The evolution of cloud-based file sharing toward full-blown collaboration services started with shifts in the way we work. How we work has changed; where we work has changed; and the devices we work on have changed. 

The consumerization of IT and the idea of people bringing their personal devices such as smartphones, tablets and notebooks into the office fundamentally changes things. Employees now often have a choice between using their work-supplied phones, which might be limited in functionality, or their own smartphones.

In many cases, they opt for their own phones. But that raises a question: “How do I get access to my data?” Typically, gaining such access has been cumbersome. Employees found it difficult to retrieve files and collaborate with other team members on those files, from their mobile devices.

Plus, the IT department often hasn’t been ready to manage such change. This is where the terms “shadow tech” and “stealth IT” originate. People just say to themselves: “If IT can’t support me and give me access to my files, that is the IT department’s problem. I’m going to use whatever cloud provider I want. I’m just going to store my corporate files with this cloud provider so that I can easily obtain my data.”

Worker-Driven Shifts

From my own perspective, taking that approach means I can work from anywhere — at my child’s school event, for instance. Before I get back to the office, if something comes up, I can make appropriate changes on my mobile device. I might find myself working more than I did 10 years ago, but now there is more flexibility to attend family events or places outside of work when I must.

Because of this new mobile use, a host of cloud-based storage providers has emerged, giving workers a place to store, retrieve and collaborate on documents and files. Slowly, IT teams have realized they need to get ahead of this change.

Corporate IT departments are now standardizing on cloud storage providers. They are looking at these providers and evaluating their tools to determine if they meet enterprise security and privacy requirements. But the IT team still needs to maintain control. If enterprise documents are housed in the cloud, document retention becomes an issue, and the IT team must decide how long documents should be retained with the cloud provider.

Data loss prevention is another concern because a shared document or spreadsheet can contain personally identifiable information; or, in the case of a healthcare organization, documents might contain information that must be secured under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. As companies evaluate cloud storage providers, they need to ask what type of governance, compliance and security policies the provider has in place to protect files.

Single Pane

From an end-user perspective, it is not enough to store information in the cloud where it can be easily accessed; it is not enough to share it with a peer. Now, users want what I like to call a “single pane of truth.” The last thing they want is to email a file. Cloud storage is the natural progression from email. People realize that if they email a file, there are now two files to manage because changes will be made to the sent file, not the original.

To address that issue, cloud vendors have begun to offer co-authoring capabilities. Rather than emailing a document, why not allow two (or more) users to access the document at the same time? This co-authoring capability is applicable across web, mobile and desktop apps. In the industry, this typically happens through a browser. Microsoft has set up partnerships with popular cloud storage vendors so that workers can use a browser version of Word and modify files without having to launch Word.

While all cloud providers offer inexpensive storage options, they also are looking at ways to differentiate themselves from one another. For some, that comes by way of a portal that provides browser access to files. These cloud providers want to integrate with other third-party vendors to make documents available wherever people work.

Two things are going on in the collaboration space: IT is taking control of apps across the enterprise, and cloud providers are developing services aimed at making end-user interactions easier. Today’s workers are not just collaborating with their coworkers; they are also collaborating with customers and partners. The workforce must deal with an increasing volume of documents, so they need an easy way to locate, share, retrieve and edit — across web, mobile and desktop devices.

Want to learn more? Check out our collaboration video gallery.

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