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Collaboration, complexity and compliance

It can all be cured by leeches, right?

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Workshop The trouble with some terms we use in IT is that they take on a life of their own and suggest an unrealistic simplicity. Take “collaboration” for example. To define it requires a decision: either to focus on a limited set of interactions between specific individuals, or more realistically, to recognise that collaboration refers to just about every aspect of how we work together to do our jobs.

Collaboration is a complex, sprawling mess of activity - from sales guys passing tidbits of leads to each other, to researchers looking to identify whether anyone has tried a similar experiment, or designers exchanging lists of options or, well, you get the idea. It’s no wonder, then, that what we call “collaboration tools” are a similarly mixed bag of capabilities - from email and messaging, to document management and portals.

It is said that our houses reflect the kind of people we are – and this must also apply to the state of our unstructured information, reflecting the complexity and chaotic nature of our interactions. Many organisations face problems when their collaborative environments develop independently and without structure, usually resulting in pockets of information that are difficult to access, system fragmentation, sprawl and duplication. We could accept the situation and move on, hoping for some über-solution in the future that might bind together those pesky records, calls, emails and document exchanges. Meanwhile many organisations are faced with an equally complex - and sometimes contradictory - set of regulatory criteria. In a previous article we cited Sarbanes-Oxley, which as a consequence requires transparency across all such pools of information. And in e-discovery cases such as this one, the defence of “Oh dear, I can’t find it” has been given short shrift.

It would be great to come up with some clear advice at this point, to recommend the technological equivalent of leeches – “Just pop a couple down your codpiece before you go to bed.” In past studies we’ve seen that “classification” can hold the key to better information governance in general, the benefits of which can be seen in the context of collaboration. In the article about identity management and compliance cited above, we also saw the importance of pre-defined provisioning by role and subsequent auditability of access, particularly for specific assets that require locked-down access. These principles are just as appropriate for collaboration technologies such as email and Sharepoint, as for other applications and services.

Whatever measures are considered however, they will need to work in the real world, for example against the background of continued data growth and the “keep-everything” attitude many organisations still have to managing information – which, of course, runs counter to almost every regulation we know. Solutions will need to work for the majority, not just for the few, taking into account the great leveller that is complexity – that is, sooner or later, whatever is put in place will start to creak at the seams.

Is there a final answer, to cut the Gordian knot of complexity and address the problems of managing collaboration, and meeting compliance requirements, without either getting in the way of the job? Should we be looking to draconian measures, such as overnight deletion of information that has not been correctly logged and classified? Or maybe you have discovered tools which really can collate, annotate and index all of our unstructured data assets? If you have, do let us know. ®

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