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The road to digital transformation: 5 questions with AvePoint’s Hunter Willis

This article appears in the issue May/June 2019 [Volume 28, Issue 3]

As more organizations go through digital transformation, many are realizing that SaaS adoption  can be accompanied by an increase in silos, compliance concerns, and isolated information. According to an AvePoint/AIIM survey—“How does the Office 365 Revolution Impact Governance and Process Automation?”—SharePoint governance is largely a manual process for 50% of organizations—indicating that there are many organizations that have yet to fully understand the governance capabilities of Office 365.

Recently, Hunter Willis, product marketing manager at AvePoint, a provider of governance, compliance, and management software, weighed in on how users can tap into the capabilities of Office 365 and streamline the process to automate governance.

What are the biggest chal­lenges you see among your customer base with regard to digital transformation?

Hunter Willis, AvePointHunter Willis: I would say there are three main challenges regarding digital transfor­mation. The first is meeting business security and regulatory requirements without creating bottlenecks and bar­riers that reduce the increased produc­tivity possible with new cloud office solutions.

The second, and perhaps most import­ant, challenge is achieving sustainable organization-wide adoption of those new tools among users.

The last challenge also revolves around adoption, but for IT administra­tors. In today’s cloud era new function­ality is being rolled out faster than ever before. It is a real struggle for IT teams to be able to keep up without getting rolled over with the constant updates. They need to understand everything that is coming out and how they will impact the business before they are rolled out to their entire user base.

AvePoint actually went through many of these challenges during our own digi­tal transformation. Our CEO wrote pretty frankly in a recent blog post about the mistakes we made and lessons learned during that journey.

What are companies’ key goals in these efforts?

HW: The true goal for any organization when it comes to digital transformation initiatives is to add value through either increased employee productivity, better engagement with customers, optimized operations, or improved products.

What we see the most with our customers are efforts to increase productivity and optimize operations. Everyone wants their jobs to be easier, but the question for the organization then becomes: “How can we do this and still meet our business requirements? How do we train our users to take advantage of new tools fast enough to see the benefits and return on investment within a few quarters?”

With end users being able to create Microsoft Teams by default and each Team coming from its own SharePoint site, OneNote Notebook, document library, and more, how can organizations avoid content sprawl and duplicated workspaces?

HW: AvePoint has governance tools that control sprawl, auto­matically enforce business policies, and dynamically manage security and the lifecycle of not only Groups and Teams, but SharePoint sites as well.

With Microsoft’s native functionality you can set policies such as external sharing but it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. Our approach gives you the ability to set increased governance or security for one business unit, maybe one that handles sensitive information more frequently without impeding the other units.

The other important approach our solution takes is a holis­tic view on the lifecycle of a Team or Group. When a project team—with a small t—concludes their work at an organization, their Team or Group and the business-critical information within those workspaces, should be appropriately handled.

The solution does this in a way that simplifies the con­versation between IT and users, and also automates the day-to-day tasks that can take so much time for IT to manage in Office 365.

We also provide visibility via automatically generated reports that prove that security has been maintained and pol­icies are being enforced by the solution. All of this increases business productivity while making the lives of users and IT easier.

Why is sprawl such a significant problem and what are the risks to organizations that fail to implement effective strategies in this regard?

HW: This is partly by design and there are good reasons behind it. For one, giving users the ability to self-provision and “own” their digital workspaces is a powerful productivity enhancer. If they are blocked from the resources they need, they will turn to unauthorized, unmanaged IT solutions—creating shadow IT—to get the job done.

Linking multiple shared resources together, such as Planner, OneNote, and SharePoint Site, in a Group is also a huge productiv­ity gain. This prevents IT from having to continually provision the same set of resources for the same set of people and creates the breadth of functionality that makes Office 365 so attractive in the first place.

One of the challenges, however, is that when a Team is cre­ated by a user, it’s not immediately apparent that a Group and these shared resources have been created. Often, organiza­tions struggle to fully understand all the capabilities and poten­tial risks that come with so many new features at this scale.

New collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams are very easy to use and have seen wider adoption than any other kinds of business software. IT departments are frequently surprised and overwhelmed by this rate of adoption and quickly lose control of information management and content-level security. On top of this, users then have a hard time finding the right place to locate the content they need or to do what they need to do.

The key is to preserve the advantages and implement solu­tions or approaches for curbing the negative side effects such as sprawl.

What are some of the key approaches you suggest to organizations who want to leverage automation for cre­ating and managing their workspaces in the future?

HW: The first step is to understand how things will be cre­ated. Can end users do this directly, and if so, how will you control this and keep track of settings, security, and naming conventions?

Then, for ongoing maintenance, it will be important to understand who has access and ownership for each work­space. You will also need to understand who can access content, the storage and security structure, and how you can control it.

In addition, you need to ask: What is your cloud platform going to look like in 5 or 10 years? You need to manage the lifecycle of your content, to reduce the clutter and duplication of processes for your users down the road, and to prevent any eventual over consumption of resources.

The most important part of all of this, however, is understanding how you can make this easy for users, IT teams, and the busi­ness as a whole. It’s very important for the tech teams in organizations to have a plan for training and implementing as many business-relevant solutions for their organization as possible.


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