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Moving toward the Enterprise
Most of the vendors in the consumer cloud file sharing space have been moving in the same direction – upmarket. Consumer and SMB market leaders Box and Dropbox have been emphasizing their business or enterprise offerings. Both have been adding administrative and security functions, as well as features that larger enterprises want such as workflows and document management. This has placed them on a collision course with a number of specialty cloud file sharing vendors such as Intralinks, SpringCM, Egnyte, and Huddle, as well as the Microsoft OneDrive for Business-SharePoint combination.
It is clearly where the most valuable customers are to be found. Ultimately, though, this is tough territory for the vendors whose roots lie in consumer file sharing. Their new competitors have greater experience with large company needs and already have the kind of features that these types of customers find valuable.
Large companies have traditionally used a suite of applications to manage documents and foster collaboration between the team members using them. These include enterprise content management systems, social collaboration applications (especially enterprise social networks), enterprise search, and digital asset management (DAM). All of these applications help team members to share thoughts, content, and decisions that enable them to work together to achieve group goals. Since the heart of enterprise cloud file sharing services is sharing content to enable collaboration, it is not surprising that many of these advanced collaboration features would find their way into the products in this space. Subsequently, there is a serious convergence of enterprise cloud file sharing products with other products that help teams to collaborate.
There is a convergence underway with enterprise social network, ECM, DAM, and enterprise search. The Microsoft line of collaboration products is a great example of this convergence. There is tremendous feature commonality between OneDrive for Business, SharePoint, and Yammer. In many cases, the decision of which product to use has more to do with how a team wants to organize its work than with the features themselves.
This convergence is derived from a need among corporate knowledge workers to work more efficiently, effectively and productively in teams. Information silos, where individual groups or people can own and control a class of information, work against this need. Having different applications to manage collaboration is, in itself, less efficient. In response, vendors have increased the degree of integration between these products, as well as having features cross over between them.
The same is true for enterprise cloud file sharing products, too. Many of the cloud file sharing vendors have added features common to other collaboration applications in order to enable knowledge workers to work together better. Subsequently, many cloud file sharing products have begun to resemble common collaboration enablement products, especially enterprise content management software and enterprise social networks, but also DAM and enterprise search.
File Sharing Meets ECM
Vendors such as SpringCM and Huddle are adding features typically found in ECM applications to their products. These features include workflows, task management, versioning, and check-in/check-out with the traditional cloud file sharing features. This creates a product that marries the document management of an ECM application with the user experience and collaborative sharing of a cloud file sharing application. End-users can thus have a safe, workflow-driven environment with the ability to easily store, access, and share files as if they were using a consumer product.
Even more important is that many of these features are more automated than in a traditional ECM system. For example, in many cases, check-in/check-out, a core ECM feature, are completely transparent to the end user. When a file is accessed for editing or downloading, it is automatically checked out and then checked back in when the file is saved or uploaded.
The end result is a marriage of the power of an ECM application with the convenience and user experience of the consumer cloud file sharing product.
File Sharing Meets Enterprise Social Network
Other vendors, especially Huddle, have leaned more heavily into the enterprise social networking features to enable collaboration. Commenting, group management, dynamic tasks, group notes, and other features common to enterprise social networks are beginning to appear in cloud file sharing applications to help teams collaborate around documents. In some cases, it can be hard to tell the difference between an enterprise social network and a cloud file sharing product other than the desktop sync feature common to cloud file sharing applications. In many cases, these features provide corporate analogs to other consumer applications such as Facebook or Evernote that may be creeping onto corporate devices.
File Sharing Meets DAM
Almost all vendors are adding features such as photo management to provide enterprise analogs to consumer or SMB content management services like Flickr or Pinterest. While still document-centric, these features provide end users with more ways to collaborate by organizing, sharing, viewing, and finding rich media in ways that are specific to the content type. Instead of dealing with files generically, cloud file sharing services help customers to manage files as digital content. One DAM feature that has not yet crossed over to enterprise cloud file sharing applications is automated tagging of digital assets. It is expected that this will appear soon as either a feature or through integration with other data management tools.
File Sharing Meets Enterprise Search
The irony of enterprise cloud file sharing products is that when they are well accepted, end-users will discover that finding the files they want will become more burdensome. On the one hand, end users will have access to all of their files, plus the files others have shared with them. On the other hand, typical keyword searches will return so many files that finding the right one will be impossible.
In response, some vendors, Spring CM for example, are beginning to create more sophisticated search capabilities of the type usually found in ECM or standalone enterprise search applications. These include faceted search and automated content recommendations. Faceted search is a common features of eDiscovery and archiving systems, where a large result set is narrowed down by filtering on metadata stored with the file. Content recommendations, a common feature in enterprise social networks and eCommerce systems, analyzes the type of content a user accesses the most and makes recommendations of similar content they might be more interested in. The faceted search approach works well when searching for specific content, while the recommendation engine approach helps keep individual users apprised of new content that could be helpful to them.
File Sharing Meets Consumer Applications
Enterprise cloud file sharing is, above all else, an example of the power of consumerization in IT. Nowhere is the influence of consumer application design more apparent than in enterprise cloud file sharing products. User experience, especially for mobile applications, is much like a consumer app with drag and drop uploads, downloads and flat design, and beautiful and intuitive interfaces. Of all of these features of consumer applications, none is more important than the trend toward automation and integration. Both automation and integration are used to hide complexity from the user. Some clear example are Egnyte’s optimizations to synchronize large files without detracting from the user experience, Huddle’s automated check-in/check-out, Intralinks use of DRM to manage offline documents without user intervention, and Dropbox’s Project Harmony, which will embed chat right in a document as its being viewed.
The enterprise cloud file sharing market has evolved dramatically over the past few years. Good ideas from other types of sharing and collaboration applications have been added to enable better collaborative work amongst teams. It is expected that vendors in this space will continue to evolve their products with more collaboration features in the future as will vendors of enterprise social networks, ECM, and DAM applications. It is likely that within a few years, these categories of applications will be indistinguishable from each other.
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