(Originally published in Data Center Knowledge)
The demand for ubiquitous access to any file, any place on any device has resulted in a wide range of new cloud services over the last five years. While many of these services do deliver to some extent on this promise, they also end up creating entirely new silos of information. Now, when you want to access an important piece of information, you have to remember whether it is on your local hard drive, your shared file system, the document management application or the consumer file sync and share. Or all of the above? These silos exist because there is not just one that satisfies everything you are trying to accomplish.
Vendors don’t necessarily intend to create information silos, but their limited architecture and short-sighted approach forces users to drag and store all content in their system to make it work. This creates significant barriers for users who want to access their files. Where did they save it, is it the most current version and can they even access it from the road?
But wait. What if there was a better way – a method that started to break down all of these silos rather than creating a new one. How would that be? First and foremost, it makes much more sense to open up existing silos than to create new ones that circumvent the infrastructure you’ve already built – and we can now do this.
Bringing Your Data to the Cloud
An ideal enterprise solution would not copy all the files from the local server and place them in a separate information repository in the cloud as many consumer-centric file sync and share solutions do. Instead, it would simply open up the company’s existing file storage systems, making files and home directories available in the cloud just as they are on the local server. For example, as a tool specifically designed for the enterprise, EMC Syncplicity will be making information from Isilon and many other storage systems accessible automatically via the cloud.
This approach solves a common problem: with so many apps for file sharing, collaboration and productivity, users must often switch between different user interfaces and try to remember where exactly a file is located. This can be a problem if you are just using one file system, and it increases by an order of magnitude with each additional system you use.
As a comparison, think about how much easier your web experience is now that you can log in to consumer apps and sites using Facebook, giving you access to all your Facebook friends and the option to seamlessly share updates from those apps on Facebook. This eliminates steps, saves users time and creates a great user experience.
Unlocking Existing Silos
Furthermore, as the device ecosystem continues to expand and the BYOD trend continues to proliferate, having access to files on every device at all times is becoming less of a perk and more or an expectation. File sharing tools, especially for the enterprise, should unlock existing information silos so they are accessible on all the devices their employees may be using. Documents and files are useless unless they are accessible when, where and how users need them.
Many content management platforms, like Microsoft SharePoint, have thus far only been accessible via PCs connected to an organization’s server due to the lack of a secure, streamlined and cost-effective approach to delivering mobile access. Opening existing document management and file storage infrastructure to mobile, and eventually all connected devices, without requiring a full-scale migration of data is a challenge cloud file sharing services must tackle to truly turn on an increasingly mobile and connected workforce.
Just as files are useless if users can’t access them, a file sync and share solution fails to deliver on its promise when it only mimics the existing experience of yesterday’s technology. Mobile devices have penetrated almost every aspect of consumers’ lives and apps like FlipBoard have redefined how we interact with content, yet most file sharing solutions, like Box and Dropbox, are still simply recreating 20-year-old file trees on a small screen and calling it a mobile app. The companies that are helping move the enterprise into the future, the ones that will ultimately come out on top, are developing truly innovative mobile apps that allow these devices to function as full work platforms that take advantage of contextual elements like location, proximity and social feeds. Features like in-app document editing, simplified folder navigation optimized for the touch interface, and use of mobile-only contextual data such as location and proximity make for a dynamic and powerful user experience on mobile devices.
Breaking down information silos to create a streamlined way for users to interact with their files and get their work done when and where they want is the only way to allow productivity for the evolving workforce. And in the end, it all comes down to how we can be most productive in our work, in the office and everywhere else.