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SharePoint Gone Wild: When Governance Lacks Compliance

Part four of the SharePoint Gone Wild series

If you've missed any previous part of this blog series, you can read them here.

When people think of "compliance" from a Microsoft SharePoint perspective, it can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Every organization will have different considerations for compliance: Essentially, which regulations they need to comply with according to their specific industry vertical, including HIPAA/HITECH, DOD 5015, Section 508 and WCAG 1.0 and 2.0.

There are two main drivers for compliance I see in organizations for SharePoint, due to the risk of non-compliance and subsequent legal and financial penalties:

  1. Records Management
  2. Legal e-Discovery

In my post last week on governance and discoverability, I focused on the typical stories I hear around people not being able to find content they need. Compliance takes this a step further, because legal teams and records managers require that the content be available for years to come.

Being in Manhattan, I work with a lot of large financial organizations and one of the most important requirements involves tracking "Regulated Users" activity in SharePoint. These users - based on the sensitivity of their work - are required by law to be tracked for all activity within SharePoint. At any point in time, a court of law can request the organization provide evidence of what content that user has accessed, created, or modified in SharePoint. In the industry this process is called the e-discovery process, and it is essential that the business expectations are set of:

  1. How you obtain information for the courts.
  2. What information you will be able to provide.
  3. An estimated time of delivery for the promised information.

The out-of-the-box auditing features in SharePoint 2010 have some key limitations in this space, specifically regarding the storage of this data over a prolonged period of time (most acts seem to be approximately seven years) as well as the ease of producing a report of an individual user's activity and attached content. The most common format followed by customers with whom I work is Concordance, which is supported by LexisNexis. But more importantly, from a content perspective, the attached content should be exactly what the user viewed, modified, or created at that point in time so versioning here is the key. This can prove hard for wiki pages that have dynamic web parts, and therefore will always render the real-time information rather than the point-in-time information (e.g. a weather web part or stock web part). Consequently, it is important to set the expectations with all involved with this issue as soon as possible.

The legal holds capability of SharePoint 2010 is also required when providing information to the courts concerning records. Although legal holds can be applied to individual documents, there is no easy way of setting legal holds on multiple documents based on reports generated on a user as part of the e-discovery process. The common issue I see with our customers is that business users often assume that this will "just work" and have experienced this streamlined approach in other records management systems. So records managers and those involved in the e-discovery process will have to be aware of this in order to set the proper expectations.

With the business requirement to maintain content to be discoverable for the e-discovery process, a suitable archiving policy needs to be put in place to manage the growth of content within SharePoint. It is important to understand which content is required to be maintained in SharePoint for compliance perspectives, and which content can be archived out of SharePoint to reduce storage consumption. Customers I speak to often struggle with how they plan for growth, especially when maintaining versions of documents. A customer spoke to me recently who said that they had one document with 90 versions which took up 8 gigabytes (GB) of storage space, essentially because SharePoint does not store differentials of files and each version is a complete file. Any "save" command in Word for instance, would mean a new version of the document. It is essential that the planning of the information architecture takes into account the configuration of Lists and Library version settings to be consistent across the environment - and not all these scenarios - unless it is necessary. The best approach to mitigate this is to store all Major versions, but only a set amount of Minor versions and train and encourage users to create Major versions when distributing to other users.

SharePoint is not always the only content repository within an organization, as we talked about in a previous blog post which homed in on appropriateness of content in SharePoint. To reiterate from a compliance perspective, in my experience I have seen customers' concerns around particular sensitive data being stored in SharePoint when it should be stored in other repositories. It is hard to enforce out of the box that users follow the guidelines on where content should go depending on the type of content it is.

From a usability perspective, SharePoint 2010 added many improvements by stating WCAG 2.0 AA compliance. In my experience at customer sites, although organizations are required to obtain Section 508 compliance, the business is not driving this as a priority over other issues mentioned above. In my opinion, I believe it will take a few public financial penalties set out by the courts around Section 508 to drive this requirement. To reach full compliance on Section 508, however, would take significant effort and expertise by modifying how SharePoint 2010 renders.

Edward Cedeno, Product Manager here at AvePoint, has also recently written a related post on Risk-Based Approach to FRCP Rule 26(f) Compliance with DocAve.

More Stories By Jeremy Thake

Jeremy Thake is AvePoint's Chief Architect. Jeremy’s 10-plus years of experience in the software development industry, along with his expertise in Microsoft technologies, earned him the label of “expert” in the global SharePoint community. He was named a Microsoft SharePoint MVP in 2009, and continues to work directly with enterprise customers and AvePoint’s research & development team to develop solutions that will set the standard for the next generation of collaboration platforms, including Microsoft SharePoint 2013.

Jeremy was one of only eight Microsoft MVPs from Australia, where he lived for seven years, who was recognized by the SharePoint Product Team in 2010 for his extensive contributions to the global SharePoint community. He also played an instrumental role in organizing the Perth SharePoint User Group during his time living there.

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