Social business and the cloud: Five myths that are hard to eliminate

Social business and the cloud: Five myths that are hard to eliminate

There is nearly always a backlash or outcry with the adoption of any new technology from those who hail from the more hierarchical and rigid management structures, whether it’s skepticism about the benefits and adoption of the cloud or hesitancy to embrace new social networking technologies within the enterprise.

And as is often the case with new technologies, these objections largely stem from misinformation and exaggerated fears promoted by legacy vendors who are only interested in protecting their market share. In reality, the sophistication and thinking behind today’s innovations are ultimately safer and more cost-efficient than traditional approaches, especially when delivered as a Web application. Yet, naysayers can often delay, and sometimes even thwart, an entire organization’s ability to upgrade legacy systems – unless they are challenged with the facts.

Let’s take file sharing and collaboration, a subset of the social business sector, as an example and dispel some of the arguments that are often put forward by ill-informed influencers.

“We haven’t deployed cloud-based applications before, so cloud collaboration isn’t even an option.”

Does your organization have a presence on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook – or do you use Outlook or Google Apps? Well, surprise, you’re already pushing data into the cloud. There’s a lack of understanding of what the cloud means, with the traditional understanding being that cloud is data that doesn’t reside on servers on-premise. But the cloud’s ubiquity over the last decade means nearly every organization, at varying levels, is connected to the cloud – directly or through its business partners.

The cloud sector brought in $14.5 billion in worldwide revenues last year, according to Gartner – the cost-savings, flexibility and scalability benefits of cloud data storage and computing have been well-publicized. But more traditional companies are still unclear on how cloud-enabled applications can deliver business benefits for the enterprise.

For instance, according to Forrester, 34 per cent of companies plan to replace their collaboration systems with a cloud offering within the next two years with another nine per cent planning, at least, a cloud-based complement to their existing system. This means, 50 per cent of companies are adequately preparing for the plethora of market indicators pointing to a future in which nearly every organization will have, to some degree, a mobile or distributed workforce. In turn, collaboration systems not rooted within the cloud will quickly become antiquated as the workforce morphs in this direction.

In a nutshell, the cloud offering for the enterprise is far more multi-faceted than data storage – it’s about collaboration, unparalleled client service, delivery and access.

“I’m concerned about the security of my information with cloud collaboration.”

Let’s indulge in this one a bit, since it’s by far the most common objection to adopting cloud-enabled collaboration to the enterprise. If you’re a company with over a thousand employees, you probably spend, on average, £1 million annually on your IT infrastructure. A behemoth cloud provider, like Amazon Web Services spends between £60 million to £600 million on data security – so how do you think the average company’s data security compares? Additionally, consider that most companies can rebound from a firewall exposure – for cloud providers, this fundamentally betrays the service they are providing and could easily result in a Chapter 11 business catastrophe. Therefore, your data is most likely safer with the right cloud provider than behind your firewall.

Of course, security cannot be taken for granted and it’s worth ensuring that whichever collaboration platform used is encrypted at 128bit SSL, unless you’re a military or highly-secure government body for which 256bit AES is recommended. Added security functionality, including password authentication and permissions-based access should be expected, especially if collaboration platforms are used for documents with proprietary and confidential information. Like it or not, the cloud providers that collaboration platforms use, nearly always outmatch in-house measures when it comes to financial and resource investments in security.

“It’s not just about security – it’s about control. With an email, I keep the documents on my server and I decide who gets them.”

All you have to do is think back to the time you sent a sensitive email to the wrong person or enclosed the incorrect attachment to an email to identify the fallacy of this argument. If I accidentally send the wrong attachment or email to an erroneous recipient, I’ve lost permanent control of that message and document once it leaves my outbox. Depending on which email platform I use, I might be able to recall the message – but usually not until it’s too late. What the recipient does with the message or any attached documents is essentially out of my hands. Cloud collaboration platforms, however, are embedded with fail-safes that ensure control, and security, in the event of human error.

For instance with a cloud collaboration platform, if I invite the wrong person to view a document, I simply remove that person from having access to file at the platform level. Also, with permission settings, I can restrict the ability for viewers to download, modify and sync documents – again, the full control of the documents stays with me. In cases with especially sensitive materials, I can require an additional password for users to access it, offering another layer of protection against errant accesses. Or I could set documents to expire on the platform after 48 or 72 hours, again, giving me far more control over what happens to shared documents than email does. Let’s face it – this is what email recall wishes it could be!

“What about reliability of service? I need to be able to access my documents and share them with my team at all times.”

Again, consider the reliability of a service like Amazon Web Services and CloudSigma versus the server of most companies. Because most cloud providers have highly-sophisticated business continuity plans in place, the odds of an outage barring access to documents is nominal. Most companies, unfortunately given their limited IT budgets, endure server crashes and email outages several times a year. In fact, the average U.S. business faces 2.4 days of server outage per year, according to a recent Poneman Institute report.

“We like using email for collaboration – that way we own all the conversations.”

The bad news is, your employees are using more than email. Take a stroll around the office and you’ll see icons on desktops for Skype, Gmail and countless other messaging platforms. In today’s workplace, email is the new snail mail and when employees want to engage in an impromptu brainstorming session or want to discuss a document, they largely prefer instant messages – especially with distributed teams. This means you lose valuable intellectual property and institutional knowledge, because it’s sitting in a consumer application that employees will take with them when they leave. So rather than taking a blind eye to this reality, you can provide a platform for your employees to do this where your company retains the traceability and auditability of these conversations.

In a sense, the cloud suffers from its successes. It has been hyped to be a truly revolutionary enterprise tool, affecting business communications in a way not seen since the adoption of email. However at the same time few truly grasp how the cloud operates or what parts of their business are currently in the cloud. And it is only natural to be wary of something purported to be so powerful, yet so mysterious. But there’s a difference between pragmatic caution and outright fear — the former yields productivity when applied intelligently and the latter results in being, frankly, left behind.

Ali Moinuddin is the Chief Marketing Officer at Workshare and the current Chair of Executive Leardership Council in Europe.

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