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Data Classification

Why data classification and labelling should be on your agenda for 2024 

Unpopular opinion: If there’s one thing that should be on every Microsoft-based organisation’s agenda for the 2024/5 financial year, it’s data classification and labelling. 

We can already hear the arguments loading: What about reducing risk? Tackling data breaches? Deploying AI tools? Surely these would all add more business value than “playing around” with data organisation? (They’re certainly a lot “sexier” to pitch to senior stakeholders.) 

What many fail to realise, however, is that there’s a common denominator underpinning all these high-profile priorities. And that (as you’ve likely guessed by now) is data classification and labelling. 

Foundations are important 

Bear with us for minute while we dive into analogy territory.  

Picture this: you have a house. It’s nice. You’ve spent time and money to make it secure, watertight and functional. But it’s getting a little cramped for your needs and it’s time to think about adding an extension. 

Option 1: You throw a few bricks on your patio, slap a roof on top and call it a day. It’s quick and it’s cheap, but it’s also barely fit for purpose and may even cause issues with your original house. 

Option 2: You dig down to create a strong and level foundation. From there you can build as tall and/or wide as you like, using the latest building materials and techniques to get the best from today’s architectural advancements.  

Hopefully, the choice is a no-brainer. And yet, when it comes to creating a new home or extension for an organisation in the cloud, strong foundations are all-too-frequently overlooked. 

The reality is that most organisations were around long before the cloud, and while their existing data estates are complex, the tools are in place to keep things secure. Of course, the future is undeniably cloud-based and so, as these businesses grow and evolve, most are choosing to extend (or migrate) their data estates into the cloud. 

With this extension comes a similar choice to the one above.  

Option 1: You can skip the foundations (in this case, data classification and labelling) and build a bare-bones lean-to, but this would expose you to serious risk in terms of security and regulatory compliance, and likely prevent you from leveraging sophisticated tools like AI to establish any kind of operational edge.  

Option 2: Alternatively, you can spend time laying your data classification and labelling foundations to: mitigate current and future risk; prime your environment to take full advantage of the security, compliance and productivity benefits of the cloud; and give your organisation an important competitive advantage. 

The ROI is clear when you know where to look 

One of the challenges in getting data classification and labelling onto the annual budget is that the ROI isn’t always immediately obvious. When viewed in context with longer term benefits, however, the business case for this foundational activity becomes much clearer.  

Those longer-term benefits include: 

  • Lower data storage costs: Data classification and labelling improve the ability of retention/disposition policies to maintain a lean, clean and compact data estate.  
  • More robust threat protection: Data classification and labelling help to ensure sensitive information is appropriately protected against security threats. 
  • Better DLP: Data classification and labelling support more effective data loss prevention by enabling appropriate access controls to be applied based on sensitivity levels. 
  • Better compliance: Data classification and labelling make it easier to apply the necessary controls to ensure sensitive information is handled in accordance with all applicable data privacy regulations. 
  • Improved eDiscovery: Data classification and labelling make for faster, easier eDiscovery and handling of other legal requests around sensitive information. 

In other words, data classification and labelling form an integral foundational component of all your wider information security, data management and data governance strategies. That’s value if we’ve ever seen it. 

The right approach makes for an easy sell 

So, if data classification and labelling are so important, why are they still a hard sell to the higher-ups? 

The simple truth is: they’re not. 

With the right approach, we’ve found most organisations catch on to the value of data classification very quickly. This makes it much easier to get the necessary buy-in and budget. 

Here’s how. 

Step 1: Get the conversation started 

Set up a working group of stakeholders from across the business and get them thinking about the types of data they handle and how that data is currently stored and managed. (Make sure the stakeholders understand the importance of their data as well as its effective management.) 

Step 2: Raise awareness of the issues 

Rather than waiting for a data breach (or similar problem) to highlight your data-related vulnerabilities, you can perform a proactive assessment of sensitive information in your environment. This is a great way to raise awareness of potential issues and demonstrate how classification and labelling can reduce risk. It also helps to make the problem (and solution) feel more real and immediate to decision-makers. 

Step 3: Build a roadmap 

Our recent webinar shared all the steps you’ll need to follow to build your own data classification taxonomy (or roadmap). View that here

Alternatively, get in touch to discuss how we can streamline your data classification and labelling journey and build the kind of foundations your organisation needs to thrive in your Microsoft cloud environment.