Tuesday, 11 June 2013

How to embrace the the cloud to improve information management

I'm involved in quite a few activities at present, and the Cloud provides a dynamic scalable environment to foster collaboration. I do, however see old behaviours creep in that actually weakens the governance surrounding Cloud services; which has led to this post, how can you embrace the Cloud to improve information management?

First off, this post assumes that you have assessed your information and supplier of Cloud services to ensure that your risks are managed by the information stored within the Cloud.

So with that area covered, there are four main areas to consider; authentication, access management, collaboration and backup.

Authentication - how many factors can you employ?

Microsoft Office 365 doesn't allow you to use the powerful multi-factor authentication it uses in it's free consumer email and file storage (i.e. Outlook.com and Skydrive) which is frankly bemusing to me.

Google Docs on the other hand supports a myriad of multi-factor authentication mechanisms across all services, ranging from one time text to mobile to Google authenticator and passphrases per service (the latter two are supported in Outlook and Skydrive, but not O365).

Access management - how do you control access to information?

Microsoft Office 365 has a good set of built in permissions, including "everyone except external users", but doesn't appear to prevent download. SharePlus Pro, GoodReader or Quick Office are good solutions for restricting access via PIN.

Google Docs can enforce a "don't allow download" option, but also allows access management via it's purchase of Quick Office (Google Drive doesn't allow a PIN). The latter may not be an issue unless the mobile device you use, and let's face it it's when most of us have the time to process the documents, is only used by you then this is an issue; unless you are provided with a tablet device by work, you will use the electronic baby sitter (aka tablet, does BYOD actually stand for Bring Your Own Dummy?).

One note though, this only works if you share documents as links, not if you use the old methods of circulating documents within emails. This applies to both solutions, and I'd always recommend using domain emails (If you already have a Google Docs account, then this is a free option), with the option to forward emails to other accounts for those organisations who haven't yet woken up to Cloud adoption.

Collaboration - how can you collaborate on one version of the truth?

This depends fully on the use of domain level links, as otherwise your managing at least two circles of trust; that of your Cloud service, and that of the various organisations who participate. By sending links to domain accounts means that all comments on documents are captured in real time and reduce the administration effort in collating views. It also negates the situations whereby people are looking an outdated document, or even see that their comments are already captured.

The main difference between Office 365 and Google Docs in this area is that Office 365 requires you to check a document out, whereas Google Docs allows real time collaboration on files created in its own formats (i.e. you can't collaborate on Microsoft Office file formats at all).

Backup - can you recover from a loss of data?

The main item to consider here is how do you maintain an offline copy of all your data and ensure that issues don't occur. True Cloud solutions like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Docs are great for maintaining the files, but beware of using systems such as Dropbox as a deletion of a file is automatically replicated across all other copies (or in my case a disable of the agent in one Mac; where I deleted the files, and then renamed the agent by mistake and it then tried to replicate the deletion across my document store).

Given that UK Companies legislation requires companies to maintain the primary copies of all company records within the UK, this is something you may wish to consider.

- Posted on the move, please excuse typos!

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