Employees still use online file sharing, even if companies prohibit its use

Employees will often bypass a corporate firewall with a hotspot, survey finds

ORLANDO -- More than 75% of corporations have policies that prohibit the use of consumer online file sharing and collaboration tools, yet employee use of the services is still rampant, according to an Enterprise Strategy Group survey.

"The thing is, IT had control of the data in the past. Now, it has only been three years since this (OFS) market has taken off and now data is everywhere," said Terri McClure, who spoke at SNW here Tuesday.

McClure cited an ESG survey completed late last year of 499 IT personnel throughout the U.S., all of whom had some control over corporate file management.

Of those, 77% said they had a "formal" policy or "strongly discourage" or outright "prohibit" the use of online file sharing services. Only 22% said they had no formal policy against the use of such services.

When asked if end users in their company are using non-IT approved OFS services, 36% said yes, 34% said they suspect they are, and 28% said they do not believe end users are using their own services. One percent said they didn't know.

Even if employees are physically prohibited by a company's network from using a consumer file sharing service, McClure said it's not unusual for them to link to their favorite service via a Wi-Fi hotspot or a conference room network. "I'm not going to say everyone has violators ... but boy this rogue use is pretty rampant," she said.

"IT is really going to have to address this challenge," McClure continued. "If one of your employees leaves the company and they have a personal OFS account, the data leaves with them. It's the default solution. They don't even think about it."

Once gone from the company, few end users even consider wiping corporate data from their mobile devices, online backup or file sharing services, she added.

In only a few years the market for OFS services has exploded, with dozens of vendors offering their own flavor. The de facto standard for a consumer service has become Dropbox, mainly because of its ease of use, McClure said.

Almost a third of the companies surveyed by ESG said they had deployed a corporate file sharing service, and another 22% said they were considering deploying one within a year in order to stem the tide of consumer product use. Eleven percent indicated they were considering deploying a corporate file sharing service in the next two years, and 17% indicated they had no interest in it.

ESG last year tested 13 corporate file sharing applications, and the most common comment from the seven end users and three administrators who tested them was, "this wasn't as easy as Dropbox," McClure said.

However, once the evaluators became familiar with the corporate OFS systems, they were surprised by the advanced capabilities.

"They said, 'I realize how much more productive I can be because it does so much more than Dropbox does,' " McClure said. "So training is really important ... because there's so much more that can be done when it comes to workflow and security."

Companies already using a business-class OFS service were asked what enterprise services they use less because of it. The top answer was their enterprise file sharing or general-purpose file servers, followed by NAS servers and then a VPN.

"One of the biggest cost-savings opportunities you're looking at when deploying a private or public file sharing service is the ability to get rid of your VPN," she said. "This stuff will have a material impact on business. If you can remove friction on file sharing, you can speed collaboration."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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