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Use automated governance to tackle Microsoft 365 risk management

Automated Governance Featured

Worrying about security versus actually putting guardrails in place and monitoring your environment are different things. In this blog, we’ll discuss how to leverage automation to enhance your Microsoft 365 security.

IT security is always top of mind for IT managers, and most work tirelessly behind the scenes to hold the line against risks to their organization. This is a big job, especially because the sophistication and frequency of IT security threats and the potential negative consequences is ever-growing. However, using a comprehensive approach to risk management to protect your Microsoft 365 tenant, your business processes, and data assets can help you stay on top of and ahead of threats to your business.   

Comprehensive risk management involves three steps:

  • Identification—Identifying potential threats, including new and evolving threats to your tenant and any weaknesses in your system that could be exploited. 
  • Analysis and assessment—Understanding the potential risks in terms of their probability of occurring and the consequences associated with them.
  • Mitigation and monitoring—Developing strategies, including tools and processes, for reducing threats and continually monitoring for them.

All of this sounds pretty obvious, right? In theory, yes. But identifying threats, determining their potential risks, and mitigating those risks can be tough, especially with a platform as complex as Microsoft 365. If you’re looking for some help figuring out where to start and what tools and policies to use, check out ShareGate’s free, online course on Microsoft 365 security.

Due to its widespread use in businesses across the world and the millions of business processes that rely on it, Microsoft 365 remains a favored target for cybercriminals, hackers, and other ne’er-do-wells looking to take control of your tenant and steal your data assets. The upside here is that Microsoft 365 is a continually evolving platform and offers tons of data management and other tools and technologies you can use to stay on top of and ahead of them through automated data governance.

Broadly, the concept of governance automation is based on the idea that some governance processes that would otherwise be managed manually can be automated through the use of software to save both time and money and minimize the potential for human error.

Understanding risk management in Microsoft 365

Cybersecurity risks are a fact of life with cloud-based platforms, and Microsoft 365 is no exception. Some of the most common risks (the stuff of an IT admin’s worst nightmare) include: ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Data breaches

One of the ugliest specters in the IT world is “data exfiltration,” a hefty word that attempts to match the very real and negative consequences of what is more commonly referred to as data breaches. In simple terms, we’re talking about the unauthorized transfer of data and data loss, either sensitive data or a non-sensitive type of data asset. 

Failing to protect your organization’s data assets, especially sensitive data, can impact your organization financially through regulatory fines and potential legal fees as well as damage your reputation and lose your customers’ trust.  

Ransomware and phishing attacks are two of the most common causes of data breaches. Ransomware is malware that ​​once introduced into your system (often via email), can encrypt data assets allowing the perpetrators the ability to hold them for ransom. This never ends well and usually results in the loss of access to critical and sensitive data and system downtime.

Phishing attacks take advantage of your end users through email, tricking them into ​​​​​​​providing sensitive information or downloading malware that compromises your organization’s security.

Unauthorized access

Unauthorized access is another common cause of data loss. It happens when an attacker gains access to an end user’s Microsoft 365 account without proper credentials or permission. Phishing is one of the most common ways this can happen. But, weak passwords and social engineering are additional culprits to guard against.  

  • Weak passwords—Just like you, attackers are well aware of end users’ tendency to use simple passwords that are easy to guess or to use the same password for multiple systems. All it takes to expose those weaknesses is a little time and effort with the assistance of a password cracker or a bot to launch a brute force attack. Then, you’re living the nightmare. 
  • Social engineering—Social engineering is similar to phishing in that it relies on tricking an end user into giving up sensitive data, only in this case, the sensitive data is your end user’s credentials, essentially giving away the keys to the kingdom. With a valid end user’s access credentials, the attacker can potentially access anything in your entire system to steal your data and disrupt your business processes.  

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Compliance violations

Compliance violations can be one of the toughest aspects of data management, especially if your organization is spread out geographically. Data regulations can vary significantly from one state, country, or region to another. As with data breaches, the potential consequences for violations can be bad to very bad, leading to hefty fines against your organization and potential legal fees.  

Effective risk management requires good data management and can help you mitigate all these different types of risk. Key considerations for proper governance include how to set up policies, what monitoring activities you need to do, and how to enforce compliance measures. One of the easiest, fastest ways to get started is with ShareGate’s free, online course on how to improve security in Microsoft 365, which will introduce you to the different stages in your journey to good governance.​​​​​​​​​​​​

But even with all the expertise in the world, trying to manage data risk with manual processes is a complicated and time-consuming process. That’s why our security course also discusses ways to automate risk management in Microsoft 365, especially with third party tools like ShareGate. Combined with our security checklist for IT administrators, you can start automating several of the more repetitive tasks associated with Microsoft 365 governance now.

What is governance automation for Microsoft 365?

Within the context of Microsoft 365, data governance automation refers to enabling different features that eliminate the need to do certain repetitive tasks related to data management and administration with manual processes and provide the ability to better understand what is happening in your system at any given time. 

The automation of data governance is key to managing risks in Microsoft 365 by ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​improving visibility into your system and critical data flows, increasing admin efficiency by eliminating repetitive tasks, reducing human error, and ensuring you remain compliant at all times. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​And perhaps most importantly, data governance automation enables organizations to establish consistent policies and enforce them across all M365 applications and business processes. 

Applying Microsoft 365 security best practices and taking a holistic approach to security can be the best way to safeguard your organization’s sensitive data and mitigate risks.

Key features of governance automation for Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365 offers some powerful tools for governance automation, including the ability to automate many aspects of data management, policy enforcement, and ongoing compliance monitoring. 

For example, Microsoft 365 allows you to set up policies for data retention, access governance, sharing, and compliance and automate their enforcement. It’s also packed with monitoring and reporting tools with insights into end users’ online activities and can notify you of security events and compliance violations in real-time. 

If you have the time and the expertise to write the scripts to create those automation flows—and maintain them as Microsoft releases updates and your organization’s needs change—then Power Automate is a good option.

If you’re looking for a less time-consuming and complex solution that still has a powerful reporting tool, you can easily automate these and other elements of your Microsoft 365 governance with ShareGate, making it much easier to analyze data and resulting in a more accurate analysis to boot.

In addition, you can customize your policies and integrate them with ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Microsoft’s own Cloud Policy Service for Microsoft 365 or other cloud security tools and services, such as AWS Config or Google Cloud Security Command Center.

The benefits of automated governance in Microsoft 365

Using data governance automation in Microsoft 365 improves your organization’s security posture overall and offers some other pretty significant benefits for you and your end users. 

Microsoft’s dedication to data protection is evident through the advanced functionalities within the Microsoft Compliance Center, providing IT admins with a robust toolkit for safeguarding their organization’s assets.

Real-time risk management

Automating your governance gives you better visibility into your system, which can help you more proactively manage risk in real time, helping you stay one step (or several) ahead of bad actors. And, real-time notifications mean that even if one gets in, you’re going to know about it and can respond immediately. 

Cost savings and improved productivity

We’ve focused a lot on the security benefits of using governance automation. But by doing so, you’ll also achieve gains in productivity through streamlined workflows and the elimination of manual tasks, both of which will leave you time to focus on high-value, digital transformation initiatives for your organization. It also allows you to more safely enable self service in your organization, which improves business users’ productivity.  

Automating your governance processes can also save your organization money both in terms of the time saved and in the more efficient use of data usage costs because with better governance, sprawl and its associated costs are far easier to manage.

Best practices for automating data governance in Microsoft 365

Define clear governance policies

Before you begin implementing governance automation, you need to have a solid foundation to build on, ideally a Microsoft 365 governance plan developed in collaboration with leaders and key stakeholders in your organization. Such a plan would include data governance policies that align with your organization’s goals and requirements for:

  • Data quality and retention
  • Access controls
  • File sharing
  • Regulatory compliance

To be effective, these policies should not only be comprehensive and easy to understand, they should also be tested to ensure they meet the specific needs and requirements of your organization and that you still remain compliant with applicable regulations. 

Involve relevant stakeholders

Involving relevant stakeholders always makes a Microsoft 365 data governance plan stronger. Doing the same when you’re ready to implement automated data governance in your organization will help ensure your success.

Key stakeholders involved in automating data governance typically include IT, security, compliance, legal teams, and other key business users. These teams need to collaborate to identify the specific governance requirements for Microsoft 365 and ensure that the implemented automation aligns with their different needs and expectations.

The importance of a good Microsoft 365 governance strategy becomes evident when involving relevant stakeholders, as it ensures a stronger foundation for implementing automated data governance within the organization.

Choose the right automation tool

There’s no shortage of data governance automation tools available for Microsoft 365 on the market, which can make it tough to find the best one for your organization and business users. To help you narrow down the list, here are some key considerations, all of which are important to making data governance (not to mention your job) easier: ​​​​​​​

  • Ease of use
  • Scalability
  • Integration capabilities
  • Reporting features

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few top contenders, you’ll evaluate them within the context of your organization’s data governance requirements and budget to choose the best one.

Trust and educate end users

The benefits to organizations that enable self-service with Microsoft 365 are becoming more widely known every day. One of the biggest benefits is a shared gain in productivity. Business users are able to work how, when, and where they want to, and IT teams never again have to dig themselves out from under a mountain of tickets.

It’s important to note that self-service can only work in organizations with strong data governance that provides the security necessary to mitigate rather than enhance the security risks associated with it.    

Automating data governance is a great place to start, but it doesn’t end there. You also need to educate your end users to make sure they understand how to use the tools available to them for its successful implementation. 

The easiest way to accomplish this is to incorporate information about automated data governance into your ongoing efforts to increase Microsoft 365 adoption in your organization. This can be done through ​​​​regular training sessions, resources, and documentation to ensure that users are aware of their responsibilities and understand how automated data governance will affect their day-to-day activities.

No need to stop there, either. A third-party tool like ShareGate can make it even easier to trust your end users by encouraging them to take responsibility for their own resources with our Ask the Owner automation feature and provisioning.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

And did we mention that we offer a free, online course to help you boost adoption? Taking the time to dig deeper to learn how to quickly boost adoption will pay of in terms of time saved on your end, which means you’ll have more time to work on key digital transformation initiatives for your organization.

Monitor and review regularly

While it never hurts to dream, all IT pros working with Microsoft tools know that there’s no such thing as a “set it and forget it” feature when working with Microsoft 365. This is true for automated data governance, too, making it critical to set up monitoring and reporting mechanisms to track compliance with governance policies, detect any violations or anomalies and provide the ability for accurate analysis, and generate insights into end user activities.

Even with a strong data governance plan in place, it’s important to regularly review your policies and update them as needed to ensure they remain effective and aligned with your organization’s changing requirements and digital transformation initiatives.

Implement continuous improvement

Just as you need to regularly review and update your governance policies as needed, you also need to continuously assess and improve your governance automation processes in keeping with policy changes and to optimize them where possible.

Whenever you have a change in a data governance policy, you’ll need to evaluate the performance of the automation tool in enforcing that policy. To optimize your automation, solicit feedback from stakeholders and end users to identify areas for improvement.

Combined, these two practices will help you enhance the overall effectiveness of governance automation in Microsoft 365 for your organization.

What if you’re working in a hybrid or remote setting? Thankfully, these 5 ways to improve end-user management spotlights how to enhance your governance plan in a hybrid environment.

Are you struggling with Microsoft 365 governance?

With all the complexities and risks inherent in governance to keep your Microsoft 365 data secure, it simply doesn’t make sense to try to manage governance manually. With the tools Microsoft 365 provides for automating different aspects of your governance, it’s like an offer you can’t refuse. Still, it can feel pretty daunting because (you guessed it), Microsoft doesn’t make it easy to find all the information or the tools you need. It’s spread out across the immense sea of Microsoft 365 documentation, which only the most daring of admins attempt to traverse. 

For the rest of us, there’s ShareGate 🙂

ShareGate’s free online courses to help you master Microsoft 365 governance, security, adoption, sprawl, and shadow IT. And of course, ShareGate’s automation features can make it all much simpler.

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