The explosion of information volume and variety threatens the ability of organizations to 1) empower individual knowledge workers, 2) allow them to work remotely, and 3) automate core back-end processes. At the same time, we are in the middle of a once-in-a-generation disruption in the way organizations manage information, driven by the cloud.
Organizations face an important decision right now. Will they continue on their current paths, usually a patchwork of paper documents and file shares, or will they use new cloud capabilities to begin to future-proof their organization?
Organizations have a unique opportunity right now as they make a digital shift to shape a future platform to leverage these new cloud capabilities. Just about every organization at scale has Office 365 in their organization, and the SharePoint/Office365 platform was not always capable of handling governance natively. As a result, over the years, many organizations added records management or ECM solutions to complete the governance task, making the future-proofing of their organizations even more challenging. The new governance capabilities within M365 change all that, providing a robust platform that will evolve rapidly over time and allow organizations to manage governance within the platform.
What is the right approach to implement Governance?
Given the rapid evolution of cloud capabilities, while the “technology” side of effective governance is still challenging, the real obstacles that organizations face are 1) lack of organizational alignment; 2) lack of buy-in from key players, and 3) creating a platform that can evolve as needs and technologies change.
A very deliberate progression from Strategy to Architecture to Solutions is the best way to overcome these obstacles. This means starting with a focus on strategy -- the point being to gain organizational commitment and an understanding of the link that governance effectiveness plays in achieving the objectives that the organizational stakeholders care about. This is critical to creating a culture that is sustainable over time; far too many governance initiatives in many organizations have failed because they were approached as something like “good hygiene” rather than as business enablers.
Organizations then need to design against these agreed-upon assumptions and test that design with a pilot. This is not an endless and expensive process -- a pitfall of many governance engagements. Only when the key governance assumptions and business strategy have been validated should they proceed to implementation and change management, with checkpoints along the way to make sure that everything is proceeding as planned.
Gartner recently recommended that organizations seeking to digitally transform approach this task by framing three kinds of digital conversations.
Inspire your partners in the organization by understanding digital business from their perspective, using their language and focus. Then share a vision about what is possible with digital technology.
Discuss how to navigate cultural issues and political landmines and sustain a strong partnership. Appeal to shared objectives and purpose to make the case for change.
Engage the organization in the change by mapping out an action plan, a set of metrics, and things they can contribute toward the shared success of the enterprise in a digital world.
I have been working with Infotechtion.com on some M365 governance projects that apply these principles. Infotechtion specializes in one thing -- improving and automating information management processes (retention, protection & governance, and leveraging the Microsoft Cloud). All of this is with the objective of creating a clear link between organizational strategy and goals and effective governance. They are Microsoft partners, and since 2013 they have been among the leading consultants pioneering the design of the Microsoft advanced data governance roadmap and making it relevant to our global clients. The team is proud to be the pathfinders and has successfully transitioned several large and global enterprises to modern automated information governance standards in Microsoft 365.
There are three lessons I have learned in the course of these projects:
The first lesson is the importance of incorporating two very different perspectives in any governance project: 1) aligning business strategy and information management objectives, and 2) the technical knowledge necessary to make strategy a reality. My experience is that many consultants are either one or the other -- rich in big plans and weak in implementation, or rich in execution without getting commitment to the strategy they are intended to facilitate.
The second lesson is that while governance projects typically should start with a specific process and short-term results in mind -- lest they fail to focus on tangible results -- they should approach conscious of the fact the "governance" needs to be an ongoing commitment and one that must scale over time. It is especially important in this COVID-driven quarter-to-quarter focus to avoid multi-year, “big bang” governance projects that never seem to end. But organizations SHOULD focus on tactically important projects within a framework of creating a multi-year commitment to a sustainable and scalable platform.
Lastly and most importantly, the objective in a relationship with outside consultants and partners should not be to create a long-term and expensive dependency. I know consultants love kind of continuing annuity revenue base and it is easy to slide into this kind of relationship when head-counts are constantly in question. However, the long-term objective in any consulting relationship should be to create a platform and culture that will automate governance and allow you to focus on the business of the organization. In the metaphor of “providing a fish” or “teaching a person to fish,” focus on consultants and partners that are committed to the latter.