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Over the holidays I had the opportunity to trade some emails with Jeetu Patel on the future of the Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) industry. Patel is general manager of Syncplicity, a business unit of EMC.

Prior to leading Syncplicity, Patel was Chief Strategy Officer of EMC's Information Intelligence Group (IIG). He was responsible for orchestrating and driving cross-category product vision, growth strategy, innovation agenda, cloud computing and big data initiatives. Additionally, he headed Worldwide Marketing for IIG, where he was responsible for product marketing, thought leadership, as well as competitive, vertical and solutions marketing.

Severson: Any guesses on what 2015 holds for the EFSS market?

Patel: Big question. Five trends I can think of are:

  • The phablet form factor will change the way app developers build apps. App developers will now customize for three modalities (phone, phablet and tablet) on mobile for three major operating systems (iOS, Android and Windows/Windows Phone).
  • Wearables, especially Apple Watch will get to critical mass in 2015 with first-generation apps being launched. It will require complete re-imagination of building delightful yet sometimes invisible or near-invisible experiences for software developers. It will also force developers to build much more continuous experiences across modalities.
  • Using context to add value will become the norm for enterprise solutions. Apps will become much more predictive and intelligent in nature as developers continue to find new ways to draw useful information from the mass quantities of data stored in our devices. Small tasks that don’t require a human touch will become automated and require less time on the part of the user.
  • The designing of beautiful apps will continue to gain more momentum for software/SaaS providers. Enterprise tolerance for ugly enterprise apps will continue to get lower and lower -- not just by the users, but also by IT.
  • We will begin to see more companies offering specialized versions of their solutions for specific roles. For instance, an accounting person at a major corporation has different expectations from a productivity solution than a marketing executive. Vendors will use this opportunity to up-level their designs and increase their focus to implement the specific features each role requires.

Severson: You've been in the content management industry for about 20 years, and there has been enormous technological transformation in that time. But we still have lots of Fortune 500 organizations heavily dependent on paper-based manual processes, with poor information governance practices in place. What will the industry look like 20 years from now?

Patel: Let’s break up the two questions. Does paper go away, and does information governance actually get to be enforceable in a practical way, is what I think you’re asking.

I don’t think paper will ever go away. Paper continues to be the highest resolution, but an increasingly disposable medium optimized for consumption of content. This move of paper from a final record to a disposable consumption modality is a very important shift that has occurred over the past couple of decades. I still have a lot of paper around me, but don’t really care to save any of those bits of paper. I have them around me only because they are still very convenient to consume.

Now let’s chat about information governance. I believe the reason information governance and security have failed and people do an end run around these organizational priorities while they are getting their work done is largely because governance is at odds with user productivity. It is a design issue. We as a software community have missed the mark on delivering information governance, security, privacy and compliance capabilities in a way that enhances, rather than degrades productivity.

I think Apple is a great example of a company that’s gotten it right on this front. The fact is, the most insecure app a software company can deliver is a super-secure app where the user experience is atrocious. That guarantees low user engagement, and use of insecure, consumer-grade tools instead. This is why Syncplicity focuses so keenly on user experience. It’s not just to delight the users, but we see great user experience as a huge intellectual property protection and security enhancement avenue.

Severson: One of the reasons legacy ECM platforms have not delivered the value they promised is that they just provide buckets for content. They haven’t effectively embedded themselves into the processes that drive an organization’s value chain. How are you combatting the possibility of Syncplicity becoming just another bucket for content?

Patel: Great question. In fact, our core philosophy is that if we don’t add value beyond just being a big bucket, then this is not a superbly interesting play. We are all about changing experiences people have with content, regardless of the source. The difference between us and some of our competitors is that they first require you migrate all your content to their repository before you can derive higher value from the experiences they provide. We want you to leave the content where it is, and we want to adapt to you, your habits and your current environment to start adding immediate value.

Our goal is to not re-engineer large workflows, but enhance small efficiencies by building meaningfully better experiences. If we can’t build experiences that are 10 times better than what people use today for a fraction of the cost, then the inertia won’t require people to change. EFSS provides a 10 times experience lift over some of the older ways of managing files, such as file shares or SharePoint. We want to connect to those repositories, but also provide step function improvements with our system and a new way of working. So that’s the first point.

The second point is that the world has already moved beyond Office files and PDF. As new apps get built, they will focus not just on old file formats, but also newer content formats and the value that can be added around experiences. That is why the value is in the app experience, not just being a big bucket.