5 tips for your modern data governance strategy

Modern data governance is every IT pro’s saving grace, especially in a hybrid workplace. Learn everything you need to know about developing a modern data governance strategy that’s effective, efficient, and can keep up with rapidly advancing technologies.

Protecting data has always been a priority for businesses, but developing a robust modern data governance strategy has never been more important. In recent years, technology has been advancing at a rate we’ve literally never seen before. We are in the era of Big Data and AI, where the volume, velocity, and variety of data have increased significantly. There is no precedent; we are learning as we go—and we are going quickly! 

New tech has brought new ways of communicating and sharing information—which is wonderful, but it also means that users are exposed to more data vulnerabilities than ever. 

Now, mix that with the hybrid work model that has become widespread since the pandemic. Alright, let’s get this straight; we have advancing technology, the likes of which we’ve never seen before, which provides employees with new ways of storing data and communicating information. And now, employees are working remotely, spread out worldwide. Microsoft 365 makes this possible with SharePoint, Teams, and more. What does this mean? Well, it means that IT professionals have their hands full, to say the least.

Thankfully, modern data governance is every IT pro’s saving grace. A modern data governance strategy differs from traditional ones – it embraces digitization, automation, cloud computing, and advanced analytics. It’s a forward-looking, flexible, and comprehensive approach to managing and utilizing data.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about developing a modern data governance strategy that is effective, efficient, and can keep up with rapidly advancing technologies.

Understanding data governance processes

Data governance is the process of managing the availability, integrity, and security of all the data in an enterprise. An optimized data governance framework creates a secure foundation for all data, ensuring it’s consistent, trustworthy, and not misused. 

With this in mind, data governance should always include:

  • Data quality
  • Data management
  • Data policies
  • Business process management
  • Risk management

All of these elements combined build a solid foundation of data protection within an enterprise, and should be prioritized by IT admins. It can seem overwhelming if this is not something you’re currently implementing. With the proper guidance, you can easily implement a streamlined data governance framework with confidence.

Get more detailed and actionable advice in our free online governance course.

The role of a data governance framework in an organization

Big-picture perspective: Data governance provides a holistic approach to managing, improving, and leveraging data to meet organizational objectives. Rather than approaching data use with a siloed approach, data governance allows enterprises to review data needs with a big-picture perspective.

Risk management: Data protection might be the most important and impactful reason to implement an effective data governance strategy. Data governance has a pivotal role in compliance and risk management; it helps organizations comply with regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA, while also mitigating risks associated with data breaches.

Optimized decisions: Decision-making is an important part of an IT admin’s role, but issues arise when decisions are made arbitrarily. Data governance helps with this by ensuring high-quality, reliable data is available for business intelligence and analytics. This means that the data is, ultimately, guiding every decision. IT admins are simply analyzing the data and facilitating the optimized decision in each situation.

An effective data governance strategy can also help you improve your IT modernization strategy. No matter if your organization is upgrading to legacy systems or adopting cloud computing.

Why it’s important to have a data governance strategy

A streamlined approach: Data management is helpful, but it can only go so far without an accompanying governance strategy. If IT professionals are charged with managing data, but the approach isn’t aligned across an enterprise, the management not only becomes inefficient, but it may also impact the security of the data. Streamlined data governance processes provide clear guidelines and procedures for data management so everyone is on the same page.

Supports business objectives: Data governance promotes transparency and accountability in the use of data, while also improving operational efficiency. This trickles down fairly quickly in facilitating an ability to focus more energy on achieving actual business objectives—because you can rely on the data to be doing what it’s supposed to do.

Data security: A well-defined data governance program helps deal with the challenges related to the safety, privacy and compliance of data in today’s complex business environment.

Protecting your data: Governance is crucial to protect critical information and reduce risks. Microsoft 365 security isn’t only about external forces but also internal threats, as untrained users may share sensitive information. Accidental file sharing and sending sensitive files to coworkers who are not authorized to receive them are two frequent instances of internal data breaches. Governance is pre-emptive in stopping these types of breaches before they happen.

How Microsoft 365 helps your data governance processes

If your enterprise utilizes Microsoft 365, you’re in luck. Microsoft 365 offers a comprehensive suite of tools and features that support data governance, such as: 

  • Data loss prevention: Preventing data breaches like ransomware and phishing attacks.
  • Information protection: Preventing unauthorized access and sharing.
  • Policies and automation: Retention policies, access policies, sharing policies, and compliance policies streamline expectations, and these can all be enforced with the help of automation.
  • eDiscovery: Finding what you need quickly is key. Microsoft 365’s eDiscovery tools allow you to quickly and easily search for what you want.

Security and compliance centers: Microsoft 365’s security and compliance centers allow organizations to manage and monitor their data governance policies effectively. Microsoft provides search capabilities, including content search, core eDiscovery, and advanced eDiscovery, in its compliance center to help enterprises find data assets quickly and effectively.

Using the right tools to protect your data is important, but so is implementing Microsoft 365 security best practices. By combining robust security tools with proactive measures, you can create a strong defence against potential threats

Automate data governance tasks: Microsoft 365 can automate data governance tasks, like classifying and labeling data, enforcing retention policies, and identifying and protecting sensitive information:

  • Label data: Apply labels either automatically or manually to data assets. For example, you can encrypt or block shared data outside your organization.
  • Retention: Set retention policies and enforce them automatically.
  • Get to know your data: Microsoft 365’s search capabilities allow you to assess whether you have any stale or unknown sensitive information that needs to be managed, and set automations to handle certain specific scenarios.

Key considerations for Microsoft 365 governance in a hybrid workplace 

The hybrid workplace has taken on a life of its own since the pandemic, becoming the status quo at many organizations. When lockdowns were rampant at the peak of COVID, collaboration tools like SharePoint and Teams were suddenly way more than useful tools—in some cases, they were the only tools that were keeping some enterprises afloat. Without them, employees may not have been able to work at all.

This fostered a newfound appreciation for these collaboration platforms and drove a need for even more tools with more extensive capabilities. Though peak pandemic times are behind us, we are left with a new work model, and it doesn’t look as though we’ll be going back to the way it was before. Now that the hybrid workforce is a choice rather than a necessity for survival, these tools are a mainstay for every employee. 

SharePoint and Teams give end users the freedom to work the way they need. This is fantastic for end users in so many ways, particularly facilitating extensive collaboration opportunities, but enabling self-service can be a nightmare for IT admins who have to contend with data sprawl

Data sprawl refers to the astonishing amount of unused and/or unstructured data assets produced by businesses each day. When self-service is widespread across an organization, data sprawl can get out of hand without proper data management—and this is a real security concern. ShareGate’s workspace provisioning offers a solution—freedom for the end user, and secure management and oversight for the IT department with effective guardrails. 

The importance of security

Data sprawl isn’t just a server issue, it’s also a real security risk. When end users have more freedom, it’s crucial to have the right policies and processes in place to ensure that this freedom doesn’t accidentally compromise the security of your organization. For example, an employee may share sensitive data with someone unauthorized. 

While situations like these must be prevented, completely removing an end user’s freedom could have the opposite effect. They may not be able to access the functionality they require to succeed at their job, so they may look outside of the organization for unapproved tools (leading to the dreaded shadow IT). 

The solution is configuring custom security settings based on the unique needs of individual teams. 

Training and support

Spiderman knew what he was talking about when he said “with great power comes great responsibility.”

While you probably won’t convince your end users that they are modern-day superheroes simply because of their freedom to access Microsoft 365 tools (we all know the IT admins are the true heroes), you can share what you know so that they understand how important it is to take data management seriously. 

When end users have more freedom, you have to make sure they understand how to use Microsoft 365 tools properly to avoid sprawl. It’s important to explain the value of adopting internal tools rather than turning to shadow IT.

Adoption is crucial, and education is the best path to achieve that. You want employees to adopt Microsoft 365 tools because they want to and because they understand the consequences for the organization—not because their hand is forced. By trusting your employees to understand the facts and act in the business’s best interest, you’re creating more than a secure environment for data assets. You are also creating a secure and enjoyable environment for employees. We don’t need to tell you the massive impact that has on an organization as a whole. 

The pros of a Microsoft 365 governance strategy—especially in a self-serve environment, include employee empowerment by allowing your team to manage their own tools.

Courses are the best way to learn

So at this point, let’s say you’re totally on board with a workspace provision. You want end users to access the tools and functionality they need, but as an IT admin you also need to protect the organization’s data and set up necessary guardrails. As we mentioned earlier, the only way to make this work is to educate employees so they get on board.

Your options here are either:

  1. Create various comprehensive courses for your organization, or hire someone to do it for you. Both of these options will cost your organization time and resources.
  2. Use ShareGate Academy’s free online courses, covering the most important foundational topics everyone should understand (from end users to IT admins).

ShareGate is thrilled to offer five comprehensive courses, all of which are completely free. Take full advantage of our courses on the following topics:

Share these courses with the end users at your organization or take a look yourself. Even if you’re a veteran Microsoft user, testing your knowledge and brushing up on the basics can’t hurt.

Tip 1: Align your data governance strategy with business objectives

The benefits of data governance are pretty undeniable, but that doesn’t mean you can slap on any old strategy and call it a day. No way. Each business has unique objectives and the data governance strategy needs to reflect that. 

With that in mind, it’s crucial to understand your business objectives before designing a data governance strategy. Once you’ve established your overarching business objectives, you then need to identify the data needs of varying business units (these, of course, all need to align with the established overarching business objectives). 

Data should be used by a corporation to support and ultimately advance its business objectives. This can only be accomplished by creating a strategy for gathering, organizing, and utilizing data that supports the company’s goals rather than the potentially incompatible individual goals of each team. A sound data strategy cannot and should not be relied upon to stand alone.

It’s helpful to think of the organization’s desired state in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, etc. When establishing a data strategy, consider how your data can help achieve those goals.

Lessons from a real challenge

Astrid Gibbon, Communications Systems Manager at Oxford Instruments, had a problem. And the thing is, she didn’t even know how big that problem was at first. She knew that she didn’t have visibility into her environment. This was cause for concern, and she knew she had to do something about it. The team tried to get answers from the Microsoft 356 admin center, but identifying which data to examine was confusing and difficult.

Data governance tasks piled up for her team as they tried to contend with an endless stream of ticket requests. They had a user process for Teams, but it was insufficient to keep data organized and secure.

“We had no control over what data was going in Teams or whether people were cleaning up or reviewing external links and guest access,” she said.

Gibbon was using ShareGate for a migration project when she noticed the “manage” button. When she investigated, she was shocked to learn that her environment was very close to spiraling out of control. 

“It was a bit overwhelming,” she said. “We had no idea, no control, no visibility. No one knew what was happening.” 

While it wasn’t pleasant to discover all of the sprawl and potential vulnerabilities within her environment, it was the best thing that could have happened. Thankfully, once Gibbon and her team started using ShareGate’s reporting and analytics tools, they immediately had visibility into all of the issues and identified potential issues. Not only that, but her team could begin to get it under control within minutes of their discovery.

Thanks to ShareGate, Gibbon and her team could meet business objectives by:

  • Having centralized visibility over the environment
  • Automating tasks
  • ​​Automating collaboration with team owners 
  • Skyrocketing productivity

ShareGate’s reporting and analytics capabilities allowed Gibbon to take it a step further. Not only does her team now have visibility into the environment and automation to increase productivity, but they can also ensure the ongoing alignment of data governance with business objectives. They can see what’s working and catch issues before they get out of control. On the contrary, Gibbon says, “I feel completely in control,” explaining, “if my manager asks for a report, I can do that in two seconds. It’s so clear, and no one can argue with it.”

Tip 2: Prioritizing data quality and consistency

What is data quality? This refers to data accuracy, completeness, reliability, and relevance. 

What is data consistency? This refers to the uniformity of data across different data sources.

Why is data quality and consistency important? It’s important to prioritize data consistency and quality because both contribute to better business decisions, improved customer satisfaction, and increased operational efficiency.

Data consistency and quality also have an important role in compliance and risk management. When you have accurate and consistent data, you reduce the risk of non-compliance and data breaches.

How to maintain data consistency and quality

The work doesn’t end once you succeed in having high-quality and consistent data. Now, you need to maintain it. Here’s how to do that:

  • Standards and procedures: Implement data quality standards and procedures to ensure data is accurate, complete, and updated.
  • Tools: Use data validation and cleansing tools to detect and correct errors in data.
  • SSOT: Establish a single source of truth (SSOT) to maintain data consistency across different systems and departments.
  • Culture: Foster a culture of data stewardship where every member of the organization understands the importance of data quality and consistency. When self-service is enabled, end users feel more empowered, often leading them to take more responsibility and pride in their work. 
  • Education: First, employees must be informed, and only then are they able to take responsibility for maintaining those standards. ShareGate Academy’s free courses are a great way to educate end users about data governance, among other important foundational topics. 

Features in Microsoft 365 that help ensure data quality and consistency

Microsoft 365 offers an array of features that can help ensure the quality and consistency of your data:

  • Data management tools: Power Query and Data Connector can help clean, transform, and combine data from different sources.
  • Data validation features: These features prevent the entry of incorrect or inconsistent data.
  • Compliance tools: These are crucial in terms of maintaining data quality by detecting and managing sensitive data.

Tip 3: Give end users Microsoft 365 training and support 

To maximize your investment in Microsoft 365, you want to encourage adoption of SharePoint and Teams. This means ensuring end users are actually using the tools you’re paying for and managing.  

It’s imperative that end users have a deep understanding of the tools. This means that they, of course, need to understand how they work, but it’s more than that. They also need to understand their value. How the tools can make their lives easier. How the tools can improve their efficiency and work satisfaction. How the tools are useful for their specific roles.

Enabling self-service is an easy way to foster a culture of trust within an organization. But when it comes to a hybrid workplace, it goes beyond trust. Self-service, particularly with SharePoint and Teams, is crucial to a hybrid employee’s success in their job. 

But with self-service, there are always fears surrounding security. Is it possible to give employees the freedom they need to take full advantage of the hybrid workplace while also making IT teams happy? Self-service paired with automation is the answer!

Tip 4: Use automation to manage and secure Microsoft 365 in a hybrid workplace 

It’s possible to manage and secure Microsoft 365 manually using PowerShell or Power Automate, but those still require certain skill levels and take time to set up and maintain when Microsoft releases updates. 

Naturally, data breaches are the biggest concern when it comes to the hybrid workplace, so management and security are imperative. Self-service and automation are the answer, and ShareGate can help with that. Here are some examples of how ShareGate’s out-of-the-box automations can help manage and secure Microsoft 365 while enabling self-service:

  • Let end users create and manage their own workspaces while complying with data governance policies.
  • Automate guest access permissions according to team sensitivity. 
  • Customize security permissions. 
  • Schedule automated reports. This way, you’ll have full visibility into your hybrid environment and you can take quick action on issues.

Tip 5: Ensure regulatory compliance and data security

Regulatory compliance and data security are key components of a robust data governance strategy. They are essential to protect sensitive data, prevent breaches, and ensure that the organization meets legal and industry standards.

How to ensure compliance and security in your data governance strategy

Consider following these 5 tips to ensure that your data governance strategy is compliant and secure—and stays that way:

  • Conduct regular audits to ensure compliance with data governance policies and regulations.
  • Implement strong access controls to prevent unauthorized access to data.
  • Regularly update and enforce data privacy and security policies.
  • Use secure encryption methods to protect data at rest and in transit.
  • Regularly train employees on best practices and policies related to ensuring the security of data.

How Microsoft 365 aids in regulatory compliance and data security

Microsoft 365 doesn’t leave you hanging regarding compliance and security. From advanced security features and compliance solutions to their audit logs, make sure to check out how Microsoft 365 tools can help:

  • Microsoft 365 provides advanced security features like Advanced Threat Protection, Data Loss Prevention, and Information Protection.
  • Microsoft 365 offers compliance solutions to manage and respond to regulatory requests.
  • Microsoft 365’s audit logs allow tracking of user activity to identify any potential security risks.​

Best practices for modern data governance in a Microsoft 365 hybrid workplace  

If your organization offers a hybrid workplace to employees, you should consider the following best practices for modern data governance of your Microsoft 365 environment:

  1. Create a lifecycle management system: Everything has a beginning, middle, and end. Problems occur when we don’t plan for what that will look like and how it will be managed regarding data. A lifecycle in this context includes team creation (including provisioning), ongoing management, and end of life (including management of inactive and orphaned teams).
  2. Create a tagging/naming convention: Establishing naming conventions is important to every data governance strategy. If an organization isn’t aligned on how data is named, this leads to confusion, errors, and inefficiencies. When there’s a naming convention in place, anyone can quickly understand the purpose of each Microsoft 365 Group. This makes it easier to assess what you need and doesn’t need so you can easily archive redundancies. 
  3. Run regular access reviews: Making time to regularly review who has access to the environment or any of the organization’s data is an important part of a successful data governance strategy. There are a variety of scenarios where someone may have access who doesn’t need it, such as a former employee or an external user who only required temporary guest access. It’s also possible that the extent of access may need to change. Access is crucial for those who need it, but it can pose a security risk if not properly managed within the data governance. 

Leveraging Microsoft 365 for effective data governance

Microsoft 365 offers a robust variety of tools, features, and solutions to help your organization implement effective data governance. Not only that, but these tools support your organization in terms of maintaining and enforcing your governance guardrails.

Here are some ways you can leverage Microsoft 365’s tools for effective data governance:

  • Comprehensive data management: Microsoft 365 offers tools for data classification, retention, protection, and archiving—all of which allow for effective data governance. It’s important for data to be appropriately categorized, maintained, secured, and accessible based on business and regulatory needs. There are so many ways to manage data; the key is to have a holistic approach with comprehensive management, as this is the best way to ensure that data governance is effective.
  • Security and compliance measures: Data Loss Prevention, Advanced Threat Protection, and audit logs are just a few of the features that Microsoft 365 offers in terms of strong security and compliance procedures. Thanks to these features, you can rest assured that you are capable of stopping data leaks, spotting and addressing dangers, and keeping an accurate record of data activity.
  • Regulatory alignment and insights: A company’s compliance position can be thoroughly analyzed using tools like the Compliance Manager and Secure Score. They offer practical suggestions for enhancing data governance procedures and more closely adhering to legal standards.

Microsoft 365 tools for data governance

We know that Microsoft 365 offers a wide variety of tools to support and enforce data governance and how to leverage the tools effectively, but there are way more specific tools at your disposal than you likely realize. Here are several examples of Microsoft 365 tools that could be particularly useful as you set up your data governance strategy:

  • Data classification: Microsoft 365 allows for data classification across the ecosystem. The built-in data classification features in the Compliance Center can classify data based on sensitivity and apply appropriate protection.
  • Retention policies and labels: You can create and manage retention policies and labels to retain necessary data and delete redundant, outdated, and trivial (ROT) data. This helps in managing the lifecycle of data and supports compliance requirements.
  • Data loss prevention (DLP): Microsoft 365 offers DLP policies to identify, monitor, and protect sensitive information across Microsoft 365 services and features.
  • eDiscovery: Microsoft 365’s Advanced eDiscovery tool helps in locating relevant data for legal and compliance purposes. It uses machine learning to minimize the volume of data for review.
  • Information Protection: Microsoft 365’s information protection capabilities allow organizations to encrypt data, apply rights management, and use Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) to protect sensitive information.
  • Audit logs: Microsoft 365 allows admins to access and monitor detailed activity logs for potential security and compliance issues.
  • Secure Score: Microsoft’s Secure Score helps organizations gauge their security posture and provides recommendations for improvements.
  • Archiving: Microsoft 365 supports archiving features that help in storing, preserving, and data recovery. This aids in regulatory, legal, and business continuity requirements.
  • Privacy Controls: Microsoft 365 includes privacy controls that let organizations manage who has access to personal data and how they can use it.
  • Compliance Manager: This tool helps organizations manage specific regulatory requirements by providing a detailed compliance score, insights, and recommended actions.

From risk to resilience  

Data safety and risk management is nothing new—as long as there has been data, organizations have focused on securing it! What has changed is the technology, the landscape, and the data itself. Technology is advancing at the speed of light, data governance needs are more complex than ever, and to top it all off, many workplaces are going hybrid. Can you say data vulnerabilities? It’s enough to make any IT professional throw their hands up in defeat.

But, wait! Everything will be okay. Yes, technology is exploding and we are in the era of Big Data. Yes, there is AI, and security risks are evolving. But all is not lost. The evolution of technology is on our side. We are able to have more visibility into our environment than ever before, thanks to reporting and analytics. We can spot vulnerabilities before they become major problems, and thanks to automation, we can stop problems in their tracks.

At the end of the day, a modern data governance strategy trusts its end users to understand the value of the tools they have access to and learn how to use them effectively. The learning part is where it can get tricky. Who is going to teach these employees? 

Thankfully, ShareGate Academy offers five free foundational and comprehensive courses that would benefit every single employee—veteran Microsoft users included! Don’t sleep on these courses. Educated end users make an IT admin’s job that much easier.

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