Consumer and enterprise file synchronization and sharing popped up because people needed a way to easily share and collaborate on business content. This gave rise to the “Dropbox problem”, which is just stupid and ignores the real problem; organizations didn’t provide their people with policies and tools that allowed them to GSD. Today there are plenty of options, consumer and business grade, that provide a cool experience with the security and controls that business and IT need.
Organizations that haven’t sanctioned business grade file sync and share are foolish and open to a world of pain. If they think that their people aren’t chucking content around in the wild, well, think again. Go fix that problem, it’ll take all of 5 minutes.
The bigger problem today is figuring out what goes in the cloud and what doesn’t, and then providing access to it (don’t use this as an excuse to do nothing, start with something easy and low risk). The reality is that, for any number of reasons, not everything can be chucked into cloud based repositories. Even if an organization were committed to putting 100% of its content and processes into cloud services and repositories, that would not happen overnight. That reality means many, many organizations are going to require hybrid solutions.
The image above is not an unreasonable representation of what many organizations are faced with. It’s fair to say that even if you remove the cloud based services, organizations can’t adequately provide a single point of access to all of the on-premises content people need on a day to day basis. The problem is exacerbated when that content must be shared and collaborated on by disparate groups of stakeholders. Now add in other information governance and management requirements, such as metadata, classification, retention-disposition, e-discovery, process integration, legal and regulatory compliance, and security and the challenge is more difficult still. Toss in some cloud services and repositories and what do you end up with?
The real initial challenge was conceptually pretty simple: “I want access to content from wherever I am, using whatever device I want, and I want to work on that content with whomever I need to work on it with.”
The likes of Google, Dropbox, Microsoft (OneDrive, not SP online), Box, etc. solved that problem, but in doing so created other problems, both real and perceived. The perceived problem they created was a security one. Trust me, it’s less of a problem than most organizations storing stuff in their own data centres or networks is. The real problem they created was around information governance and management, which is a strong suit of many Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors.
ECM vendors like Alfresco, EMC (prior to selling off Syncplicity), OpenText, and Oracle tried to solve the initial problem, and did a fair job of it. The big problem there was cost. In order to use their file sync and share capabilities you had to be using their repositories. Sure, you could opt for a cloud deployment, but you’re still running a full-blown ECM platform (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
Google, Dropbox, Microsoft, Box, Alfresco, OpenText, and Oracle all work on the premise that your content is in their repository. If it isn’t, oh well. Syncplicity allows access to Documentum and SharePoint content, so I’ll categorize that one as a not quite semi-open option, though it does work on-premises and in the cloud.
Accellion, AirWatch (VMWare), Egnyte, and Citrix all offer hybrid solutions that may or may not work with ECM repositories in a limited capacity. However, from what I’ve seen from some of those guys the user experience is not always, shall we say, pleasant.
Of the ten vendors I’ve identified, not one is capable of providing secure, mobile access to all an organization’s content, and governing and managing it. Not one. Go and check out the latest Gartner (MQ) and Forrester (Wave) reports ranking the best of ECM and EFSS (silly market categorization); of all the vendors in those reports combined, not one can provide that combination of access, search, security, and governance.
Now, if a service were providing access to content in an ECM repository there would be no real need for that service to also provide all the information governance and management capabilities. Maybe I’m making the problem bigger than it really is. On the other hand, OneDrive, Google, and Dropbox have no governance / management capabilities to speak of, and what’s available from Box is 1st version functionality that has improving to do.
As far as I’m concerned:
- The initial problem has only been partially solved;
- There was not, is not, never will be a “Dropbox problem”;
- Sharing and collaborating on content is easier today than it was a couple of years ago;
- Platforms, apps, and API’s are the way forward;
- There’s still a long way to go, but holy crap have opportunities for innovation and transformation opened up.
 GSD – Get Sh!t Done