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Living on the Sharpest Edge Of The Cloud

It's been a busy month for me. I'm not complaining, mind you, but we've been adding some new projects around here—new print projects such as the "Meet The Leaders" series and new live roundtable Web events. Because of the lead times, they overlap and, frankly, get a little confused sometimes. An upcoming webinar on customer service feels a lot like the next white paper on knowledge management. And I'm not organized enough to compartmentalize these things, so I am in constant danger, and sometimes in fact, of messing something up.

The only reason I bring that up is there's an odd common synergy that snakes throughout many—if not most—of these projects. The trending emphasis is no longer on the "what" of technology solutions (speeds and feeds). That pretty much takes care of itself and no longer holds the fascination it once did.

No, recently the themes tend toward the "why"—proving business value—and the "how," and somewhat surprisingly to me, the new black is the "how."

Case in point: Had a chance to meet up again with my ole buddy Mary Leigh Mackie, marketing guru at AvePoint. This company should be familiar to any veteran readers of these pages. AvePoint is one of the spearhead organizations in the so-called SharePoint "ecosystem." This is the cottage industry of software vendors that has sprung up to add value and bring applications into the SharePoint platform. Because Microsoft will be the first to tell you: SharePoint is a development platform. You can use it OOB (out of the box), but almost anyone who has experience with SharePoint will tell you: To make it a useful and valuable business tool, you need to tweak it some.

So Mary Leigh was eager to talk about how companies (her customers) are doing the "how" of SharePoint enhancement by taking it into the cloud.

"The cloud has always existed in some form," began Mary Leigh, "but with a slight push from Microsoft, organizations have begun to look at the cloud as a real option." But with such great change comes great challenge, of course. And one of the most urgent challenges as regards the cloud, no matter what technology you deploy to enter into it, is governance, risk and security.

"Organizations that are looking at cloud, or introducing social strategies into their organizations, are now focused on making sure they have the same level of control over their enterprise content as before," she said. "They are looking for ways to support the many ways users are being asked to collaborate, and working to make sure those efforts align with their governance strategies."

Because the word "strategy" is interchangeable with the word "how." How do we deal with our employees and their personal devices? How do we view the race toward social media as business platform proxies? How can we control the many risk factors that these new interaction environments represent?

"Well, you're right. Many people are still trying to figure that out," said Mary Leigh. "Especially regarding SharePoint, people are looking hard at their strategies. The goals for enterprise content management are still the same—to deliver productivity, make sure people can work together in a safe and secure way and, in doing so, not introduce any unnecessary risk to the organization. The concern now is making sure the same policies and controls apply on whatever new platforms they are using or might be using in the near future. Some companies aren't there yet. Some companies have switched all the way to Office 365," she said.

It's a wide-open playing field. That has landmines in it.

"Take the cloud as a perfect example," said Mary Leigh. "Cloud can be used to increase mobility, and make sure that people around the world can collaborate more effectively. But companies are worried about it, too. They're concerned that somebody will put something up there that somebody can access, but shouldn't. So the current trend is to determine which content is cloud-appropriate, until they're confident that cloud is good for all their content, if that's the direction they want to go. For our part, we help customers migrate subsets of their content to the cloud as a sort-of proof-of-concept," she explained.

"Also, if something changes, such as a new regulation, and you're not sure your cloud strategy will support it and you have more confidence in your internal systems, you might want to pull certain content back down on premise. So there's a decision to be made regarding where you're comfortable." And she's right: There's no cop that says you have to do it all one way or all the other way. The decision to "go cloud or stay home" is not absolute.

The Weight of Risk

The decision to put content into the cloud or not, however, DOES demand that policies be in place. "You can provide guidance for a manual approach to that, but it's definitely something that should be automated. Automation reduces the risk of error; it takes the guesswork out of it. Even SharePoint natively is better at that," admitted Mary Leigh. Which is saying something, coming as it does from a member in good standing of the SharePoint Enhancers Club.

"It can be based on content-type or certain forms of metadata that determines where something should be stored. And that can be based on auto-classification that decides, for instance, this content shouldn't live there, and it DEFINITELY shouldn't live there either. And you can conduct periodic scans to decide that, and you can apply technology to enforce it."

But what those policies should be in the first place is very much a business decision. "The technology should be left out of the initial discussion," Mary Leigh advised. "First comes governance, which includes compliance concerns, information management and rights management. Those controls should be set as policy first, and then you can decide which technology options exist to accomplish it." It's also helpful to know how other people have approached this, added Mary Leigh, and learn from their experiences.

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