Office 365 and agile IG (executive summary)


Whether you or your clients are using Office 365, you need to understand how to govern it and address its challenges. Get practical advice and implementation lessons learned from using Office 365 in a law firm environment

August 23, 201912 mins
A man and two women in an office looking at a laptop on a desk

If you are pondering the ‘Office 365 or not?’ question, you are not alone. And you are certainly in good company in the legal industry. But why is this Microsoft ‘upgrade’ different than those of the past? And why is there such a diverse difference between views of firms that jumped in right away versus those who refuse to move forward until….? A group of Information Governance (IG) professionals gathered at the Law Firm Information Governance Symposium (“LFIGS” or “the Symposium”) for two days in June 2019 to dive into the O365 debate and determine how to provide those struggling with this question with helpful guidance on how to approach it.

So, what’s the big deal?

If your firm is a Microsoft shop, there is a good chance that you are already paying for Office 365 (O365). You may already be using SharePoint, or Exchange Online, or OneDrive for Business – in addition to any of the other dozens of tools available in Microsoft’s cloud. But if not, your firm’s techsavvy users might already be using it at work, or, if you have prevented that, at home. But even if you have no vestige of O365 in your shop, your clients do. And they may have already invited your lawyers to collaborate on SharePoint or in Teams. But even if, like Neo in The Matrix, you have dodged all these bullets with the skill of a super ninja, it still won’t matter. So much of Microsoft’s resources are devoted to developing this platform, that eventually it likely won’t make sense to do anything but embrace O365.

So, what is an IG professional to do? The good news is that there are a wealth of processes and systems probably already in existence at your firm, to manage systems designated to hold records content such as your records system or document management system (DMS), so if you can simply make sure that Office 365 content eventually ends up in those systems, you are golden! Except that strategy only addresses a small part of the issue, because some of the constructs in O365 simply don’t translate well into static documents that can be stored in a records or document management system. And worse, any attempts to constrain the use of O365 tools will cripple the very features that make the tools so attractive.

But, that’s okay. You have had to handle new systems before. Generally, IG principles will still apply, so you only need enough time to engage in careful design with those implementing O365 so that you can give the proper guidance. Except, O365 projects rarely happen in a way allows that kind of lead time. And due to the interconnectivity of O365, the implementation of a relatively simple part of O365, such as Exchange Online, will rapidly lead to the use and adoption of more complicated tools that will present several IG challenges to which you don’t have answers. But even if you do find answers, O365 changes, and rapidly, meaning today’s approach may not handle tomorrow’s reality. You may grow concerned that O365 will create unmanageable risk for the firm, and advise strongly against implementation and adoption, but then you will be perceived as a roadblock, and risk being excluded from the conversation altogether.

A complex dilemma

Einstein allegedly1 said that “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” While this paper won’t propose the Office 365 dilemma is quite that dramatic, we do suggest that this new challenge requires a new approach. One where, much like an IG MacGyver, we use the tools available within O365 in creative combinations to facilitate whatever IG is obtainable given the time and technology constraints, and then we work to continually improve in small increments. We will have to seriously consider where O365 will emerge in the document repository space and how it will integrate, interconnect or align with the DMS and other records systems; or how it won’t. Integrating IG best practices into O365 means IG professionals will have to adapt rapidly, leverage a deep understanding of the technology and be willing to embrace new levels of uncertainty. This paper will propose that to be successful with O365 and similar technologies, IG professionals must embrace “Agile IG”.

What is “agile IG”

We will set out the Agile IG approach and discuss how this approach can be used to initially survive and eventually thrive in an O365 environment. We will walk through several IG processes and discuss how this Agile IG approach can help deal with the uncertainty while finding ways to help the business mitigate risk.

But, to start, you must become familiar with this new IG battleground, perhaps gaining deeper familiarity with this tool than others you have known in the past. We’ll cover topics such as:

Office 365 & Deep Learning
  • What is deep learning?
  • What is different about Office 365?
  • Why is this important to you?
  • Why is this important to your organization?
  • Where do you direct your initial focus?
    • Licensing
    • Compliance tool
    • Underlying structure of various components (what data is created and where)
Office 365 & adoption with agile IG
  • Planning the entire thing may be an approach of the past.
    • Resist the urge to build what existed in other worlds.
    • Streamline steps so that people will use the tools
  • Getting comfortable ‘running next to it’
    • Develop a plan, but be ready to pivot
  • Let go of the things you can’t control, at least initially.
  • It’s a new world. Consider what repository flexibility may look like in your environment and how to govern it.
Office 365 & key IG processes
  • document Preservation
  • document disposition and retention
  • regulatory and compliance
Office 365 & core governance items
  • accounts/sites creation control
  • how accounts/sites tie into matter creation/lifecycle?
  • access controls, including ethical walls
  • internal vs external sharing
  • blind subpoenas
  • encryption key management

What are the next steps?

This paper will not aim to provide all the answers, but will attempt to provide the key questions, as well as design and implementation lessons learned so your organization can meet the O365 challenges head on. O365 could be the collaborative platform we’ve all been striving for, and if governed thoughtfully, may even get your lawyers cheering “IG for everyone!”

The full Office 365 and Agile IG report will be published October 2019 and can be accessed on the official Law Firm Information Governance Symposium website, SYMPOSIUM.IRONMOUNTAIN.COM.

Iron Mountain established the Law Firm Information Governance Symposium (Symposium) in 2012, as a platform for the legal industry to create an information governance (IG) roadmap unique to law firms. The Symposium meets annually to create reports that offer definitions, processes and best practices for building law firm IG. The reports are authored by law firm leaders and subject matter experts from the service provider community.


Brian Donato
Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP

Samantha Lofton Moss

Chief Risk and Information
Governance Officer
Ice Miller

Mike Engels
Principal Consultant Strategic
Consulting Services

Reggie Pool, JD
Senior Director

Michele Gossmeyer
Global Director, Information Governance,
Risk & Compliance

Charlene Wacenske

Senior Manager Records and Info
Morrison & Foerster LLP