The cloud may not solve your data silo problems

Plan carefully

Christian Buckley

by Christian Buckley on 4/21/2014

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It's incredible to think about how much data we're creating. Customers tell me about their rapidly expanding collaboration platforms and the terabytes of data that are being created each year as they create and track documents. And then there's the never-ceasing social interactions around the content and within, across, and outside of our organizations. All of this data is leading us towards the cloud. But it's not that easy.

Back in the mid-1990's, I was part of a massive consumer data warehouse project. We were asked to integrate demographic and geo-location data, expanding one critical system from around 800Gb to just over 1.2TB. it was a BIG deal. Fast-forward to this past weekend when I was noticing the prices of 2TB USB drives had dropped to just over $100, and I considered picking one up so that I could combine my 750GB music drive with my 500GB of family photos and videos to a single (faster) drive.

What stopped me from making this purchase? I thought to myself: Now why would I pay that money to just move my personal content from one data silo to another? Why not put it all out in the cloud where I can access it from wherever I log in? Of course, then I thought about being limited by my Wi-Fi access. I often accessed my vast music collection without an Internet connection, freeing up bandwidth for the multiple Netflix sessions that always seem to be running in my home; or I listen to music in my car (I love road trips, but need to have my music with me). So even for my personal data storage needs, the cloud is not as simple a solution as you would think.

I share these stories to help illustrate a point about how we look at the business data we manage. In many cases, there are some very real security and legal reasons for securing where you store your content, how you store it, and who has access to it. More often than not, however, we tend to lump all of our data needs under a single set of rules, which can put our content at risk if we are too carefree. Or we put some content that should be more accessible under unnecessary lock and key.

Research from , the AIIM Trendscape: Content and the Cloud, acknowledged that data silos continue to be a problem for most organizations. Even with the adoption of social collaboration platforms that are, by definition, tools to help organizations break through traditional silos, I've begun to hear managers using the phrase "social silos" to describe growing content databases. In my notes from the June Executive Leadership Council (ELC) session s in Chicago and London, I captured a few comments from participants who identified "reducing data silos" as a major strategy for their expanding social collaboration initiatives. Yet they also acknowledged that their current projects are creating these additional data silos.

Of course, there are valid reasons for many of these silos. One of SharePoint's strengths is its ability to support complex permissions models, allowing content and conversations to be highly segmented, with unique privileges and rules to be applied to each content store. Now add to the mix a number of native and configurable social activities. Then do the math: More people on a platform, engaged in collaboration, means more content being uploaded, more versions, more edits, more sharing of content, more threaded discussions, and so forth.

Social activities (when they work) create content, plain and simple. But as the size of these content databases increases on premises, many organizations are looking to move key workloads to the cloud -- to save on storage costs, to make data and tools more accessible to different end user devices, and many other reasons.

But cloud-based platforms are not a panacea for every collaboration ill you face. For one, most of the leading collaboration platforms for the cloud are not yet at parity with what can be accomplished on premises (SharePoint being a leading example).

Even more than platform or tool feature parity is the problem of governance. Managing all of your systems on prem, or conversely, managing all things in the cloud, is much more straightforward than what is quickly becoming the path forward for many organizations: a hybrid approach. No collaboration platform available on the market today offers a consistent governance experience across a hybrid deployment. What you can manage, report on, control in the cloud is not as comprehensive as what you can do on premises, plain and simple.

Hybrid environments are infinitely more complex than cloud or on-premises on their own. Maybe some content originates on prem in one system, in the cloud on another system, with another system pulling content from both, and then supporting changes across those platforms. Then add managing permissions, storage increases, auditing and compliance requirements, and all the rest of the complexity that comes with modern information management, and you can see that hybrid can add several degrees of complexity to an already complex field. And yet that is where organizations are moving because they want to take advantages of the benefits (real or perceived) of the cloud with on-prem solutions.

On this question of how to handle data silos, the AIIM Trendscape report asks three important questions that you should consider:

  • As you deploy cloud-based tools, do you want the content that is tied to those tools to be housed within those tools, or housed centrally and accessed by them?
  • How do you want the various cloud-based tools to work with, communicate with each other?
  • How will your governance policies and procedures span these various systems, whether they be on premises, cloud-based, or hybrid systems?

I wish the cloud question was *just* about the maturity and functionality of the tools. Life would be much simpler if all we had to bicker about was parity between our local implementation and its cloud-based counterpart, like SharePoint on premises and SharePoint Online.

Unfortunately, how we manage the content is even more complex. Offline or cloud-based. Who has access, who should not. Retention rules. Read-only, write access. Versioning. Metadata and taxonomies. Archiving. Replicating between sites, or between development, staging, and production environments. 

My point here is to help you recognize that there is no simple answer. Be clear on your requirements. Simplify them, if possible. And then plan out your social collaboration strategy accordingly.

Originally posted on

Topic: Business Productivity

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