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Joe Shepley has called Office 365 a disaster waiting to happen. His logic is that Microsoft and its partners are encouraging firms to migrate their networks to Office 365 without organizing, classifying, purging or adding any information governance.

Shepley contends this puts organizations at greater risk from a compliance standpoint.

Any experienced practitioner in the enterprise content management (ECM) space will tell you that a straight move into any system is a huge mistake. But contrary to what Shepley maintains, it's not a disaster.

Office 365 is Better

Let’s put this into perspective. An organization is storing content on network-shared drives. Aging servers that were not top-of-the-line when assigned this duty usually control these.

The information is likely stored in an array that's at least a decade old on hard drives that are hard to replace. The backup system is likely old, outdated and may not even work anymore.

This is a precarious position for any organization. I have been there, and it is a scary situation and one that you hope you can keep going for a while longer – at least until the right solution is available.

The reality is that there is almost never enough time. Marketing has needs that demand immediate attention. Everyone wants to go digital, and that almost always starts with customer data and new websites. Managing internal content is left to the background until it is too painful to ignore.

Doing a straight migration to an on-premises ECM system never made sense, and yet that mistake was repeatedly made. There was no real benefit to the organization. It was harder to access content that was already challenging to find. Search was a nice benefit, but IT still had to manage storage in addition to database and applications servers.

Cloud solutions like Office 365 are a clear step up. We all want to organize content and make sure information is properly managed and retained. The reality is that many orgs don’t have the time or resources to undertake that effort. Moving things to a cloud system that can still be accessed natively by productivity applications avoids potential real disasters for IT and places the content into a safer, and typically more secure, environment.

False Security

This success affords a false sense of security. It gives IT a belief that the problems have been addressed, when only the technical headaches have been solved. The business drivers for ECM still exist.

This is where Shepley's concern gains importance. Too many organizations move to the cloud without thinking about the compliance impacts. When I look at content sitting on network share drives I see massive amounts of compliance risk. An e-discovery tool is required to find information, and there is nothing in place to protect and manage that content.

Even in poorly implemented cloud systems, versioning can be turned on and administrators can protect content from permanent deletion. This can even be done post-implementation. In any scenario, the internal search capability is still a significant step forward.

As any consultant, including Shepley, will tell you, compliance with regulations and standards does not start with technology.

It starts with the organization and how it inherently treats information. I had one client that had a poorly implemented content infrastructure, but people all knew its requirements. Even using share drives, that organization was one of the most diligent in meeting its organizational compliance requirements that I have ever encountered.

Yes, a straight move to the cloud may make an organization feel it has made a step forward in managing information. But that isn’t reality. The reality is that it has simply delayed transition toward true compliance.

Missed Opportunity

I agree with Shepley that no organization should just simply bulk-move content to Office 365 or any ECM system, cloud or otherwise.

But it is not the disaster that he implies, because the status quo can be just as treacherous. If those file shares die, that is a disaster.

The tools inherent in Office 365 can be leveraged to improve the content scrubbing process.

Some projects even start the content scrubbing process by moving a shared drive into a staging area inside the ECM system. There, the content is more easily analyzed and processed into its new long-term home within the ECM system.

The true danger is the chance that the raw move will be viewed as solving the content problem. That is far from the truth.

Making a straight move to Office 365 is simply punting the problem down the road. It solves the IT problems without doing anything to improve the business. If IT isn’t solving business problems, then is it really doing its job?

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by Christopher.Michel.