Winning the battle on mobile file sharing

By Computing Staff
18 Mar 2014 View Comments
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What a difference a decade makes. No more than 10 years ago, the traditional knowledge worker had limited options when it came to simple document collaboration and file sharing outside of the office. Now with the consumerisation of IT creating a workforce that is more mobile than ever, the idea of being tied to your desk is archaic. For today's increasingly agile workforce, mobile file sharing and document collaboration is a major requirement.

With BYOD, comes BYOA

Further reading

This shift in workforce practices has caused Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to emerge as something of a staple in many enterprise environments, with recent research from Workshare revealing that 62 per cent of employees are already using their personal devices in the workplace - be it a phone, tablet, or laptop.

BYOD isn't just about the device itself, either - there are all of the mobile applications that come with it. Moving away from corporate-owned devices means users can download the productivity and file sharing applications they know and love. These apps - like Dropbox - tend to be the ones that users have primarily enjoyed using in their personal lives and have brought with them into the enterprise.

The emergence of BYOD and BYOA (Bring Your Own Applications) seems to have produced a ripple effect on enterprises' approach to document collaboration today. More and more, workers are moving away from traditional means of file sharing (like email) to more modern, cloud-based file sharing applications. The research also found that 69 per cent of employees are bypassing corporate policies and opting for free file sharing services to share corporate documents.

Employees vs. IT: The Showdown

While the use of personal devices and consumer-grade file sharing apps have obvious benefits for the user, they have created significant difficulties for another key enterprise stakeholder: the IT department. It's one of the most notorious enterprise rivalries today - employees are pushing for the free and easy-to-use file sharing applications they're accustomed to, and IT is fighting for rigorous policies that keep information secure and help them maintain complete control.

This is a fight the IT departments need to win because when corporate documents are downloaded onto personal devices via consumer platforms, businesses lose visibility into what happens to that document. It could be forwarded to other parties, or edited without approval. And if the device is lost, then there's no telling who could be looking at your financial statements, legal documents, or patient records, for instance.

Building Blocks of BYOD Security

In the head-to-head battle, employees are actually the ones pulling ahead. While 81 per cent of users access and share work documents from their mobile devices, an alarming 72 per cent are doing so without IT authorisation, going outside the corporate firewall and seeking free - albeit unsecure - file sharing apps. This means that the IT department is being kept in the dark about the vast majority of BYOA users within their organisation, leaving the employees - and their corporate documents - open to compromise.

To address these concerns around mobile file sharing, IT needs to start offering a better solution - and fast. Perhaps the most important application element is IT control over files shared via email and webmail on mobile devices, to prevent employees from inadvertently sharing sensitive or hidden data. Administrators should be able to set data governance policies for various factors, like document types, particular individuals, or even for specific words (like "confidential") appearing within a document. At the same time, IT must remember that professionals are used to working with an intuitive interface.


Keeping the Peace

In one corner, stands the user - in the other, IT. But the battle can't last forever and ultimately both parties serve as key working parts of a wider organisation, sharing common end goals. With reputational risk at stake, there is ultimately greater responsibility on IT to strike a balance between users' desire for ease-of-use, and requirements for security. It's up to them to stay up to date with mobility trends and proactively introduce file sharing applications that benefit users and companies alike. If IT can equip the organisation with simple applications that suit the way people like to work, users will no longer feel compelled to circumvent IT and use their own personal solutions.

IT needs to reassess the tools they've provided to their users, and spend more time understanding the file sharing and collaboration solutions that users prefer. From here, relevant applications can be built from the ground up and architected for the needs of both employees and IT. Only when enterprises deploy a solution that serves the interests of both parties will the enterprise finally find peace.

Anthony Foy is CEO of Workshare

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