How file sharing in the cloud stormed the enterprise
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How file sharing in the cloud stormed the enterprise

Maxine-Laurie Marshall – July 2016
Sharing large files — using cloud tools and services from the likes of Dropbox, Box, Google and Citrix — is perhaps the ultimate shadow IT application. But, driven by user popularity, the technology set of enterprise file synch and share (EFSS) has matured rapidly to establish itself as a strategic collaborative platform. Why are so many CIOs such enthusiastic advocates?

Often  to the frustration of the IT organization, employees have been influencing enterprise technology adoption for decades, whether led by consumer habits such as BYOD and webmail or the direct purchasing of technologies such as CRM applications and business analytics by the wider C-suite. In all cases, it took years of resistance and heated debate before such ’shadow IT’ adoptions were accepted and integrated into wider IT programs.

However, while the latest wave of user-led IT — file sharing via the cloud — was initially viewed with horror by IT leaders, it has been rapidly accepted as a more collaborative way of working within and across businesses, with many CIOs now seeing it as a strategic platform.

“Consumers are determining more and more what tech businesses are using, and it’s not because they want to get their way.”

As a market, enterprise file synchronization and sharing (EFSS), as analysts have dubbed it, is red hot. Research firm Markets and Markets has estimated that organizations worldwide spent $1.11 billion on EFSS software services in 2015, a figure that will rise to $3.51 billion by 2020.

Gartner says there are now more than 140 players offering different parts of the EFSS mix of apps and services, enabling the sharing of documents and large files across devices either via cloud or on-premise. A large part of the appeal is the sophisticated cloud-based synchronization that allows users to seamlessly co-create documents across the web.

Dropbox, Box, Google (with Drive) and Microsoft (with OneDrive) are the vendors leading the cloud-only solutions, according to the 2016 Forrester Wave report for EFSS. While for those offering hybrid solutions across on-premise and cloud, Forrester names Accellion, Microsoft and Egnyte as the vendors leading the way. Gartner’s Magic Quadrant surfaces similar names with Citrix (with FileShare), Syncplicity Box and Accellion named as leaders in the space.
User-led technology

The indications are that the adoption of such tools is still in its early stages. In a recent survey commissioned by O2, 43% of business executives felt the use of online collaboration tools had increased over the past three years and 64% expect this to further increase over the next two years.

And, despite evangelism by CIOs, this expected growth is still being driven by the B2C market. Industry goliaths such as Dropbox and Google Drive have become so useful in people’s personal lives that they have found a natural place in the workplace when colleagues and business partners need to collaborate.

Mark van der Linden, managing director UK&I, Dropbox
“Consumers are determining more and more what tech businesses are using, and it’s not because they want to get their way,” says Mark van der Linden, managing director for UK and Ireland at Dropbox. “People naturally need to share information and collaborate, and the power of the consumer is leading that.”

While this form of shadow IT has previously been a source of much contention between CIOs and employees, opinions are changing. Paul Clarke, head of technology at online supermarket Ocado recently told that user-led IT is intrinsically a good thing. Van der Linden echoes this point: “More CIOs and CTOs are having to acknowledge that if they don’t listen to users, EFSS technologies will still find their way into the business.”

And speaking at the Dropbox Open conference earlier this year, Dominic Shine, CIO at News Corp, revealed that before it implemented the enterprise version of the platform, almost a third of its 25,000 staff were already using Dropbox at work — a factor that had a big influence on his decision to roll-out the technology across the company.

“If you talk to most CIOs, getting people to use a new tool is so painful that having spontaneous adoption is a real benefit.”

While user behaviour is increasingly influencing such technology purchase decisions, it would be unfair to paint a picture of the IT department losing control of strategic decisions. The adoption of technology by users merely makes the digitalization and innovation challenge that’s on most technology executive’s agendas more achievable. Many CIOs are developing and implementing cloud strategies and are therefore introducing EFSS technology as part of that migration effort. In a 2016 report on cloud EFSS platforms, Forrester says: “More enterprise architecture professionals see EFSS as a way to address top challenges as they digitize business processes.”

Ease of use is also a factor that comes up frequently when CIOs are asked why file sync and storage has become a strategic concern. As Alistair Roberts, IT director of M&C Saatchi, says: “Collaboration can become complex and disorganized if you let it, but with Egnyte we have simplified the process. We’re able to securely store, edit and share files between multiple offices around the world without running into bandwidth, file versioning or access issues.”

In the 2016 Forrester Wave report for EFSS the research group saw a pattern in users placing ease-of-use as a top priority. “Usability is the ultimate competitive advantage for EFSS providers. Vendors with high customer satisfaction levels are likely to be chosen again. Even when EFSS solutions have feature gaps in areas such as advanced security or life-cycle management, the customers we surveyed were very likely to reselect their existing solution providers if they viewed overall usability positively.”

Van der Linden provides some context around why this might be the case by noting the value of EFSS technology adoption for CIOs. “If you talk to most CIOs, getting people to use a new tool is so painful that having spontaneous adoption is a real benefit,” he says.

Shine illustrated this point at Dropbox’s customer conference by saying that while security, scalability and cost efficiencies are important, for him the core appeal of such technology is that its easy to use and people wanted to use it.
Taking a hybrid approach

While Shine places importance on usability, many CIOs are approaching cloud technology more cautiously. Security concerns top some tech leaders issues lists; others are put off by the sheer scale of migration involved in moving files to the cloud as well as the regulatory barriers surrounding third-party data hosting in geographically dispersed locations.

Specifically referencing data concerns, in its 2016 EFSS reports Forrester highlights: “Businesses operating in jurisdictions with stringent data protection laws often prefer content-sharing systems that provide granular controls over file storage. Enterprises can leave sensitive information on-premises or within private cloud instances in their preferred region yet still get the benefit of simple file collaboration across mobile devices, even with external parties.”

Isabelle Guis, chief strategy officer, Egnyte
The concerns around cloud EFSS platforms are leading to an ever-increasing uptake in hybrid IT options, a trend Isabelle Guis, chief strategy officer at Egnyte, notes: “Hybrid is picking up pace in the enterprise as many different requirements need to be catered for. CIOs want both business productivity and user satisfaction, coupled with the protection of information and easy IT management. CIOs are looking for solutions that are flexible with an element of control of existing on-premises and new cloud infrastructure, which doesn’t impact on usability.”

The fact that the EFSS market has evolved quickly to span both on-premise and cloud options fits well with CIOs on different points on the digitalization curve. And that will only help to push EFSS further up CIOs’ strategic tech priority lists.
First published July 2016
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