Are consumer file sharing tools very different from ‘network shared folders?’
1992. That was the year (in this geek’s opinion) that marked the beginning of digital transformation in content collaboration. Microsoft first gave us Windows for Workgroups, which introduced support for peer-to-peer networking, provided improved network drivers (so PCs could connect to a network more easily) and even had an optional download for TCP/IP. It was Windows for Workgroups that really began to make it commonplace for two or more people to more easily share a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet.
Windows for Workgroups and Windows NT helped to quickly establish local area networks (LANs) in companies all over the world. Corporate network drives and their folders became the standard for sharing files with co-workers long before today’s email file attachment. But your company’s S: drive did not come without its own issues for IT. Shared network folders didn’t (and still don’t) provide version control, user roles or flexible permissioning.
As is often the case with new technologies, shared folders once provided a great new capability by making it easier for internal teams to have access to the same content — but they have created new content collaboration headaches for IT and end users alike.
Rise of Enterprise Content Management
In the first decade of the new millennium, some companies spent a lot of time and money implementing enterprise content management (ECM) systems such as SharePoint® or Documentum® to help overcome the shortcomings of the S: drive.
ECM provided new user access controls that saved IT endless hours from user requests to ‘”add them to the folder.” Check-in/check-out and version control all but eliminated the hunt for the “right” file. Perhaps most importantly, ECM systems helped the line of business organize their corporate content beyond an arbitrary folder hierarchy on a shared server hard disk. IT no longer had to try and police the number of shared folders or request additional CapEx funds to buy more storage for backups of duplicate content.
Arrival of Shadow IT
Fast forward to 2012 when “shadow IT” — or the use of unapproved file sharing tools in the workplace — became prominent. Why did this happen? Because the ECM systems that helped businesses organize their work internally struggled to accommodate the business transformation of sharing corporate content externally. This led to the proliferation of consumer file sharing tools across the enterprise that made it ‘easy to share,’ but difficult to secure and manage.
Yesterday’s Problem Just Got Bigger
Another concerning side effect of these tools with consumer-focused DNA entering the workplace is a return to many of the headaches we first witnessed 20 years ago; sprawling, ad-hoc folders and difficulty in helping end users organize work intelligently. Take a look at several of the EFSS tools making their way onto corporate desktops and you’ll notice a startling similarity in appearance. In fact, you’ll probably see that they have seemingly taken the old S: drive and simply put it inside a browser.
Typically, these tools only provide end users the ability to create a folder, or folders inside of folders, and at some point to add documents. If one user’s opinion of a ‘logical’ folder hierarchy doesn’t make sense to the rest of the company, or vice versa, it can get messy quickly, and issues quickly arise:
- What if two projects deserve to be organized differently?
- What if you want to give the same user unique permissions to different projects and the folder permission hierarchy is controlled by your company?
- How do you assign tasks or create simple workflows for reviewing the content you may be sharing with external parties?
These are the same type of questions business users asked IT about when shared folders first arrived on the corporate network. Now they’re being asked about the tools in the cloud.
Collaboration Today: Purposeful
Enterprise today needs purposeful collaboration. Business users are looking for something much more than the tools they first used to share family pictures over the internet. They want better ways of organizing their work and content — a model where content is shared for a specific reason and purpose.
In my role at Intralinks, I’m focused on helping develop a solution that fills enterprise collaboration needs for the way we work today: meeting their corporate security and compliance requirements; allowing companies to leverage their existing investments such as ECM or SIEM; and providing end users a solution that’s easy to use and feature-rich (workspace-defined folders, task management, workflow … to name a few).
Today’s workspaces need to do more than just manage folders and documents. They need to provide users with a tool to organize all of their project work in a way that makes sense to them and their internal and external team members — making work easier for IT and business users alike.
Learn more about secure content collaboration here.