Enterprise File Sync & Share – It’s Not What You Think It Is

Stop EFSSWhen Gartner came out with their Magic Quadrant for Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) back in July 2014 I laughed a little because I find the idea of an EFSS market, well, laughable. Yes, I know they put in a whole bunch of stuff about what could or should be part of the market, but boiled down it seemed to me that EFSS per Gartner is little more than the old Microsoft Briefcase. I.e.: a feature of a larger solution. Let’s face it; EFSS is little more than email and consumer grade cloud storage. One of the names that’s been bandied about to replace EFSS is ECC – Enterprise Content Collaboration. I don’t like it very much, either.

If I were Box, EMC, Alfresco and most of the other vendors on the MQ I’d be more than a little irked. Most of the vendors have invested heavily, organically or via acquisitions (sometimes both), to come up with some pretty cool and innovative solutions (not products) that allow people on both sides of the firewall to work together. These solutions allow organizations to impose various levels of automation, governance, and security to critical content. Being categorized as a File Sync and Share provider is frankly insulting. I find it insulting to the vendors as well as the customers.

Some of the vendors have been more successful than others, but I don’t think it’s germane at this point to come up with a list of winners and losers as the market (whatever its true name ought to be) is still fairly nascent. At most we’ll be able to make some guesses as to who will survive intact for the next few years and who won’t. Depending on the original exit strategy, being acquired is a perfectly valid form of survival. Will success of the wrongly-labelled EFSS players be measured against the same metrics that are currently being used for the incumbent (some would say legacy) Enterprise Content Management (ECM) players? Why would I even bring this up?

Gartner EFSS MQ - July 2014

The Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing is available from Gartner as well as from some of the mentioned vendors including Syncplicity, Box, Alfresco, and Citrix.

Note: For what it’s worth OpenText should have been included in the MQ, based on Tempo Box, which I used when I was working there. As for what’s coming up from OpenText, I’m looking forward to seeing what OpenText Core is all about.

If you look at the MQ, some of the players are ECM incumbents (Microsoft, IBM, EMC, Alfresco), which is another reason why I find the EFSS market and associated MQ a bit of a giggle. In all but a few scenarios the ECM incumbents are competing not only against the new entrants and upstarts, but they are competing against themselves. For all practical purposes, some of the new players can provide solutions every bit as capable of meeting functional requirements as the incumbents, but with much better experiences. Sure, they’ll have to collaborate and form alliances with other vendors, but how is that really any different than what’s going on today? Where ECM currently has an advantage over the new players is in ultra-regulated environments for certain business processes. That, however, will change as the tools improve, as legislation changes, and as purchasing organizations see the FUD (Fear / Uncertainty / Doubt) for what it really is.

I recently completed an ECM assessment for a Canadian university; they asked me to assess why Alfresco wasn’t as successful as they’d anticipated (it wasn’t Alfresco’s fault – please read You Are the Problem for some details). They asked that I recommend that they either press on with Alfresco or dump it and go with SharePoint. When I brought up the option of using a cloud solution they were adamant that this was something they did not want to do. The reason they gave was based entirely on FUD, lack of understanding of current day realities, and lack of understanding of what their users (internal and external) want and need. So I included an appendix putting forward a solution based on one of the MQ’s upper right vendors. That vendor is perfectly capable of meeting the university’s requirements on all fronts.

As a consultant it’s my job to not only deliver what my clients pay me to deliver, it’s also my job to educate them and to present alternatives that they may not necessarily be thinking about. In the case of the university, a cloud based solution based on a platform provided by one of the vendors in the MQ is perfectly viable, despite my client’s prejudices.

When it comes to Box and others in the (to be renamed) EFSS market, we’re not far from the point where they can punt the incumbent ECM vendors to the curb. They’ve got some solid foundations in place and a pretty decent roadmap for the future. How the various players build on their foundations is going to depend on what they see as their core strengths and where they see the most potential. Box is taking a platform approach, Dropbox is pinning its future on Microsoft, and Huddle is focussed on collaboration. The others all have game plans that include features and functions and deployment options. I’m fairly certain that all the players are going to find their fit, but it’s not going to be EFSS. EFSS is purely table stakes, as others have said. I think we’re going to see fragmentation in the market sooner rather than later. I think we’re going to see more and more occasions where someone does what I did and puts one of the (for now) EFSS players up as an alternative to ECM incumbents. What I’m really looking forward to seeing is when/if the ECM incumbents actually change their game, not just add features, to keep up with the times. I suspect it’ll happen later rather than sooner.

A lot of people and companies, me included, have been going on about Information Governance (IG) for a while now. In a previous post I wrote about ECM not living up to its promises and being supplanted by Information Governance. What does this have to do with the space that isn’t EFSS? I’m glad you asked …

I attended BoxWorks in September 2014 (my thoughts, if you’re interested) and I’ve also been pretty interested in the whole not-EFSS space for a while; I’ve concluded that Box and some others are going to supplant the legacy ECM vendors even as ECM transitions to being a collection of functions required to deliver IG. Between the vendors that provide the core platform and 3rd parties that provide additional functionality, I’m fairly certain that most of what’s defined as IG activities and technologies could be provided. Take a look at the two graphics below; the first represents the facets of IG and the 2nd represents the various technologies that make up IG.

IGI Annual Report - IG Facets

Think about the various players in the un-EFSS market. How many of the facets (activities) in the above graphic could be handled by those players or their partners? Don’t worry about whether or not you agree or don’t that all the facets belong under IG; choose the ones that matter to your organization.

IGI Annual Report - IG Technology  Markets

Of the technology categories in the above graphic, how many could warrant inclusion, to at least some degree, of not-EFSS players and their 3rd party partners?

The two graphics above were produced by the Information Governance Initiative, in their inaugural Annual Report. Their inclusion here does not mean that I necessarily agree with what’s in the graphics or in the report, though I do recommend reading it (get it here, free subscription required).

Closing Thoughts

There are going to be some EFSS vendors (e.g.: https://www.sync.com/ – not included in the Gartner MQ) that are going to be pure play EFSS vendors, and that’s cool for them and customers that want that level of functionality. However, for most of those mentioned in the MQ the EFSS part of what they do is truly table stakes, to borrow a phrase. If I take a look at Box, Alfresco, Microsoft, EMC, OpenText (I am including them even though Gartner forgot to), etc., what they’re really providing is part infrastructure and part platform. Labelling them as EFSS makes about as much sense as calling SAP accounting software and lumping them in with Quicken.

It’s the infrastructure and platform pieces that set Box, Alfresco, Microsoft, EMC, OpenText, et al apart from the true EFSS players. With the pure EFSS players what you get is what you get, that’s it. With the EFSS+ players (I just made that up) what you get is foundational. What you do with that foundation is up to you and the potential will increase as the players mature. As much as organizations have built their information governance and management strategies around legacy ECM platforms, they’ll be able to do the same with EFSS+ platforms.

in this podcast Connie Moore and I discuss the EFSS market, as well as ECM. Brought to you by Digital Clarity Group. http://www.digitalclaritygroup.com/dcg-podcasts-efss/

2 Comments on “Enterprise File Sync & Share – It’s Not What You Think It Is

  1. It’s hard for me to even get past the category, and the “Leaders” which BTW is just the highest paying customers, and should be reversed as visionaries due to very poor functionality and UX. They are behind. EFSS is a way to find a new category to sell which is really a combination of collaboration and ECM. And finally avoiding the “Cloud” conversation which means nothing, and has been confused with content management and storage. But Chris i would say that overall these are not players, they are telling the right story. The majority still do not even know what what a retention schedule, or metadata model is.


  2. Pingback: Wake Up! ARMA Canada | The Info Gov Guerrilla

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