustainable. Alternatively, one of the organisations within the federation may offer to host the open source portal, but this can lead to internal politics and lower utilisation.

Staff – especially Enterprise Architects and Lead Developers – must be given sufficient time to liaise with each other and put forward any government standards they deem fit. It should be noted that all such standards are best considered a work-in-progress and should be reviewed and amended as different organisations expand their scope of use with regards to SharePoint. However, control mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that core standards do not creep or become overly complex.

Examine your current SharePoint governance documentation around knowledge taxonomies, storage, user interfaces and navigation, application development architectures and repositories of reusable web parts. Determine how rigidly these governance standards are adhered to.

Examine – or better still, engage with – existing open-source communities in the SharePoint and Microsoft Technology space (eg. CodePlex) and determine if these groups could act as a mediating body for standardised SharePoint development. Is there a federation-wide body that can act as a sponsor / coordinator for an open source portal approach to promote standards for SharePoint development? If so, begin discussions with this body to set up a sub-group to promote an open source approach to SharePoint development and standards.

Joseph Sweeney is an IBRS analyst specialising in the areas of unified communications, collaboration, mobility and Microsoft products