It is no secret that collaboration is a central component of success in modern business. Technology is empowering people to work in ways never before possible.
However, for collaboration to truly thrive, the appropriate mechanism needs to be in place and perhaps the most important consideration is data synchronisation.
With desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones whizzing around the enterprise, synchronisation is becoming a central focus in the effort to collaborate effectively.
Email, contacts and calendars are probably the most essential pieces of the synchronisation puzzle; fortunately, they are also the most straightforward to keep in check.
Between Exchange Active Sync (Microsoft Exchange Server or Office 365) and Google Apps, it is safe to say that most businesses can now enjoy the benefits of a fully synchronised inbox and global address book.
But what about everything else? What about presentations, PDFs, spreadsheets, videos, applications and so on. How do you create an ecosystem in which data remains synchronised but is still universally accessible? How do you promote collaboration and at the same time retain some form of control?
Stick to one ecosystem
This is not really a solution as much as an initial statement of fact. Suppliers want every last ounce of your business and so will make the proposition of a single ecosystem as attractive as possible. Buy an iPhone and it will reluctantly communicate with a Windows machine, but go out and buy a shiny MacBook Pro and all of a sudden, your two devices will sing in perfect harmony.
Microsoft, Apple and Google all have significant stakes in the mobile and desktop arenas and so, if at all possible, group devices together. Of course, in the age of bring your own device (BYOD), this is often easier said than done.
Read more on file sync and share technologies
Cloud is only half the answer
There is no denying that the inherent qualities of cloud lend themselves to data synchronisation and collaboration. A few short years ago, synchronisation was a process that almost always involved wires and countless hours of frustration, but cloud has changed the game. By centralising data and making it universally accessible, cloud immediately addresses two of the prerequisites for collaboration.
However, it is important to recognise that, while a cloud storage solution may promote collaboration, it is not an automatic ticket to a fully synchronised ecosystem. In fact, the opposite is true – with multiple iterations of documents popping up all over the place, users can quickly find themselves in a tangle.
Ready to go solutions for small businesses
If you are looking for an off-the-shelf product, the trick is to procure a platform that not only acts as a storage solution, but also actively synchronises files and folders across the full gamut of operating systems.
Solutions should offer full mobile support and some level of offline compatibility.
Box is one such service that offers enterprise-class file sharing and synchronisation as standard. Despite increased pressure from the likes of Google and Microsoft, Box continues to hold its own as an enterprise-focused cloud platform.
BoxSync seamlessly integrates with both OS X and Windows to offer users a fully synchronised workflow, regardless of device.
Syncplicity is another all-in-one-solution that can unify data across multiple machines. The synchronisation platform, which is backed by EMC, focuses on enabling IT teams to retain control, while at the same time empowering employees to share and collaborate.
Bring your cloud indoors
Perhaps you have decided that public cloud is not the right fit for your business. It might be that the data flowing through your organisation is too sensitive to have floating around the ether. It could be that you work in a tightly regulated industry or that it simply makes more sense to keep things in-house. If that’s the case, there are private cloud alternatives.
For small businesses without the resources available to deploy in-house servers, OwnCloud offers an open source solution.
Capable of integrating with existing on-site storage, OwnCloud is a private cloud platform that rivals even the most expensive of solutions. Like the public offerings above, it integrates with existing user home directories, making synchronisation a seamless part of the user’s workflow.
Read more on collaboration technology
Sidestep the cloud altogether
But what about a zero-cloud solution? What if you want to synchronise between A and C, and miss out B altogether? Well, you can.
The pirating community has, unfortunately, hijacked the BitTorrent protocol as a means of illegally sharing protected media and the like.
Strip away all of the negative connotations though and you are left with an incredibly secure, efficient means of file sharing. The company behind the peer-to-peer technology recently launched BitTorrent Sync and despite being universally praised, remains a relatively untapped resource in business communities.
Simply create a sync folder and then synchronise an unlimited amount of data between all of your devices. Rather than relying on a server, BitTorrent Sync utilises peer-to-peer technology, making it an incredibly robust and secure means of synchronising data.
This can be useful for people who work with very large files or multiple contributors. You can simply drag a 10GB file over to the encrypted sync folder and watch it magically appear on other machines. Any changes that are made to a file will automatically be updated across other devices. Best of all, it is free.
Choose a platform and tell staff about it
Shadow IT is inevitable and has been since the dawn of information technology. If employees feel that they do not have access to the tools they need, they will go out and find them elsewhere.
A global synchronisation strategy will only ever work if you know where all of your data lives - rogue platforms will inevitably hide duplicated data. Whichever method you opt for on your journey to synchronisation nirvana, it is vitally important that you actively promote your solution so that employees understand what tools are available to them.
This was first published in May 2014