How the Cloud is Consumerizing Corporate Email

For many years I have been telling IT managers and CIOs that corporate IT and email will have to fall in line with the plethora of free consumer email platforms available. The simplest form of this discussion compares the ‘few hundred MB’ quotas corporate users are given for their inboxes, compared to the several GB they get from web-based email systems.

For most of those years IT managers and CIOs have been telling me there is no way they could possibly compete, their users will have to make do. Some even used to joke, their users would never need a 7GB inbox; “this is email we’re talking about here” they would chuckle.

Gartner, the analyst firm, has recently qualified my thinking by publishing a report that verified that indeed the use of Public email systems is undermining corporate intellectual property & email. Specifically that;

The consumerization of IT has led to employees’ increased use of consumer-oriented, Web based e-mail, even where such usage is against corporate policy. Typical use cases include transferring files that are too large to transit the corporate e-mail environment, containing file types that are not supported, or  sending documents to a personal e-mail account to be accessed from home or another location.

After reading the report, two key issues struck me. Firstly; the authors have missed a key opportunity to weave in ‘modern day’ email management tools like Data Leak Prevention (DLP). Secondly; this whole issue makes a particularly compelling case for the adoption of cloud email services, as that's exactly what the users are doing, with or without your control or approval.

The basis of their writing, is that users who are limited by inadequate or antiquated corporate IT systems are using cloud based webmail services such as Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail to circumvent the limitations of their business systems. At the very least, forwarding an email ‘home’ has been common practice since Ray Tomlinson coined the @ symbol. Gartner rightly point out that;

When internal collaboration tools and environments fail to provide the necessary functionality, people fall back on the growing number of freely available  external tools and services that are targeted at consumers and provide the easy-to-use functionality they crave. These consumers are not specifically trying to break security; rather, they are simply trying to get their jobs done.

My Advice

Echoed by Gartner, has always been that banning and blocking users from using webmail services is unhelpful and unproductive, simply making the IT department look like an “impediment to business operations.” The more innovative and intelligent approach is to examine the flow of information through your email system and then deploy a DLP solution to catch anything that should be staying within the organization.

Secondly, and the much more obvious point, is that users are adopting cloud based solutions “to get their jobs done” – as Gartner points out, the recent enhancements to Hotmail are focusing on ‘time saving” and “productivity” which are more likely to attract corporate users. Regardless of your position or opinion of cloud based email systems, your users are making their way to the cloud. As with everything corporate the users are driving the technology; IT managers and CIOs should be examining ways to keep up.