People often say that engineers go around looking for bugs to fix in a system. The assumption is that rather than seeing the good we look for the bad, thriving off of numbers and data and struggling with intangibles and outcomes that don’t lend themselves to easy measurement.

As a former engineer, I have been guilty of the above at times. I’ve always applied a very rational quantitative approach to everything I’ve done in my career.

The positive side of ‘thinking like an engineer’ is that the skillset I developed in R&D has served me well in product management, go-to-market and corporate strategy. This approach has helped me navigate the ebb and flow of my career – with a focus on the data and outcomes rather than fuzziness.

It now seems like this type of thinking is becoming mainstream within organizations.

Welcome to the data-driven business

The truth is today, all companies are data companies and need to employ the right tools and make adjustments for the new norm. Businesses are doing their best to manage this flood of information with data governance plans. Now, more than ever before, we need to move beyond ones and zeros and think about structured (machine-generated) data — considering content, content governance and an overall picture of what is being produced by employees within an organization.

The idea is simple: the amount of content being created and collected has exploded. Human-generated, unstructured content is being stored on more sources than ever before and is decentralized between cloud and on-premises storage. There’s a lot on the line: organizations that don’t understand how to collaborate internally and externally on content can lose productivity, lose business opportunities, and suffer data breaches.

This is all part of what we’re calling the ‘digital workplace’ (ironically, still not paperless). The reality is, business professionals have many computing devices and often download their preferred applications that allow them to be more productive and complement the existing apps the organization has set up for them.

The first step is admitting there is a problem. In this case, businesses have a content governance challenge. It’s an interesting dilemma: the explosion of content is an issue created by technology that will only be solved by technology. And it requires companies to get smart about their content.

When the cloud collides with your data

Today, more and more professionals generate content – an unstructured type of data. Unlike machines (structured data) where you can predict the form and the quantity over time, nobody can predict how many presentations a marketing person will generate or when and how many articles a journalist will write, about what and whom.

Last year, the amount of human-generated data surpassed machine generated data, and where it gets stored is often not predictable. It could be in the cloud, on-premises, or on a device via any application from the digital workplace.

So how do you protect your unstructured data in this context? There are four pillars in securing data: who can access it, how it’s secured, where it’s stored and how long it’s kept.

Access control is about ensuring the right group has access to the right information at the right time. Organizations should consider the ‘’least privilege access” security model that limits access to the strict set of users that really require it. Access control also enables organizations to track open access to limit exposure and prevent data leakage.

Encryption is at the center of conversations that have now moved from the server room to the boardroom. Beyond blanket encryption of documents, consider “selective” encryption that enables extra protection through encryption for a sub-set of content to ensure privacy. This content will stay encrypted no matter how, when and with whom it is shared, and requires a different decryption key by the user to access.

Data residency is an important consideration for all organizations. We’re in an era of the need for data sovereignty. All data, whether generated by machines or people, is subject to local regulations. Government requests for access and privacy shield regulations are forcing companies to ensure data residency within certain geographical boundaries.

Data retention is an important bookend to an overall content governance strategy and should not be an afterthought. It’s about ensuring compliance in areas like legal hold, financial record keeping or requirements to destroy or delete documents at the conclusion of a project.

As we move more toward a true digital workplace, the amount of content generated and consumed by people will continue to increase. Companies who harness the power of this data and consider how to safeguard it will thrive.

(About the author: Isabelle Guis is chief strategy officer at Egnyte)

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