row of  fishing rods on the back of a moving boat
PHOTO: stephen momot

Working from home has been a trending topic not only in the tech world, but through most of our society lately. News reports have highlighted the security breaches and outages from various chat platforms. Feature comparisons for chat tools and recommendations for work from home life have dominated tech sector discussions.

As I wrote in my last article, organizations have been forced to make a drastic pivot to chat-based collaboration platforms that are more meeting friendly to support their newly remote workforce.

Those that had already implemented such capabilities have been able to make the pivot to supporting remote work much more quickly. IT teams are in a position now to save people’s jobs, and indeed keep their companies operational.

Just a few years ago, allowing the majority of their workforce to work from home may simply not have been possible.

This pivot will have an aftermath though, as so many organizations are having to make rapid shifts that often involve the migration of data and the changing of work processes. Because of the immediate need, there has been a forced change with little time to plan or prepare in advance.

Enabling users to work from home via cloud services, chat and meeting platforms while ensuring they have the resources they need to get their job done is the first step. Once operational, organizations need to now move fast to implement data governance for the long haul.

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How Data Governance Helps Productivity

Data governance means a lot of different things to different organizations. A good, common definition is: security, structure and lifecycle management of content. It’s a vital component for organizations to reduce risk and maintain productivity in the long-term.

Rapid "lift and shift" content migrations, altered work processes without data governance plans in place, and increased access to collaboration services can cause a wild west scenario.

People are creating content in new locations within their digital workplace, and are sharing files in new ways. Content exists in chat form as well as within files and documents. If the organization is officially using app integrations, files may exist in unmanaged storage locations. If the company is not using app-integrations, content almost certainly exists elsewhere in unofficial shadow IT storage platforms.

Users and groups of users that are unfamiliar with new technologies will simply ad-hoc their processes, and may not understand where the content they need exists within the collaboration platform of choice.

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Reeling in the Results of Ad-Hoc Collaboration

Governance is not a plan or a playbook. The term governance implies rules and enforcement working together. Though this is true, people do not respond well to rigid governance enforcement, and IT and security teams need to interact with users to know how governance can most efficiently be implemented across the organization.

You do have to start somewhere though, so start with the environment in its current state. IT teams will need to immediately do everything they can to categorize their new data structures. Also important is to ensure whatever ID management service (for example, Azure Active Directory) in use is accurate and has strictly monitored processes for ID creation and reviews.

The first step for content is to understand what kind of information has been moved into the new environment, and what content has been created since work from home policies began. As previously implied, while content continues being created, understanding how groups of users are working is vitally important to implementing data governance.

This means gaining as many insights as possible into how teams are interacting with collaboration content in their new circumstances, and coming up with strategies to structure and organize the ongoing governance of the data now being created.

Working with departments to understand how the shift has changed their work processes, determining the needs and challenges created by the shift and helping them with productivity is key. At the same time, make sure the content being generated is created in a structure manner. Developing relationships and even community groups, forums or other methods of communication can help with this.

Many organizations have been allowing users to move content into the platforms of their choice in the short-term. That user content will need to be consolidated for the purpose of data governance. In addition, teams will need to identify any shadow IT platforms and help users overcome the challenges that make them feel like other platforms are easier, while preparing the organization to restrict their use.

Helping content owners understand who can access what, the nuances of permissions and security as well as how data can be classified can be a major help to IT and compliance teams in the long-run. In addition, getting people to understand how data organization makes it possible to find things quickly will help them realize the immediate benefits of working within the lines so to speak.

Moving forward, IT teams will need to make sure they have tools to implement, review and enforce their organizational governance policies. Platforms like Office 365 have many tools to assist with this aspect of managing collaboration, but certain SaaS providers can also help to both automate governance to scale and make it easier for users to get their jobs done.

Organizations need to ensure that content collaboration platforms and any third-party tools they use to integrate for collaboration are secure and trusted platforms. This is also true of data governance tools. Things to look for are ISO and other security certifications, that data is encrypted in transit and at rest, and a history of secure operation.

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The Sooner You Implement Data Governance, the Smaller the Problem Will Be in the Long-Term

Organizations should prioritize data governance, especially if they have experienced a rapid shift as a result of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ideally the shift to the cloud means organizations will not have to have another major collaboration platform upgrade.

This cloud benefit means they will not have another opportunity to migrate their data and leave the clutter behind. Implementing comprehensive data governance as quickly as possible now will mean less work in the future for IT, compliance and security teams and greater productivity for the entire organization.

Organizations should therefore make data governance plans a priority as soon as is possible.