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How to choose a file sync and share tool that fits

Forrester analysts Rob Koplowitz and Ted Schadler document the experiences of early adopters of file sync and share services.

File sync and share services such as Dropbox, Box, and a vast number of others have become one of the most important new tools in business.

These services began life as a simple way to access personal files from any computer, tablet or smartphone, but have now become very important tools to share and access business files.

Dropbox has more than 175 million customers, many of whom use it for home and work.

And 25% of global information workers in a recent Forrester survey reported that they use file sync-and-share services for work, up from only 5% in 2010.

Choosing the right file sync and share service

CIOs clearly now have a mandate to replace any consumer-grade services many employees are using on their own with a business-ready solution.

Forrester recently evaluated 16 file sync-and-share solutions for business to help CIOs pick the best solution. As part of the process, Forrester interviewed 31 reference customers of these suppliers across a variety of different industries and regions. These early adopters have deployed file sync-and-share tools to help employees collaborate on documents and rich media files with colleagues, partners and customers.

Selecting a cloud storage provider

Given the different approaches to providing cloud-based access to shared documents, organisa­tions need to assess integration with existing IT infrastructure to avoid unnecessary costs.

Warwickshire Council opted for AppSense, after having looked at RES HyperDrive, which pro­vides a cloud-based front end to file servers. The council wanted to build a DropBox-like cloud that schools could access as a service delivered centrally by the council’s IT department.
But Anthony Lander, senior systems engineer at Warwickshire Council, said: “To deploy RES HyperDrive we would have needed to provide extra hardware in our datacentre to support potentially 80,000 Microsoft Active Directory users.”

Instead, Warwickshire Council chose AppSense DataNow. AppSense works with a user’s home folder, with a broker running in the datacentre. Warwickshire Council deployed it through a virtual server running on Microsoft Hyper-V. At Kingsbury School, one of the schools using the service from Warwickshire Council, children and teachers access documents via a web front end, after they have logged into the school’s network through Active Directory. This avoids run­ning a council-wide Active Directory, which would have been needed by RES.

Egnyte is another product attempting to bridge the corporate and consumer worlds of cloud storage. In 2012, the real estate division of auction house Christie’s implemented Egnyte for sharing large documents, replacing an inefficient FTP server. “The real estate division had an internally hosted FTP server, but with 200 affiliates over the world, submitting images of up to 200MB with FTP was time-consuming and the interface was not user friendly,” says Kirill Kluev, a senior business analyst at Christie’s.

Kluev ran a supplier selection process, with five suppliers. Egnyte and Box came out on top, but he says Egnyte had the best client services, responded to enquiries quickly, and offered a more flexible pricing structure.

-- Cliff Saran

The people interviewed have learned from experience what matters in a file sync-and-share solution: ease of use, supplier partnership, security, and price. Price is always an issue, particularly when the consumer services often get people started for free, so here’s what these early adopters had to say about ease of use, partnerships, and security.

Ease of use and partnering

The interviewees often expressed concerns regarding adoption. Most were painfully aware that their employees were using non-IT sanctioned file sync and share tools for work. To beat out these personal alternatives, the IT-provided solution had to be easy to use and have an intuitive design.

Because file sync and share services are broadly deployed, sometimes to every employee, the supplier must be ready to jump in and solve problems at any time. The users of business cloud solutions for file sync and share interviewed by Forrester speak highly of out-of-the-box offerings that “just work” without migration or administrative hassle. On-premises solutions sometimes ran into problems with longer deployment processes and migrations. Reference customers attributed their eventual success to having a committed partnership with their supplier.

Security concerns

Documents, the lifebood of a company, always present security issues. For example, customers talked a lot about how to deal with industry requirements for security and compliance, often making security the deciding factor between running a platform on-premises or in the cloud. What made the choice even harder was that new security needs surfaced as business needs grew beyond the scope of the initial deployment, leaving customers waiting for the supplier to deploy additional security functionality before expanding the deployment.

The IT executives interviewed were also keenly aware of the need tobalance security and data protection against employee experience. Interviewees reiterated this dilemma and stressed the importance of viewing the selection process through both a consumer and an business lens to develop a comprehensive perspective. They recommend taking three steps when scoping the requirements and choosing a solution:

The first step is to start with your firm’s business requirements: integration, security, and hosting. How will the file sync-and-share platform integrate with your organisation’s Active Directory? Can files be stored on-premises or in the cloud – or both? How granular are the administrative permissions? What about security and compliance? Or cost over time? These are just a few of the questions customers consider when evaluating file sync and share providers.

Many struggled to define where responsibility for the file sync and share service would sit within their IT organisation. Newly introduced solutions may require deep integration with existing content and collaboration systems that drive critical processes and ensure compliance, security, and privacy. Map out these requirements in relation to the sync and share content and look for solutions that are integrated with current critical investments where necessary.

The next step is to factor in your organisation’s cul­ture and employee work styles. Employees will not use the tool unless it works really well, so make sure you choose a platform that matches your employees’ work styles and seamlessly integrates into their working environment. You will know whether or not you have selected the right platform in the right way by how well it is adopted. Multiple customers stressed the importance of empowering employees to use the full functionality of the file sync and share tool and getting out of the way.

Cloud services seemed to make this easier to do. After initial release, their primary role was limited to collecting feedback, making minor tweaks, and monitoring stability.

The final step is to pilot several solutions to choose the one(s) that meet both sets of needs. There is no shortage of suppliers competing in the file sync-and-share market. This is good news for companies, but it makes finding the right fit for your organisation’s needs a daunting and tedious process. Pilot programmes reveal preferences within different parts of the organisation, including whether and how they use file sync-and-share capabilities. Pilots gave these customers time to make sure they had all the administrative functions, security requirements, and integrations in place before going live. Customers also used their time in the pilot process to influence the supplier’s roadmap. They identified functionality that was missing or might be needed down the road, and collaborated with the supplier to influence the platform’s development.

File sync and share is a must-have in a world defined by mobile work and partner collabora­tion. The growth of personal file sync-and-share services alone should convince you of this. The question is, which supplier should you use?

This is an excerpt from the Forrester report “What File Sync And Share Customers Have Learned” (July 2013), by principal analysts Rob Koplowitz and Ted Schadler, who both contribute to Forrester’s research and blog for CIOs

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