Level Up Your Data Governance Strategy to Prepare for Copilot for Microsoft 365

Ever since the rollout of Copilot for Microsoft 365, this AI-powered productivity assistant has been the talk of the town. Business leaders are excited to ready their organizations to take advantage of its intuitive natural language interface to help employees work faster, smarter, and more creatively. From drafting emails to summarizing meetings, searching the web to navigating corporate databases, Copilot is already meeting an enormous array of business needs and is rapidly evolving to become even more powerful.

Implementing Copilot for M365 is technically very easy. Assuming you’ve purchased the correct license, all your organization needs to do is turn it on. But this doesn’t mean you’ll instantly be getting the maximum value out of your new AI companion, or doing it securely.

In order for Copilot to draw upon the unique context and intelligence of your business data, you’ll need to ensure that the data is accessible to the Semantic Index in Microsoft 365—under the hood, this is what makes it usable by Copilot.

However, making your data accessible to Copilot can shine a spotlight on existing risks. With Copilot, it’s astonishingly easy to search for and discover information. This makes it critical to implement robust permissions and data governance in tandem with enabling Copilot. This way, you can make sure that users aren’t able to access information through Copilot that they shouldn’t see—like a list of employee social security numbers or executive salaries.

To be clear, enabling Copilot doesn’t give people in your organization any extra data access. It doesn’t add or change permissions. What it does is make it much faster to find things, making the accidental (or malicious) discovery of sensitive, confidential, or regulated data more likely.

That’s why organizations preparing to enable Copilot can benefit from taking their data governance game to the next level.

Level up your data governance with Microsoft Purview

Microsoft Purview offers a full suite of capabilities to support organizations working to make their data secure while optimizing their Copilot experience. Taking advantage of Purview can help almost every business create a more data-secure operating environment, regardless of whether or not they’re using Copilot. But enabling Copilot makes it more urgent to give your data security and governance program a power boost.

We recommend that every organization follow a three-step plan when preparing to elevate their productivity with Microsoft Copilot.

  • Discover your data and the risks Copilot might introduce into your organization.
  • Decide on a Copilot implementation strategy that’s in keeping with your risk tolerance.
  • Protect your data with appropriate controls to mitigate and reduce risks.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.

Discovery: Getting to know your data and its risks

Every organization’s data security and compliance risks are different, depending on factors such as industry, customer base, and IT and cybersecurity maturity. Also different for every company is what’s considered sensitive. Begin by figuring out what “sensitive” means for you.

Sensitive information might include:

  • customer data, such as protected health information (PHI) or payment card information
  • company secrets
  • information that’s highly confidential
  • personally-identifiable information (belonging to customers, employees, or others)

Once you’ve defined the kinds of information that you’re concerned about protecting, you’ll need to inventory your data repositories. Consider everything that might be used as a Copilot data source, such as Microsoft 365 files, third-party data, and other databases and stores. Copilot can ingest both structured and unstructured data, so documents, spreadsheets, videos, and other content types should all be part of your inventory.

Next, you’ll need to consider access permissions. What content can current employees access? And what should they be able to access?

A robust access control strategy will give employees ready access to the information they need to get their jobs done, but will also prevent oversharing. This should extend to third-party partners, vendors, and contractors who also make use of company information.

Finally, you’ll need to think strategically about how you use sensitive data, and the guardrails you need in place to manage its use successfully. What risks do you face if data were to be exposed? What harm would the organization experience? What would be the impact, and how much would it cost? Regulatory penalties should be kept in mind here, but so, too, should intangibles like brand reputation and employee trust.

Define your Copilot implementation strategy

Risk tolerance is unique to every individual organization. Companies in highly-regulated industries will naturally have a lower risk tolerance compared to those that are subject to fewer regulatory mandates. Your risk tolerance will determine which data governance steps you need to implement before enabling Copilot.

In most cases, this means configuring a few baseline protections before turning Copilot on. Then you can continue to evolve your data governance program while beginning to make use of this exciting new tool.

Organizations with very low risk tolerance—or those that uncovered significant gaps during the discovery phase—may want to implement data security measures before enabling Copilot. With Microsoft Purview, it’s relatively straightforward to put the necessary controls in place.

Protect: Implement controls in place to mitigate data risks

Reducing risks across the data lifecycle requires implementing controls across that entire lifecycle. It also requires establishing good data governance policies, including retention policies and automatic deletion, so that the business is not holding onto information that’s obsolete but still introduces risk.

Data loss prevention (DLP) is an essential data protection control. Microsoft Purview DLP helps prevent risky or unauthorized use of sensitive data in apps, services, and devices across your entire information ecosystem. This solution helps you identify critical risks and enforce effective policies that block high-risk activities while keeping productivity flowing.

Data labelling (in which you apply sensitivity labels to your organization’s data) is also a key step for Copilot-readiness. Protecting your information with accurate labeling helps set guardrails for access, making it easier to build out rules that block oversharing while ensuring that data remains available for its intended purposes. Data labels can be applied manually, but Purview can also perform automatic labeling based on rules about content types, locations, and use cases.

In our opinion, Microsoft Copilot is among the most exciting innovations Microsoft has ever introduced. And Microsoft Purview makes it easier to implement the baseline protections you need to enable Copilot securely. This way, you can build out robust data governance at the same time that you take advantage of Copilot’s revolutionary potential.

Want to learn more about how you can take advantage of Netrix’s security expertise to turn cybersecurity into a business enabler? Get in touch .


Kevin Walter

Kevin Walter is the Sales Director, Alliance Programs and the Copilot lead at Netrix Global. He has been with Netrix for 9 years with a security background.