Collaborate Without Losing Control

2/7/2013 3:24:28 PM

Balance worker productivity & data concerns

As Brad S., Current Analysis (www.currentanalvsis.com) principal an­alyst, says, having data that travels with you is "an integral component of the modern workforce." Increasingly this means modern employees want to work as efficiently and easily as possible using the devices they want, accessing data wherever they are, and collaborating and sharing with others as needed. This includes using Web-based collaboration and sharing ser­vices. For companies, however, the productivity that such services pro­vide workers typically means relin­quishing at least some control over company data. The following explores how businesses can go about enabling online collaboration and sharing without losing excessive control of their data.

How businesses can go about enabling online collaboration and sharing without losing excessive control of their data

How businesses can go about enabling online collaboration and sharing without losing excessive control of their data

The “personalization” of it

Users' reliance on mobile devices has significantly altered how IT must manage and control company data. The trend is often referred to as "the consumerization of IT," but Cheryl McKinnon, Candy Strategies (www.candvstrategies.com) president, says a better term is "personalization of IT." In the context of technology and data, she says, "con­sumer" elicits the notion of "receiving without contributing," which is the op­posite of what the trend represents.

"Ultimately, what we're seeing is the increasing level of technical com­fort and savvy among regular business users," McKinnon says. "Tech, digital photography, apps, Web, mobile, Web content, or blogging platforms are no longer the domain of the geek but of nearly everyone." As such, informa­tion workers are growing increasingly impatient "wondering why they need to settle for clunky, outdated, unin­tuitive systems and interfaces when things are so much easier at home," she says.

Christian Kane, Forrester Research (www.forrester.com) analyst, says that in the past an employee's first smart­phone or computer was oftentimes a company-issued device; therefore the company essentially dictated the initial experience and expectations. Now, consumer products set expec­tations far more often than the com­pany does. Further, Kane says, IT has essentially become a competitor in contrast to consumer channels, so IT must start thinking about how it de­livers services, the quality of service it provides, and what the user experi­ence is like. "IT basically can't dictate what a user installs in a BYOD sce­nario, so they now have to focus a lot more on how they deal with data and applications," he says.

How aware are you?

In terms of consumer Web-based collaboration and file sharing ser­vices, companies are generally aware of the risks involved with employees uploading and sharing company data online. Companies experienced a similar situation previously in terms of employees using floppy diskettes, thumb drives, and other portable media to transfer company data, Shimmin says. What companies may not realize is how widespread the adoption of cloud-based storage and sharing services has become and how many services there are, he says.

McKinnon says although IT or records management departments may possess a bit of denial about the pervasiveness of consumer de­vice usage among employees, the degree of risk can vary dramatically among organizations depending on the content workers are uploading/ sharing. Overall, Kane says, cloud-based storage services pose a huge challenge to companies because they target consumers and offer business benefits yet provide companies with no insight into or control over the data stored there.

Shimmin compares the situation to employee use of instant mes­saging apps years ago. IT found itself needing to adopt an internal solu­tion that either blocked such traffic or managed, governed, and secured it. Ultimately, the latter solution won out. "I think we'll see that exact same sort of trajectory with file sharing, which companies may initially de­cide to block such traffic to ensure there aren't any issues, particularly if they're in a sensitive industry," Shimmin says. Ultimately, though, Shimmin believes governance and management solutions, including MDM (mobile device management) solutions "strictly aimed at taking care of this problem" will win out.

Mobile Device Management

Mobile Device Management

Allowance with control

Where online collaboration is con­cerned, there is a growing number of alternatives to consumer options that enhance worker productivity but help prevent excessive loss of com­pany data. Such solutions provide controls to disable downloads, se­curely share data outside the com­pany realm, and perform auditing, Kane says.

Ultimately, McKinnon says, a company's mentality toward col­laboration/sharing should be to ensure that IT is serving the needs of frontline business workers. "If workers are self-provisioning their own cloud, Web, or mobile apps for file sharing and collaboration, clearly there's a gap in what their in-house IT teams have provided," she says.

"Tools may be too complex, too expensive, hard to use with external parties, or simply not well promoted or advertised internally," McKinnon says. Fortunately, a rich set of op­tions has emerged in recent years with a bigger range of tools suitable for all types of budgets and platforms, she adds.

Weigh the options

Exactly how companies should go about enabling online collaboration and sharing can vary. One option is creating and managing accounts for employees. This might be feasible for smaller companies handling low-sensitivity data, McKinnon says, but likely more problematic for larger enterprises due to consistency and the need to establish guidelines for securing, deleting, and sharing content. "Scattered repositories of content can present risk when em­ployees leave, passwords are for­gotten, and information can't be found or trusted to be accurate," she says. Risks potentially can turn into lawsuits, audits, fines, and sanctions.

Another option is acquiring a content management solution with built-in collaboration and sharing features. McKinnon says most orga­nizations should at least investigate this option. "There's a much broader range of tools on the market today to address all levels of budget and need including free, 'freemium,' open-source, and SaaS," she says. "Getting input from the frontline workers on how they need to share information, with whom, and why will be useful when developing the requirements to meet common use cases." Kane concurs on this last point; he says, "The most important piece here is understanding what the employees' requirements are."

Solutions available include in­tuitive, enterprise-aimed SaaS (soft­ware as a service, or cloud software) models, which are gaining strong market momentum, McKinnon says. Other possibilities include open-source alternatives suitable for companies that prefer on-premises Web-based file sharing. Elsewhere, larger, long-established content-man­agement vendors are augmenting their product suites, she says.

Beyond file syncing and sharing, a good solution should enable em­ployees to create and manage team libraries and individual accounts and share with customers and others out­side the company. Important abili­ties for IT and management include download control, auditing, mobile and Web UIs, offline document sup­port, security settings to restrict ac­cess, and tag and search support.

SLAs, McKinnon says, should outline what happens to deleted documents, how documents can be downloaded upon contract termi­nation, uptime and availability pa­rameters, and timelines concerning bug fixes. Regulated industries might require commitments on data sovereignty, adherence to se­curity standards, identity manage­ment, and procedures to request data deemed discoverable in cases of litigation or audits.

User guidelines

Whatever path companies take, outlining employee expectations re­garding usage of services and com­pany data is advisable. Guidelines should make clear the types of con­tent subject to security, privacy, and other regulations, McKinnon says, as well as detail how data must be protected. "What can be shared, with whom, and where [these] are im­portant to outline and may vary from department to department," she says. "The risk is likely low for a graphic designer when sharing a brochure mock-up with a marketing agency but can be high when corporate legal counsel is sharing contracts with their external law firm." IT and compli­ance teams, meanwhile, should de­fine data that is confidential and subject to regulations or other non-disclosure policies.

Kane says while effective guide­lines are a great starting place, "where there's a will there's a way." Companies should focus on keeping data secure and motivating em­ployees to use tools correctly. "The best motivators are experience, ease of use, and of course something that meets their needs," he says. "Again, employees aren't breaking guidelines just to break them; they're doing it to get their jobs done. If your top sales performer every quarter uses all her own technology, the busi­ness leaders aren't going to tell that person to stop," he says. "This is why we see an increasing number of com­panies looking to understand why employees use the tools they do and deliver around those needs."

Key points

Web-based collabora­tion and file-sharing services generally result in more productive workers but less com­pany control of data.

Many businesses are aware of associated risks but not necessarily how many online collaboration and sharing services there are and how pervasive usage is.

Content management (including mobile device management) so­lutions are increasingly including collaboration and file-sharing tools.

Companies should set clear and effective guidelines concerning usage of online collaboration and sharing services and what company data can be shared, with whom, and how.

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