Data governance and the future of digital work

The demands placed on data governance leaders have been intensifying for the past several years: increasing amounts of data straddling edge, on-premises and multiple cloud environments; business users clamoring for self-service data access models; and more stringent regulations such as GDPR are each contributing towards increased accountability and urgency.

Add to this the disruption and complexity wrought by COVID and virtually overnight, existing approaches to governance were called into question, with many organisations forced to reconsider their processes against a backdrop of lockdown and remote working. Put all this together and data governance is under extreme pressure.

In particular, recent research commissioned by Egnyte has shown that remote work is contributing to the existing to-do list by driving more data sprawl than ever before, while adding significantly to the risks and vulnerabilities associated with sensitive information. This is giving leaders sleepless nights. Three-quarters (76%) of CIOs surveyed were concerned about the effects of content sprawl, with 38% of C-suite IT putting themselves into the ‘very concerned’ category.

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Concerns are rising

As content growth proliferates uncontrollably, the sensitive data it contains becomes increasingly vulnerable to leaks, breaches and compliance fines. That may explain why nearly half of C-suite IT execs (40%) say increased risk of data breaches is their biggest concern. This is hardly surprising when on average, 47% of companies’ files contain sensitive data such as personal identifying information and credit card numbers.

For instance, 56% of C-suite IT execs say that half or more of their files contain sensitive data. In industries such as finance, insurance, and healthcare, the number of sensitive files can be as high as 100%, meaning that if any given file should fall into the wrong hands, it’s more likely than not to contain data a bad actor could exploit.

And the problems don’t end there — dispersed employees using a wide variety of company-owned and ‘bring your own’ devices make even the basics of file management and access inherently more complex and risky. In fact, half of C-suite IT execs (46%) say employees have access to files they shouldn’t, while 40% don’t have access to the files they should. And in total, 97% of those surveyed say that existing approaches to digital file management create major issues, ranging from files kept on unsecured devices to those that are lost and unrecoverable.

Moving forward with confidence

Given this wide range of pressing issues, how do IT leaders want to move forward? Clearly, a priority should be to find solutions that can manage digital workloads as well as mitigate the ever-present risks.

In fact, IT departments have already implemented a range of protocols to protect sensitive data during increased remote work including keeping up-to-date security tools, such as anti-virus software and firewalls (45%), avoiding public WiFi (44%) and using a virtual private network, or VPN (40%).

In addition, they are also taking steps to combat sprawl and improve digital file management, especially in light of increased remote work. Of those surveyed, 42% have implemented four or more measures to improve their content management architectures. These include data lifecycle management (42%), virtual assistants and data automation (42%), permissions monitoring (41%), and automated content classification (40%).

Looking further ahead to measures they plan to invest in, AI virtual assistants and automation for file management was at the top of the CIO wish list (30%), followed by ransomware detection and protection (29%) and permissions monitoring and management (29%).

Given that artificial intelligence and machine learning are hot topics across the economy in general, they could present a host of opportunities for governance leaders and IT departments to improve their operations in the future. Today, nearly a quarter of C-suite IT executives (23%) see file management and organisation as one of the best applications for AI and machine learning, and 24% believe AI or machine learning would be best applied for identifying and protecting sensitive data in files.

Ultimately, organisations need to take stock of their exposure to existing and new governance risks or deficiencies in their processes and technologies to fully prepare themselves for the future of digital work. While some businesses plan to return to pre-pandemic working practices as soon as practical, many others see remote or hybrid working as a permanent solution. Whatever situation applies, the daily realities and risks associated with data governance have developed significantly in the last 18 months to the point where standard pre-COVID processes may now be unfit for purpose.

Those organisations who acknowledge these realities around data governance, and update their approach to reflect the pace of change in the workplace, will be ideally placed to maintain the highest standards of quality and trust, scale operations, and speed up the impact of new business opportunities.

Written by Andrew Martin, senior sales & marketing director EMEA and managing director UK at Egnyte

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