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Enterprise File Collaboration Market Landscape

By Taneja Group

Collaboration is a huge concept; even narrowing it down to enterprise file collaboration (EFC) is still a big undertaking. Many vendors are using “collaboration” in their marketing materials, yet they mean many different things by it, ranging from simple business interaction to sophisticated groupware to data sharing and syncing on a wide scale. The result is a good deal of market confusion.

Frankly, vendors selling file collaboration into the enterprise cannot afford massive customer confusion because selling file collaboration into the enterprise is already an uphill battle. First, customers—business end-users—are resistant to changing their Dropbox and Dropbox-like file share applications. As far as the users are concerned, their sharing is working just fine between their own devices and small teams.


IT is very concerned about this level of consumer-level file-sharing—and if they are not, they should be. But IT faces a battle when it attempts to wean thousands of end-users off Dropbox on the users’ personal devices. There must be a business advantage and clear usability for users who are required to adopt a corporate file-sharing application on their own device.

IT must also have good reasons to deploy corporate file-sharing using the cloud. From their perspective the Dropboxes of the world are fueling the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) phenomenon. They need to replace consumer-level file collaboration applications with an enterprise scale application and its robust management console. However, while IT may be anxious about BYOD and insecure file-sharing, it is not usually the most driving need on their full agenda. They need to understand how an EFC solution can solve a very large problem, and why they need to take advantage of the solution now.

What is the solution? Enterprise file collaboration (EFC) with: 1) high scalability, 2) security, 3) control, 4) usability and 5) compliance. In this landscape report, we will discuss these five factors and the main customer drivers for this level of enterprise file collaboration.

five characteristics

Finally, we will discuss the leading vendors that offer enterprise file collaboration products and see how they stack up against our definition.

Customer Confusion

Collaboration marketing easily confuses customers because of mixed definitions. Let’s clarify what file collaboration is not:

  • Software-enabled knowledge sharing systems. These products may include groupware, wikis, blogging platforms, distributed project management and web meeting software. They exist to improve human collaboration between remote individuals and teams. File collaboration may exist as an adjunct service.
  • SaaS (Software as a Service) applications. Many file collaboration products are delivered as SaaS for ease in deploying and upgrading the application. But several vendors install their servers behind the corporate firewall, and EFC is not synonymous with SaaS.
  • BYOD. “Bring Your Own Device” is not a technology term. BYOD management technology falls under Mobile Device Management and Mobile Application Management (MDM and MAM). File collaboration is deeply affected by BYOD issues but exists apart from it.
  • ECM. File collaboration can serve Enterprise Content Management Systems with distributed users, but it is not a sharing mechanism and not a content platform.

The Market and EFC

The basic business need for file collaboration is the ability to share files between a mobile workforce, external shareholders and endpoint devices. Consumer-grade collaboration tools exist to share files on an individual user basis, mostly consisting of uploading files to a central location and downloading from a mobile device. This is awkward in and of itself since it requires a user to remember to put the file into the central location before changing locations and using another endpoint device. It is certainly unworkable with large enterprise.

Strong business drivers are encouraging corporations to take the plunge into EFC.

  1. BYOD management. One of the main drivers for mobile management in general is BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device. (Cynics refer to BYOD as “Buy Your Own Device.”) BYOD is a burden for IT. They are responsible for keeping information secure and available only to approved users and devices, yet the proliferation and uniqueness of each smartphone, laptop or tablet makes that job very difficult. Complexity, lack of scalability and lax security are all issues with managing BYOD. Additional issues include multiple carriers for wireless devices, user demand to support many types of files and the fact that these devices are personal property and have personal applications and data on them as well as corporate data. The BYOD phenomenon impacts several technology domains including Mobile Device Management (MDM) and < a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_application_management">Mobile Application Management(MAM), and has deep implications for EFC.
  2. Lack of IT control. IT knows that it should establish control over corporate data flying around the globe on unsecured personal devices. They need to be able to supervise data retention, versions, security, controlled access and policies to administer the management environment. Malware management is another serious problem when users are combining personal and corporate data and applications on a personal device. For example, it sounds efficient to give IT the ability to wipe a device’s memory in case of loss—except that if the device is the employee's personal property, IT must face the reality of a very upset employee. Granted it may be the employee’s fault, but this risk extends across many hundreds of users, all insisting that this is their property.
  3. Lack of security with consumer-grade services. Data security is a huge concern wherever it is stored. When files are stored in the cloud, IT’s security concerns ratchet up. And when business data is stored on thousands of mobile devices—you do the math. Consumer grade file-sharing services claim to be secure (and they are to a point), but they often lack strong encryption and user access control. They also lack the ability for IT to set and enforce security policies for shared files.
  4. Governance and compliance worries. Consumer-grade collaboration tools rarely automatically encrypt files sent from the user device, and few consumers will bother to encrypt on their own. This is risky with personal data and potentially disastrous with sensitive and/or regulated business data. Sharing data without encryption risks data exposure. (There is a very good reason that consumer file-sharing tools are not compliant with important governmental and industry regulations.) There is also no way that consumer-grade file-sharing applications can track specific physical storage locations when that level of compliance is required.

So why aren’t EFC products flying off virtual shelves?

Because while IT is aware of BYOD's risks, they frequently lack the time, urgency and budget to deal effectively with it. IT will admit that BYOD is a problem but may not have the money or the will to adopt an alternative solution. In these cases senior executives need to be on board.

The more regulated the industry, the more IT will be motivated to address BYOD. But many government agencies will be unwilling or unable to use any external clouds. In these cases the EFC vendor should offer a private cloud option only. We strongly suggest that EFC vendors build a strong case for the big risks implicit in not managing BYOD and file-sharing across the enterprise—and outside of it.


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Tags: collaboration, software, Enterprise, file sharing, vendors, Storage


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