Case Study

Penn State University IT Department

Building A Project Management and Artifact Storage Interface for Post Implementation Projects


With many ongoing projects in the IT department, Penn State was struggling with an outdated SharePoint system. Not only was the old system built on SharePoint 2013 and running on premise (requiring a VPN), it was built in a structure that quickly became unsuited to their current needs. They sought to not only upgrade their system to SharePoint Online 2016, thus eliminating the need for third party virtual network access, but to also create a cleaner more workable environment for managing implementation and post-implementation projects.


The existing SharePoint environment was set up in the early stages of a few major IT projects, during planning and testing, as a way to manage itemized lists and documents both technical and project management related. For example, the system was built with lists of vendor contact information and statuses, testing error logging, and documents related to early project phases. However, as all the projects moved into the implementation phase their needs changed. They now needed a way to store project artifacts and track system updates. Additionally, there were presently fewer vendors working on the project as their system was live. All of these factors contributed to the need for a less cluttered system more suited to post-implementation management needs.


     Step one was to do a requirements gathering; an analysis on the existing environment and determine which components were still in use. The in-use components would then be replicated and/or improved on in the new environment. From those components, it was then determined if the existing records should be moved. For example, if a list was being recreated in the new environment, a determination was also then made as to whether the list content (records) would be moved as well. Overall, only about 25% of all content was transferred to the new system. The rest was archived on a separate site for records purposes. Doing the due-diligence in this initial step was crucial to each component on the new site having a clear purpose, thus leading to a clean, streamlined environment.


     The second portion of the project involved buildout of all necessary components. The initial structure was then reviewed by the team. One major change in the new buildout was implementing a new system of document storage. In the old system, nested folders were utilized within multiple document libraries. This made searching for and sorting documents much more difficult, due to the fact that folders are not indexed as document properties and can be duplicated unnecessarily. For example, a subfolder called Planning could exist in two different folders redundantly, and not only will users not know which folder to put their document into, once filed the document will be difficult for other users to find.


     In the new system, one document library was utilized with organizational structure of Tags. Tags are simply indexed columns that are required properties upon upload of a document. A major advantage to this is that a document can be tagged cross-functionally – i.e. applying to multiple Tags, in this case, project phases or workstreams. The document can then be found in both categories, while there is only one copy of the document in the library. Utilizing version history in the main document library provided an additional advantage. The history of all tags applied to a document could be viewed, along with the history of the content of the document itself.


     Utilizing the online features of Office 365, users could collaborate on documents in real time and then go back to the version history later and revert to a previous instance of the document if necessary. Having everything recorded would also be very helpful for audit purposes in the future, as each change to a document would be recorded with a timestamp and a user ID.


     Moving all the documents into one master library with a tagging structure instead of folders was likely the biggest “win” for this development. There were other components built out in the new system that added value, such as modern pages in SharePoint with dynamic web parts that showed each user the documents they’d interacted with recently. This dynamic content is a fairly new feature of SharePoint 2016, and combined with the power of O365, we were able to deliver updated contact lists leveraging O365 profiles (where users could update their pictures, statuses, etc.), real-time apps such as highlighted content, weather, photos, etc. to create a vibrant and functional space for the project team.

Results and Benefits

Not only does the new system fit the client’s current needs, it is simpler and therefore more scalable for future needs as the project continues to evolve. It’s also easily maintained, since it was built without complex configurations that require excessive SharePoint knowledge. For example, new document categories can be added at any time to the main document library, where all changes are tracked and revertible. Utilization of one master document library leaves room for additional site components as new needs arise. Combining the power of Office 365 with diligent requirements gathering allowed us to produce a system with defined and functional components that is scalable for the future.