Information Fragmentation and the Consumer File Sharing Services – The Enterprise Fights Back

The research we just published from Freeform Dynamics did a great job of framing the Information Fragmentation ‘pain’ that businesses are feeling.  For me, the main thing the research does is make it crystal clear that the vast majority of IT CIOs recognize the problem, but very few have really worked out what to do about it. Law firms, as you’d expect, are quicker than most to start figuring out how to regain control of corporate information, since they live in a world of compliance and regulatory requirements.

Whilst the Freeform Dynamic research identified a group of ‘Elites’ who appear to be making all the right moves, after talking to customers and prospects from the legal community at this week’s Strategic Technology Forum 2013, there are still huge differences of opinion on what constitutes best practice.  Nathan Hayes, IT Director at Osborne Clarke, and I, hosted a round table discussion around the data fragmentation issue earlier today, and it became clear that views are polarized.

Dropbox, and the other popular ‘consumer cloud’ services, are not the only source of information fragmentation, but they frame a nice emotive subject with which to start a good conversation. Everyone agrees that the use of these tools in the enterprise is a threat to IT’s ability to manage sensitive information.  But opinions are split on the solution to the problem.  On the one hand, there’s a view that we can’t outlaw the likes of Dropbox, and instead we need to accommodate it – and similar tools like Evernote or – via a variety of different strategies.  On the other, there’re those who feel that consumer clouds should simply not be allowed in the enterprise.

Both Gartner and Forrester have started to define a nascent market for what they call ‘File Sync and Share’ services, but from what I’ve read, both are advocating very different solutions.  Interestingly, Gartner calls this category Enterprise File Sync & Share (EFSS), by definition ruling out anything that’s not ‘enterprise-grade’.  And in line with that piece of context setting, Gartner (1) states in a recent report, “implementing an EFSS service can be a significant challenge, as IT organizations race to shepherd their rogue employees away from consumer-oriented services into a controlled environment suitable for enterprise data sharing. Although creating an easy-to-use EFSS solution can be an urgent and a high priority, enterprise IT should be keen to embrace solutions that also provide robust features, such as enhanced security, identity management, unified dashboards and content management.”  Users of consumer cloud services are considered ‘rogue’.  Forrester Research, Inc. (2), in complete contrast, says that any attempt to block personal cloud services and implement enterprise-grade alternatives will fail.  To quote from the report, "we predict that IT will create application programming interface (API)-style connections with employees’ personal cloud services in a fashion similar to business-to-business (B2B) integration."

As the co-host of today’s discussion, I naturally had to stay on the fence and keep my own bias to myself.  But now that’s done and dusted, what would I – or Mimecast as an Enterprise software vendor – propose?

I think the remedy comes in two distinct stages, and we’re providing technology for both.  First of all, we need some damage limitation.  It may not be feasible to outlaw the use of Dropbox.  It’s a popular tool and corporate IT doesn’t necessarily have off the peg alternatives with ‘Enterprise-Grade’ stamped on them. Just a simple use case – needing to send a large file – is often enough to send a user to the dark side.  So let’s deliver IT a tool that provides a compliant framework for use of consumer clouds.  We’ll give you a Mimecast folder, into which your users can drop important work documents from Box/Dropbox, etc.  And once there, those documents are in the archive, subject to DLP policies, fully compliant and discoverable, and we can all sleep a little better at night.

If that’s phase one, then phase two is what we at Mimecast call ‘encroachment’.  It’s a polite way of saying we can obviate the need for something altogether.  I doubt Dropbox execs will be quaking in their shoes at this news, and we doubt very much we’ll put them out of business.  But if we can provide EFSS solutions for our customers and their end users that do the job for both sides, then slowly but surely, we can bring users back into the fold.

Even then, it probably wouldn’t be smart to ‘outlaw’ these popular services.  Rather, by providing strong, usable, viable alternatives, the compelling use cases for them will fade away.

The Enterprise Fights Back?  Perhaps, but it won’t be shock and awe.  More subtle persuasion.

(1)  Use These Best Practices to Deploy a Private Enterprise-Class File Sync and Share Service.  Published 26 March 2013.  Gene Ruth, Arun Chandrasekaran, Gartner Inc.

(2) The Coming Integration of Personal Cloud Services And Enterprise Apps. Published 21 March 2013. Frank E. Gillett, with Christopher Mines and Michael Yamnitsky, Forrester Inc.