As Collaboration Moves to the Cloud, The Need for Governance Increases

I participated in a roundtable activity with some of the Microsoft team while on a road trip to Australia, which included a handful of vendors and customers from the community. The discussion was centered around the topic of changing SharePoint governance needs as organizations move toward the cloud. The roundtable provided a good cross-section of enterprise and small-to-medium businesses across various stages of the SharePoint deployment lifecycle.

cloud headThe prevailing question of the meeting was, "How do we define governance?" Participants acknowledged the importance of the topic, but it was clear that organizations are struggling to agree on a definition within their organizations, as well as across the SharePoint community. Everyone has a different take on what it means, from specific records and data management policies to a broader change management philosophy that guides how a company administers all information technology. As one participant put it, "Different companies bring different perspectives. Governance is very broad, and there’s no single definition that fits all organizations."

And in many organizations, the group agreed, the inability to agree on a definition has slowed or halted progress on establishing consistent policies and procedures.

On the topic of how movement toward the cloud affects governance, the group agreed that moving certain workloads to the cloud reduces the kinds of tasks which require active management. IT teams don’t have the same pressures to provide handholding of basic SharePoint activities, as many of the common administrative services are handled as a service, usually by the vendor. In fact, there may even be a decrease in these requests as there is a service cost associated with them. In other words, when an organization is using a cloud-based and multi-tenant service, and does not have the ability to customize or extend it as they would on prem, their requests for extending the platform may become more focused and specific around specific, measurable business outcomes.

While offloading these service requests to the cloud may be advantageous to the business from a cost perspective, the group agreed that there may also be costs to the business. Consensus was that if you reduce the ability to customize, you lose some of the inherent value of SharePoint. Added one participant,

"Nobody is really talking about this lost opportunity cost when it comes to moving to the cloud, but it is very real. And every time you need to make a change, whether hosted or on prem, there is a cost associated with it. It’s mostly just a matter of paying for that up front (with the cloud), or on the backend (more resources needed on prem). Most organizations are not thinking about this."

When asked how their companies are doing with their governance activities, one participant noted

"The policies and procedures that have been defined don’t really fit into what is viewed as the best practices for SharePoint. SharePoint is viewed as this free realm where you can do anything, so as you define your governance you need to do a better job of communicating out that this is how you should conduct yourself."

"Communication is key," claimed one consultant, "as well as clearly defined service level agreements." The group agreed that transparency of defined policies was critical to helping end users to understand just what was involved in managing this very complex platform, and then spent some time discussing the merits of introducing a formal charge-back model to help end users better understand the true costs of servicing a growing SharePoint environment. "It’s an easy game if you define (your SLAs) and communicate them well, but if you don’t do that, you’re setting yourself up for problems."

When the group was asked if their organizations are doing a good job at defining and communicating SLAs, the response was negative. One member added "Not yet, but we’re in the process of getting them defined." Almost everyone agreed with this assessment, which is consistent with recent industry-led surveys that show a majority of organizations view governance as business critical, yet have not spent the necessary time for governance planning.

As the discussion turned to how the dialog around governance has changed over the past 2 to 3 years, participants acknowledged that the conversation had changed as SharePoint has matured, but that many companies are still catching up to what is happening within the technology, and starting to really think about not just "what" is being deployed (the technology) but "how" it is being deployed (the actual business solutions). This has led to more discussion around governance. According to a panelist working for a global customer,

"We have learned that SharePoint needs to be fine-tuned, adjusted, and configured to get what you want out of it. SharePoint is much more complex. It is not a static platform at all. It needs proactive management to get the most benefit out of it."

"The key to governance," added one vendor participating in the discussion, "is that when one of your end users steps outside of the boundaries you’ve set up and agreed to, you know what to do." The group conceded that when the responsibility tends to fall on one person, like the service manager, they just want to make the exception rather than have to enforce SLAs (i.e. deliver the bad news). Most agreed that enforcement was a major issue in governance, and that when it comes to enforcing many of the rules of the system, they’re not always willing to support it. The group recommendation was to make enforcement part of a governance committee’s activities, so that one person would not have to be solely responsible.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP, and an award-winning product marketer and technology evangelist, based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He is the Director of North American Partner Management for leading ISV Rencore (, leads content strategy for TekkiGurus, and is an advisor for both revealit.TV and WellnessWits. He hosts the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.