What is data sprawl, and how does it relate to Office 365 Groups?

Microsoft’s modern workplace is all about empowering users. But a complete lack of governance can lead to your data sprawling unchecked. We explain why sprawl isn’t just about server space—left unmanaged, data sprawl can put the security of company data at risk.

Freedom and accessibility are at the heart of the Office 365 user experience, with flexible collaboration, effortless communication, and self-service features transforming the way that we work.

But with more user freedom comes more responsibility—especially for security and governance measures led by IT.

We'll dive into:


Data is an asset

Today, we have almost instant access to a historic amount of data—providing insights on everything from customer behavior to designing an effective intranet employees will actually use.

Businesses can leverage that data in competitive and transformative ways—making it one of your organization’s most valuable assets. And like any other asset, you want to keep that data safe.

But as more data is produced at a faster rate than ever before, IT faces a critical challenge: data sprawl.

Data sprawl and fragmentation

Data sprawl refers to the staggering amount and variety of data produced by enterprises each and every day. And a vast amount of that data—estimated to be about 80%—is unstructured and unused.

That data includes everything from files and objects, to archives and analytics—and tends to be spread out across various parts of your organization.

Data sprawl poses a threat to your organization’s:

  1. Security. As data sprawls out of control, it’s much harder to properly protect.
  2. Value. If your data can’t be found, you’re missing out on the chance to leverage one of your company’s best assets.

It’s hard to protect—much less leverage—something if you don’t know where it is. So when data is fragmented across infrastructure silos and locations, it becomes too complex for IT to locate and keep secure.

According to a recent Cohesity report, 87% of IT admins surveyed believe the problem of data fragmentation could have devastating consequences in the long run if it isn’t addressed.

How does data fragmentation even occur? It can happen if:

  • Employees work from personal devices or use unapproved third-party collaboration tools—the dreaded shadow IT.
  • Your organization uses several different operating systems—for example: Mac, Windows, and Linux.
  • Your company has data stored in a variety of data storage systems—maybe an old on-prem network and the cloud.

87% of IT decision-makers believe the problem of data fragmentation could have devastating consequences in the long run if it isn't addressed.

If data sprawls un-checked and unprotected, one of your organization’s most valuable assets is going unused—not to mention sensitive company information is being put at risk!

Sprawl in Office 365 Groups

Dealing with data sprawl is also crucial when it comes to governance. And nowhere is this more apparent than with Office 365 Groups.

That’s because the self-service functionality that makes Groups so great can also cause the number of groups in your tenant to spiral out of control—fast. That’s what's referred to as group sprawl.

Group sprawl is likely to happen as users unfamiliar with Office 365 provision groups accidentally—something that’s all too easy to do.

Things to keep in mind:

  • By default, anyone in your organization can create Office 365 Groups.
  • A new group is automatically provisioned when you create the following in other Office 365 products, including:
    • Planner – new plan
    • SharePoint Online – new team site
    • Outlook – new group
    • Power BI – new workspace
    • Teams – new team

Every unused and obsolete group in your tenant takes up a little more server space and creates its own secondary data—so it's in your best interest to manage group creation in your tenant, and only keep groups that are actively used.

Group sprawl is really just another form of data sprawl—meaning it, too, can threaten the value and security of your company’s sensitive data.

Governance is key

An effective Office 365 Groups governance strategy is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal when it comes to containing group and data sprawl.

Having a plan in place that addresses every stage of the group lifecycle in your tenant—from the creation process all the way through to archival—makes it easier to protect and use data as a valuable asset.

To make the most of Microsoft’s modern workplace, your best bet is a collaborative governance strategy—one that allows end users to benefit from the freedom and flexibility of self-service features, and lets IT admins stress less about the threats posed by sprawl.


Want to learn more about governance in Office 365? Download our curated guide, Office 365 Groups Governance, for practical tips on achieving a balanced approach to Office 365.

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