The proliferation of end user devices like tablets, smartphones and laptops, has created an enormous demand to access business data from anywhere at anytime. The “consumerization of IT” is particularly evident with the growing adoption of cloud-based file synch and share services by corporate end users. While these services give end users the freedom to more seamlessly collaborate with co-workers, business partners and customers, they also expose businesses to potential data loss and data breaches. IT planners therefore, need to seek out file sync and share services which securely store business data, provides end users with the features they need and gives IT the controls necessary to ensure that corporate data policies are continuously adhered to.
File Sync and Share Vulnerability
There are several challenges with typical file synch and share services. First, most don’t provide the IT organization with any visibility into the user data stored in the cloud. Since end users create their own accounts, only they have access to that information. As a result, IT has limited ways to audit what information is stored in these folders and validate whether users are complying with corporate data governance policies.
Secondly, while some file synch and share offerings provide encryption for data in transit and at rest, most do not provide any additional measures to protect against unauthorized access. In fact, login credentials are typically the only form of client side security that most services utilize. This leaves user accounts vulnerable to being hacked by keylogging software and other malware applications. In fact, as many as 2 million user passwords were recently stolen from websites like Facebook, Gmail and Yahoo through the use of such malware applications.
Consumer or Enterprise Grade?
A third issue with most file synch and share services is that they typically do not have any definable service-levels for quality-of-service (QoS) or system availability. With end users becoming increasingly dependent on using these services for doing their jobs, it will be very disruptive to businesses if site performance degrades or the system goes down all together. For example, a sales team relying on these services to respond in a timely manner to a competitive opportunity, could potentially lose business if they suddenly lost access to key proposal documents.
Finally, the lack of integration between file synch and share solutions and the communication tools that are used to facilitate collaboration, like instant messaging (IM), voice over IP (VoIP) and video conferencing, tends to increase “friction” and hinder organizational effectiveness. This is due to the fact that users can’t see in real-time the availability status of their peers and where they are currently at in their workflow (whether they have downloaded or opened shared documents). As a result, there tends to be an increase in unproductive, time consuming activities between team members – like phone and email tag. Ultimately this contributes to project delays, increased costs and limits the nimbleness and agility of the business.
Due to the various limitations and challenges with file synch and share systems, a new approach is needed to address the needs of business users. First and foremost, these offerings need to provide enterprise class features for both the use and the administrative management of the corporate data residing on these platforms. The appropriate IT personnel in the organization, for example, should be able to centrally administer file share account and data management. This would help ensure that corporate data policies are universally enforced and access privileges are carefully assigned.
Secure File Sync and Share
Likewise, in order to buttress security, user access should go beyond providing login credentials. In addition to data encryption, ideally, the file synch and share system would also incorporate Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to protect against unauthorized account access.
This security measure is a feature that has been used by banks for many years. For example, if a login to a bank account takes place from a computer or IP address that is not recognized by the bank’s host, an email with an authorization code will immediately be sent to the account holder’s email account. Once the authorization code is key stroked in at the login page, access to the account is granted. As it is less likely that a cyber thief would gain access to both the user file synch and share and email login credentials, this feature would enhance the security of corporate file synch and share accounts.
Selective, Granular File Sharing
From a data sharing standpoint, file synch and share systems also need to provide more granular file sharing capabilities. For example, users may want to provide temporary access to certain documents during the course of a project or sales campaign to business partners, outside contractors or customers. Access could be assigned via a password that expired after a pre-determined timeframe. Then a subfolder could be created and shared out to all the appropriate users. In this instance, they would only have visibility into that subfolder and nothing else.
SLA Driven File Sharing
As file synch and share becomes ubiquitous throughout the enterprise, it is essential for these services to provide service level agreements (SLAs) which guarantees both service availability and consistent QoS. After all, outages can be very costly to businesses if these services are business critical. In fact, the SLA should match the uptime of any critical business service – five 9’s of availability or 99.999% guaranteed uptime. Furthermore, for these SLAs to be meaningful, subscribers should be entitled to compensatory service credits if SLAs are not met.
Disparate Workflow Processes
While improvements in file synch and share feature functionality, security, availability and manageability are important, there is perhaps a greater need to fundamentally transform how end users communicate and share data with each other while collaborating on projects. Currently, end users must use one service or application for file synch and share and multiple separate communications service to use IM, VoIP and videoconferencing.
In addition, as stated earlier in this article, file synch and share interfaces don’t provide any information on the status of shared files; namely if recipients have downloaded or accessed them. Nor do these services display the availability status of project team members in real-time.
What is needed is a communications enabled business process (CEBP) that converges file synch and share services with communication tools like IM, VoIP and video conferencing, and make all of these services accessible from one application. As a converged platform, it could also enable users to share other types of data, like voice mail, faxes and call recordings, just as easily as any other user document. Furthermore, through the application, end users should be able to see both the real-time availability status of their colleagues, partners or customers and whether they have accessed shared files.
The service should also allow users to directly initiate an IM session or voice call with a fellow team project member simply by clicking on their profile image from within the application. Ideally, the service would also have desktop sharing capabilities and seamlessly enable multiple project team members to instantly join audio or video conference calls to improve the collaboration process. This would help minimize voice mail and email tag that might otherwise occur and allow employees to dedicate more cycles on productive business activity – saving organizations time and money.
One of the other major benefits of implementing a CEBP enabled service, like the SmartBox offering from PanTerra, is the opportunity for cost savings. Using separate silos of cloud services not only contributes to a cluttered desktop, which require users to maintain multiple accounts and multiple login credentials, but it also results in a higher total cost of operations (TCOp). In other words, since each service charges on a per user basis, organizations will likely pay more to each individual service provider in aggregate, than from a single ultra-reliable cloud provider.
Mid-sized businesses need enterprise-class cloud service technologies to meet the demands of their internal end users. With the widespread adoption of insecure file synch and share services, organizations can be exposed to data theft or data leakage issues. In addition, the need to enhance collaborative workflow processes between end users is calling for a new paradigm, or CEBP, which converges file synch and share service and end user desktop communication technology onto the same platform.
Secure cloud file sharing services that enable the unification of IM, VoIP, video conferencing and desktop sharing, like PanTerra’s SmartBox, provide enterprise class QoS, guaranteed SLA and ultra-high availability. These levels of reliability are becoming increasingly essential as cloud services become more integral to supporting day-to-day business operations.
PanTerra Networks is a client of Storage Switzerland