With the rise of remote work over the past 18 months, the use of Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams has exploded. Microsoft reports that roughly 50% of 365's 260 million-plus commercial users now use Teams, although some experts place the number of users closer to 300 million.
However, with a global shift towards working remotely and the increased adoption of collaborative technologies like Microsoft Teams, this rapid growth has led to Teams sprawl among businesses and enterprises.
Often this sprawl occurs because companies don't have a governance plan in place. When left unmanaged, sprawl may result in significant problems for businesses, especially enterprise companies with thousands of employees. Additionally, during mergers and acquisitions, the problem is compounded when the parties look to consolidate data.
A firm understanding of existing data and whether it needs to be archived or deleted is essential for ensuring an optimal digital environment. Without proper IT planning and oversight, companies may soon find themselves backtracking to resolve an overwhelming issue of data sprawl.
What is Teams sprawl?
Essentially, Teams sprawl is the uncontrolled overflow of unused, outdated or duplicated and irrelevant data within Teams. It is often the result of a lack of administrative policies enforcing how to manage data or a lack of user training and understanding of how to use Teams.
Without proper policies, users may create single-use or rarely used teams or channels. Users may attach data to these channels, potentially saving files in multiple locations, leading to confusion and clutter.
In a company with thousands of users, business leaders must consider how they triage channels and groups in Teams, otherwise they can find themselves scrolling through countless channels within their Teams environment.
Suppose multiple versions of the same file exist in Teams. This can result in end users accessing outdated information or struggling to find the information they need, and if employees are unclear where to find what they need, it can result in miscommunication internally and with external partners or customers.
Users may then start saving documents on their local workstations, adversely affecting collaboration and making it harder to find the most up-to-date file.
Dealing with Teams sprawl can also lead to considerable data security risks. Mismanagement of membership within work groups and channels may result in the wrong people having access to sensitive information, resulting in data leaks.
Consider the scenario where a user invites an external guest to an open channel. The guest might have access to internal information, or they could duplicate content, add it to a private channel, edit posts or delete data. It's critically important to monitor user activity and guest accounts that have access within a Teams environment.
Companies can take a number of critical steps to mitigate sprawl, reducing the risk of serious problems.
First, identify stakeholders to oversee the management and enact governance policies for Teams. As part of this process, stakeholders should analyse the organisation's use of Teams, identify guidelines, and develop and implement a training plan.
For instance, they might create a ‘tips and tricks' channel that is routinely updated with advice on new features, helping end-users to use the platform more effectively.
Next, on the business side, administrators will want to leverage Microsoft's native tools to limit the number of people who can create, delete and archive Microsoft 365 groups, govern naming policies, and manage other aspects such as group descriptions, membership, or even accessibility by geographic region.
They also can use these tools to create dynamic groups, which update group memberships automatically based on a person's identity, helping control access and improve network security.
Finally, they may want to establish group or channel moderators who receive notifications and provide additional guidance around the creation or proposed deletion of content. People with specialised knowledge are often ideal moderators because of their deep understanding of departmental needs.
With more businesses and end-users adopting Teams every day, sprawl can seem like an inevitability.
But it doesn't have to be. The trick is to be proactive in managing the platform and the data within it, so it doesn't spiral out of control. With thoughtful planning and a focus on implementing governance measures, IT leaders can help businesses keep Teams data sprawl in check and their digital environments humming along efficiently.