The cloud collaboration conundrum

The core mantra of those marketing cutting-edge technology often boils down to the notion that you can never have too many connections. More and more connections — to friends, co-workers, events, work projects and what have you — are desirable and achievable, now that the Internet has been fully assimilated as the globe’s commercial transactions backbone, the underlying spin goes.

However, many of these new ways to leverage the Internet cloud,  using a cool array of embedded and mobile computing devices, are triggering unforeseen ramifications. In this LastWatchdog guest post, Barrie Hadfield is CTO and co-founder of file-sharing company SkyDox outlines how we got here – and what systemic challenges have resulted.


By Barrie Hadfield

Nearly every organization has embedded within it some type of collaborative ecosystem. Traditionally, this was anchored in email or a centralized server, accessible almost exclusively from within the firewall. Yet as the cloud wields increasing influence on corporate environments, the traditional ecosystem becomes more antiquated. There’s some paradox in how the cloud is enabling this unparalleled productivity and collaboration for the workplace, while simultaneously eroding security protocols designed to protect intellectual property and corporate assets – often cited as the consumer-file sharing problem.

So how did the enterprise end up surrendering so much of its valued security measures to the cloud? First, let’s consider how the traditional corporate ecosystem was structured. Without the influence of cloud technologies, the workforce primarily shared and revised documents via a set of approved collaboration tools provided by the organization. In most cases, Microsoft’s Office suite reigned supreme with PowerPoint presentations, Word files and Excel spreadsheets stored on a single, centralized server accessible nearly exclusively via company-owned devices.

Provisioning history

The first crack in the traditional ecosystems surfaced via email, which has always provided an escape hatch for collaborating outside of the firewall. Do you, however, recall that old adage – never send anything via email that you don’t want to be leaked into the public domain? Quickly, this saying became a misnomer, as typically, the rush for convenience trumped nearly all security considerations. Employees soon found they could take advantage of email’s attachment feature to share files, without considering the potential risk of intellectual property loss or information breach.

Then, the cloud worked its way into the office and the collaborative ecosystem was permanently changed. The first sign of trouble was how these tools were introduced into corporate settings. In direct contradiction to the conventional top-to-bottom corporate application provisioning, in which tools are handed down from top executives and IT administrators to the workforce at large, consumer-style cloud platforms were shared among the employees at the frontlines first and then trickled upward. The result was an abundance of consumer-oriented tools, downloaded by all, used properly by few, none approved for security or compliance by the IT administrators.

Secondly, as opposed to, say, a packaged set of tools, such as the Microsoft Office suite, consumer-based cloud collaboration tools are usually in direct competition with one another. And according to Forrester, half of all office workers use between four and seven collaboration tools to do their jobs. With this patchwork approach, each platform becomes its own information silo, making it arduous to track the content once it is uploaded. Of course this is frustrating for employees who want to keep track of where their data is and whether the stored version is the most updated. But from a security standpoint it also causes significant harm to a business’ audit trail, making it nearly impossible to know if unauthorized users have access to the content to distribute, store or modify it.

No turning back

The resulting security threats are self-evident. Consumer-based products in general are designed with ease-of-use as the primary consideration, with security falling somewhere well below. When security aspects are even considered at all in the design process, it is frequently from a personal, as opposed to an enterprise-grade, level. Additionally, these types of platforms do little, if anything to prevent the distribution of files and information across enterprise firewalls. If a document or file was sent to an employee at one company, there are no measures in place for him or her to send it, even by accident, to the wrong person.

But there is no turning back the clock. The cloud is now part of the business fabric and will only become more ingrained in the collaborative process going forward. Trying to ban cloud collaboration tools will only hinder your organization’s ability to innovate and collaborate — and ultimately damage the entire productivity of the workforce. We have, however, reached a crossroads in which IT administrators must either take back control and have a voice in the way the cloud is deployed within their organizations – or risk irrelevancy. After all, would you want your company’s proprietary information pushed into the public domain on purpose or inadvertently?

About the essayist: Barrie Hadfield is CTO and co-founder of SkyDox, a cloud-enabled file sharing, file synchronization and collaboration platform for the enterprise. Before founding SkyDox, Barrie co-founded another document comparison and file-sharing company, WorkShare, in 1999.fore founding SkyDox, Barrie co-founded another document comparison and file-sharing company, WorkShare, in 1999.

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