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PHOTO: Samuel Zeller

If you’ve ever met me, you know I love to debate the value of SharePoint’s system of governance.

I’ve recently expanded my argument beyond SharePoint, because I am now using the complete Office 365 offering in my consulting practice.

The irony runs deep: I am married to an Office 365/SharePoint architect, and we often debate whether you can you have “Office 365” governance without “digital” governance. Both approaches have their place in the enterprise, but knowing which one to choose at what time is critical. Without digital governance in place, you will merely be biding your time while underlying issues compound and remain unaddressed.

Why Office 365 Governance Alone Isn’t Enough

Microsoft has provided Office 365 governance that encompasses components of its platform: OneDrive, SharePoint, Teams, Flow, Dynamics 365, Yammer, PowerApps and the Office suite. This approach has you covered for management of specific tasks, such as:

  • Roles and responsibilities as they relate to the approval for creating a new team site.
  • Integration between real-time document collaboration, calendaring and online chatting.
  • Policies governing matters such as how large of a file can be uploaded without an administrator’s approval.
  • Guidelines or best practices about handling things like the use of lists to create dynamic views versus uploading a PDF or a Word file.

The Office 365 governance model falls short in the context of the enterprise, where the digital ecosystem is anything but harmonized and users have diverse ways of working. For example, consider these scenarios:

  • How do you make the case for locking down Office 365 so that you can govern and manage users within the Microsoft ecosystem when at the essence of Office 365 are hundreds of connectors to integrate with — but not govern — outside tools?
  • How do you manage licensing and associated costs with platform components such as Flow? This replacement for SharePoint’s custom workflows has a limit on “runs per user,” and any additional “runs” (or workflow execution cycles) are at a cost that has no governance flags associated with the Microsoft platform.
  • How will your organization stay compliant with all of the laws and regulations of the countries in which you operate? Privacy and data localization are embedded in Office 365, but it doesn’t extend to regulations like the rules mandating online accessibility that some countries have.

Diving into Office 365 without digital governance in place is like driving around in a foreign country without a map or GPS to get you to your destination. You follow the signs that you can interpret and assume things work just as they do at home, but then when it starts to get late and you’re about to run out of gas, you get edgy and start making mistakes. 

That is why, even with good Office 365 governance in place, I still see organizations that lack an understanding of the destination and of the rules that will get them to the desired place on time. Organizations that rely on Office 365 governance alone fall short in these areas:

  • Sponsorship: The Office 365 or SharePoint management team is overburdened because individual business units are asking for platform extensions or functionality that require resources, such as integration with Salesforce or Tableau. However, the requests are not aligned to organizational strategy, nor are they covered in the budget. Without authority, the support team is burdened, business users get frustrated with any pushback on requests and conflict is ever present.
  • Accountability: Frustrated with the lack of support for the platform or with extensive lockdown of SharePoint, users choose to set up other collaboration environments, such as Confluence. This results in multiple, similar document repositories, use of outdated information and documents for business decision-making, and wasted time.
  • Integrity: It is hard to maintain legal records of documents and business decisions when your digital workplace is in chaos. For any organization, this represents a legitimate risk in the event of a lawsuit. The problem is more severe for organizations in regulated fields like finance or life sciences.

Related Article: Governance Still Matters in a Digital Workplace

How Digital Governance Can Help

Digital governance centers around accountability and decision-making for online channels, including digital workplace environments that contain Office 365. By clarifying who is accountable and responsible for defining key aspects of digital production, the organization can operate cleanly according to the established criteria for the following:

  • Governing authority: There is a clear understanding of who gets to sponsor and make decisions and who must abide by those decisions.
  • Strategy: There are well-defined guiding principles for digital collaboration across the enterprise, and everyone is aware of the outcomes the business expects as a result of its investment in digital.
  • Policies: Written guidelines dictate how the organization handles privacy, accessibility, records retention and other matters in the digital realm.
  • Standards: There are clear rules for all aspects of digital production, covering everything from colors and file formats to metadata specifications for search.

Digital governance not only clarifies who should define these aspects for the digital workplace; it also tells those accountable what they need to establish. Once that context is in place, it is easy to incorporate Office 365 along with its governance — or any other technology for that matter. 

In my consulting experience, I find a nice overlap between broader digital governance policies and the way some of those policies can be embedded into Office 365’s tools. It is that hierarchy that makes for sound governance and operations.

Related Article: Governance Propels the Digital Workplace Forward