When consumer grade doesn't make the grade

For Doug Miles, director of market intelligence at AIIM, new data proves the importance of providing safe data-sharing options

People share content on the web all the time. So why can’t they do the same at work with the same easy-to-use consumer apps?

AIIM has just explored this issue in its recent research programme. The study reveals CIOs need to deal with unmonitored usage of services such as iCloud and Dropbox, or face security risks.

The research report Content Collaboration and Processing in a Cloud and Mobile World shows businesses are eager to embrace collaboration in business, but are holding back due to security concerns, fearing the infrastructure required to reap the benefits of collaboration is still not in place.

At the same time, the convenience and ease of use of consumer file-share and sync services has made them attractive options for staff, despite the security concerns.

While 93% of executives interviewed believe internal collaboration is either ‘crucial’ or ‘very important’ to what they do, 59% hold the same to be true of external collaboration, and 89% say a formal collaboration system is a vital piece of infrastructure. The majority (54%) find the rapid convergence of collaboration and social tools ‘very confusing’.

Formal, external collaboration was seen as particularly problematic – with 71% of our poll sample feeling their organisation has shortfalls in technical support for external collaboration, while four in ten feel ‘strongly’ that it is poorly supported.

Attractive collaboration options

Document and content sharing is highly likely to involve external collaborators. Yet traditional on-premise systems are deliberately set up to be secured against external business access. This means many users resort to consumer cloud file-sharing services such as Dropbox, Skydrive, i-Cloud, Google Drive and YouSendIt.  

And on paper, these services are banned in 56% of organisations, with 27% restricting access – but only 23% are providing an approved business grade alternative.

Understandably, most IT departments look to protect their systems and content from being shared in this uncontrolled way. But, given that we know there is considerable demand for these cloud and SaaS-based services, simply banning them without providing an alternative business grade system is unhelpful – as users frequently circumvent policy to get the job done more quickly and effectively. 

Our data suggests even where an existing on-premise content management application exists, if it does not provide external access – and mobile access – users will ignore it.

In terms of other aspects of tech platform choice: on the whole, most respondents are keen to see knowledge workers supported on mobile devices, and feel this will enhance productivity and process efficiency. 

And, while a number of users are wary of putting content in the cloud, CIOs and information managers are far more confident about a hybrid model, as this means that most content can be held securely on-premise (especially the business-critical content about which people feel especially cautious of storing in the cloud) and only the more active collaborative content is moved to the cloud.

The bottom line is clear. External collaboration is problematic and risky from the corporate perspective. But you need to provide secure and easy-to-use collaboration functionality – or your users will turn to unsanctioned products.

This could place your business at risk, so businesses need to address this.

Doug Miles (pictured) is head of the market intelligence division of global information professional body AIIM, and also the author of a series of studies on ECM, records management, SharePoint, mobile, cloud, big data and social business.

Read more on IT risk management