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Fostering safe collaboration in the workplace

Today's workforce needs simple collaborative solutions enabling employees to remain productive at all times whilst keeping content secure, says Anthony Foy of Workshare.

Mobile workforces mean that collaboration is essential Rawpixel

With increasingly mobile and dispersed workforces, collaboration across teams has become essential for enabling knowledge workers to connect, share ideas and ultimately remain productive wherever they are. According to The Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), organisations looking to increase efficiency need to adopt collaborative cloud technologies, providing users with a central and secure cloud environment for collaboration. 

Enterprise-ready cloud-collaboration technologies enable disaggregated teams to securely and centrally collaborate on documents, no matter where they are. Users are able to progress documents through the review process while adding value at each step. This not only enriches the content itself through team input and discussion, but moves documents towards completion more effectively and productively. 

The value of structured collaboration

Group collaboration via email or consumer file sharing applications creates a ‘brain drain’ of information, ideas and conversations around a document. These unstructured conversations are hard to manage and track and often the ideas or intellectual property (IP) created within them are lost as the document goes through the creation and review process. These silos of information not only reduce efficiency, visibility and productivity, but severely limit the potential for pooling ideas and expertise, which a central collaboration application provides. 

To add value to a business, collaboration must be document-centric, structured and have a purpose. All activity around a document, such as comments, edits and new versions should be logged and made visible to those that need to be kept updated. For security conscious firms, enterprise collaboration applications also ensure intellectual property (IP) and sensitive information remains protected when being accessed, shared or collaborated on. Policy enforcement enables users and IT groups to control who has access to what documents and how they can use them; ensuring information is not lost, or falls into the wrong hands.

For firms with geographically dispersed teams, a secure, cloud-based, document-centric platform can improve collaboration, communication and visibility, as well as dramatically increase productivity and intellectual property. 

Firms that handle high-value or competitive information should be wary, as AIIM and Workshare’s research shows that if secure options are not provided, employees will find their own cloud applications to collaborate remotely, even if they are unsecure. With these applications, the firm’s content and data is out of the control and audit of IT, which raises obvious concerns around security. 

Mind the security gap

Cloud based file share and sync applications are accelerating collaboration both inside and outside the firewall. As such, a large number of knowledge workers are resorting to unauthorised, free file sharing services as IT groups fail to provide secure alternatives. According to a recent report by AIIM and Workshare, although collaborating outside the firewall is seen key driver for success for the majority of organisations (60 percent), knowledge workers confirmed that existing Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Document Management Systems (DMS) solutions do not extend into the cloud or to mobile devices to enable collaboration beyond the office. 

The same research highlighted that fewer than 25 percent of respondents have any document creation, editing or workflow capability on a mobile device, even though 85 percent would like to. In addition, only a small minority can access content securely on mobile devices. IT groups that do not recognise and meet the need for these capabilities on the move, are opening the door to easy-to-use unsanctioned applications, which let employees work the way they want. This movement is evident in the results of our research, with 71 percent of respondents saying that they believe their organisation has shortfalls in technical support for external collaboration.

With unsanctioned applications, IT groups lose complete control of content, with no way to track with whom a document has been shared, or how it is being used. When the content is highly confidential, or of a sensitive nature, the repercussions of data loss can lead to costly fines, regulatory breaches and irrevocably damage a firm’s reputation. Therefore, firms must extend legacy solutions like DMS and ECM systems to enable secure file sharing and structured collaboration functionality when implementing an IT collaboration strategy. 

Supporting secure file sharing and collaboration

As protectors of company data, it is IT’s role to ensure they can work the way they want, in a secure and practical way, while effectively reducing the risk of data loss. If not sanctioned by the IT group, sharing via unsecure methods leads to increasing levels of commercial and compliance risk, as data leaves the confines of the corporate network without an adequate level of control. In 53 percent of organisations, consumer-grade applications are completely banned, but only 23 percent provide an approved enterprise-grade alternative. As such it is crucial that IT groups regain control over company documents and data. IT groups must educate users about the risks inherent in sharing high-value content and provide secure alternatives. 

Another security risk for firms is hidden data - also known as metadata. Hidden data left within documents is often present as hidden track changes, notes, invisible rows in Excel or even details about who has worked on the document and when. For firms working on complex client documents, these are not details they would want leaving the organisation, or falling into the wrong hands. Any sanctioned file sharing or collaboration application must support a security framework that can identify, block and clean hidden data before a document is shared. The application should also help educate users about hidden data and the risk it poses to a firm, to avoid inadvertent data leaks. 

The research cited highlights the need for IT to address today’s workforces need for simple, enterprise collaboration solutions that enable employees to remain productive at all times, while keeping content secure. Cost-effective collaboration applications will be fundamental for IT groups looking to extend collaboration securely beyond the firewall and provide users with easy access to content, from anywhere. For IT groups, these applications provide the balance between meeting user needs and allowing IT to enforce and maintain control around file sharing and collaboration. Anthony Foy is CEO, Workshare 

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08 August 2014

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