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Fight Sprawl in Office 365! How to Effectively Govern Your Data

Learn handy Office 365 governance tips with our on-demand webinar “A Smarter and More Secure Way to Work in Office 365 at Ofsted!”

Note: This is based off John Peluso and Scott Kennedy’s session at Shift Happens Conference. Check out the other session recaps below:

It’s no secret that trying to manually manage the data of your entire organization can quickly get out of control. Data sprawl can occur without the proper tools in place and lead to content duplication, clutter, and other issues that make finding the data you need difficult.

Similarly, while Office 365 is a powerful suite of tools, improper management of it can almost certainly result in a haphazard mess of data. AvePoint CTO John Peluso joined Merck’s Scott Kennedy to go over a few data governance best practices in their ShiftHappens session “Fighting Sprawl and Helping Users Get Their Shift Together in Office 365.”

The Importance of Governance

A lack of effective Office 365 governance can lead to:

  • Eventual content abandonment. If employees leave, there won’t be any ownership of the assets they created and/or were in charge of.
  • Duplication of content and collaboration spaces. Storing a lot of the same content (and thus continuously making the same threads, presentations, Teams, etc.) will only lessen productivity in your organization.
  • An overabundance of content clutter. Trying to keep track of the content generated by an entire organization without a governance plan in place will undoubtedly lead to discoverability issues.

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Legal and compliance issues might also rear their ugly heads. Legal departments typically won’t let you get rid of content without knowing who created it, what it is, and if it’s important. This is where knowledge of your existing assets becomes so crucial; if you don’t have insight into all aspects of your content, you won’t be able to answer these questions. Content ownership can quickly get lost in the shuffle otherwise.

The Solution

So, how can you fight sprawl and get your Office 365 environment under control? The key is to create a thorough provisioning process. This means:

  1. Establishing ownership of content.
  2. Ensuring that content doesn’t exist forever and assigning it an expiration date.
  3. Tagging and securing content appropriately.

Where SharePoint Comes In

The power of SharePoint comes into play here in several ways. First of all, proper governance is essential. The more governed SharePoint is, the easier it’ll be for users to navigate and use as the volume of content can help guide users as more and more content gets added (and navigation becomes more confusing). Admins can then leverage SharePoint to apply policies on content expiration and renewal. These measures can keep sprawl in check and end users aware.

Then there’s SharePoint’s powerful Flow integration. Admins can now automate content rules and permissions without having to constantly evaluate and manage them manually. It’s important to emphasize that you’re not taking away control with automating rules and auto-provisioning, but instead offering a more guided self-service model. This is all about streamlining processes, not disabling user ability.

Struggling with data management in O365? Check out this post: Click To Tweet

SharePoint site directories can also help in this regard. Instead of wasting time digging through haphazard sites your users created, a site directory allows you to see who created what in an organized list. With this, you can go to legal and confidently say “I know all of the important details about this thing—where it came from, what it was for, who it belonged to—and I can say for certain that it’s not relevant to the business anymore.”

In Merck’s case, this ended up helping more sites get retired than created, made the migration path easier, and raised awareness of key assets.

Where Microsoft Teams Comes In

Microsoft Teams helps you keep track of your data by offering:

  • A handy “File” tab in private chats and Teams where all files shared in that chat/Team can be accessed
  • The ability to download different discovery apps that can help surface content

These content discovery capabilities are just part of the reason Scott referred to Microsoft Teams as the ideal collaboration platform. Its ease of use and persistent chat logs make it that much more convenient than email or Skype for Business.

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That said, getting your users to move away from those familiar platforms can be a challenge. To that end, Scott suggested making Microsoft Teams the hub for all of an end users collaboration needs. Make other valuable resources available through the app. For instance, if someone wants to create a schedule using Planner, you can bake Planner into Microsoft Teams to make using it that much easier.

Should You Buy or Build a Governance Solution?

So you’ve analyzed your data governance situation and determined that a solution is needed. Now comes one of the most important questions that Office 365 migration is forcing organizations to think about: Should you buy a solution or build one internally?

Scott and John ultimately concluded that buying makes sense for most organizations. Building from the ground-up and constantly trying to stay up-to-date would essentially put you in the product business. This would mean having to account for product management, support, development, and continuous cycles of updates. The more viable option would be to partner with an Independent Software Vendor that can support you throughout your Office 365 governance journey.

In need of an ISV you can rely on? Click here to learn how AvePoint can start increasing your IT efficiency and transparency today.

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Brent Middleton
Brent Middleton
As the former Content Marketing Specialist for AvePoint, Brent led the strategy and direction of all AvePoint's blog properties.


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