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The Hidden Business CoST: Consumerization of Sharing Tools

What file and content management tools is your business using to ensure that workers have what they need?

Sharing files with friends has never been easier. Whether it is via old-school hard copy methods like CDs, DVDs and USB drives, nefarious peer-to-peer torrents like BitTorrent or new shared, private cloud storage services like Dropbox, getting a photo or music file from one person to another takes mere seconds.

The problem is that people inside businesses aren't using these services just to share personal files. They are circumventing secured content management systems like SharePoint in favor of consumer-friendly services in order to share files with third parties.

For businesses, Consumerization of Sharing Tools (CoST) can encourage insecure file sharing and the impact can be startling. WikiLeaks was the result of a failed SharePoint deployment. The user simply circumvented the SharePoint system, downloaded extremely sensitive data and made it available to the world. Of course, not all file share abuse is intended to be destructive and the majority of businesses aren't dealing with classified government cables or sensitive personal information. Most businesses, however, do want full visibility of some files, particularly who is accessing them and what they are doing with them.

According to recent research by Cryptzone, 45 percent of SharePoint users have improperly transmitted confidential business information, with 18 percent admitting to regularly doing this. With businesses generating more data than ever before - and some of that data is likely to be confidential - the likelihood of improper file sharing should be a wake-up call for IT. Before we go and blame workers for intentionally working against IT, let's take a step back and look at the IT infrastructure from their perspective.

It's a very common scenario: worker #1 discovers he doesn't have access to a particular file (in SharePoint it's still possible for files to show up in search results even if you don't have access), while worker #2 does. As a result, worker #1 simply asks worker #2 to copy the file somewhere they can both access it. The main reasons for copying documents from SharePoint are either to work from home (43 percent) or share it with third parties who don't have access (over 55 percent).

Not every worker needs (or should have) access to all company data and not all data is equal or appropriate for everyone. Defining access by title and role such that access is granted to appropriate people (i.e., worker #2 but not worker #1) is a double-edged sword: it is the most secure, auditable way to store and manage company information, but if it's not done in a way that workers understand, it encourages abuse.

To workers #1 and #2, the fact that they can see a file but not get universal access might seem like a mistake. From their perspective, they're helping the company because they're enabling more work to get done by overcoming an obstacle to productivity. To do this, workers are taking file sharing into their own hands with services they are already comfortable with outside of the office, like Dropbox.

This file sharing phenomenon didn't exist even a few years ago and it's difficult to measure the actual cost of CoST - businesses must examine the risk of data loss and security breaches according to the relative value of their data. But it's clear that in increasing numbers, businesses are fighting back.

To avoid improper file sharing and mitigate the risk of CoST, businesses are now adopting new, high-security cloud-based tools that allow IT departments to manage content effectively with the permissions, access and controls necessary for comprehensive audits, which may be required by law. This is particularly true for businesses in highly regulated industries like financial services or health care.

New content management and file sharing tools also embrace mobility and enable workers to effortlessly - and securely - get to the content that they need, no matter where they work. Next-generation content management tools also seek to make search and manual sharing a thing of the past by virtue of intelligent predictive algorithms that deliver appropriate content to workers from across the entire corporate content store. In our example, worker #1 wouldn't have to ask worker #2 for a file because if it was relevant to their work, the tool would have aggregated and curated all the content that they value from the entire data store, across departments, offices and continents, and pushed it to their desktop, laptop and mobile devices for anytime, anywhere access.

To businesses that value the security of data and the proper usage of proprietary information, CoST represents an unnecessary risk that can have serious ramifications. By using next-generation content management tools, the needs of both workers and IT can be met and a more harmonious data infrastructure can be ensured.

What file and content management tools is your business using to ensure that workers have what they need and IT remains in control of data? What strategies have worked well for your business and what hasn't? Have you ever experienced a data loss as the result of CoST?

More Stories By Andy McLoughlin

Andy McLoughlin is Co-Founder, EVP Strategy and GM USA at Huddle. He began tinkering with the web in the mid-nineties before starting his career at Fibernet Group plc as the company’s European webmaster in 2001. In 2003, Andy helped found KnowledgeCenter, a knowledge management consultancy focused on the London insurance market. In this role, Andy provided web content and knowledge management consultancy to a number of prominent global clients including QBE, Benfield, Catlin, Arthur J Gallagher and Montpelier Re.

With more than 10 years of industry experience, Andy is an expert in online collaboration and heavily involved in the London start-up community. As co-founder and EVP Strategy at Huddle, Andy builds global partner relationships and was directly responsible for Huddle’s partnerships with LinkedIn, HP, Ning and Xing. In May 2010, Andy relocated to San Francisco to lead Huddle’s US team.

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