mobile enterprise,What the Consumerization of IT Means for SharePoint Online, SkyDrive Pro
BYOD has taken over the enterprise, whether the enterprise likes it or not. But it’s not just BYOD. Employees are turning to consumer versions of file sharing cloud solutions like DropBox, Google Drive, SkyDrive (not to be confused with SkyDrive Pro) and others to access their documents no matter where they are. IT needs to resolve this problem, and it won’t be done by banning the use of these devices and apps. There’s a smarter way.

Harmon.ie did a study that produced some eye opening findings. Forty one percent of workers surveyed used an unsanctioned cloud-based file sharing application to share documents despite the fact that 87 percent of them knew it was against company policy. Maybe of greater concern is that 38 percent said a document they shared “reached or may have reached an unintended recipient.”

The fact is, these easy to use consumer tools help employees get their work done, and that's going to make them popular. Unfortunately, this means there’s a lot of “shadow IT” happening today -- the use of devices or applications not sanctioned by the IT department. And that means the potential risks to information security grow enormously.

But there’s a lot of opportunity buried inside this concern of shadow IT, you just have to sit back and think about what it means in the greater scheme of enterprise applications and managing information.

Can't Stop the March to the Cloud

I believe cloud platforms offer great opportunities. They let you share information anywhere, and for the employee who works on the road, from home or likes to work on the commute to work (assuming they are not the one driving), they provide considerable flexibility. IT needs to recognize that on premises, behind the firewall apps are not the path to the future of IT. Yes, there will always be a need for these types of applications and platforms, but for the collaboration worker, the one who needs to work with other people or work in different locations, a cloud-based platform comes in handy. The same goes for mobile devices, be it a tablet or a smartphone.

Check out any IT analyst blog and you’ll see there is a clear drive for the cloud. Gartner has predicted that hybrid clouds and IT as a service will be top strategic trends for 2014, pointing to this idea of integrating the personal cloud with external private clouds. How that will ultimately pan out will be interesting to watch and be a part of.

So what can IT do to open its arms to the possibilities of BYOD and cloud-based application platforms? It’s simple. Provide a range of solutions that offer the same ease of use and flexibility. Here is where I think SharePoint Online (Office 365), and SkyDrive Pro will do well. A recent survey by Softchoice indicates that 80 percent of respondents use some form of remote access application, with SkyDrive being a top contender with 79 percent enterprise penetration.

There are some indications that SharePoint Online is not seeing the adoption you would expect given Microsoft's new focus on cloud solutions. But take a look at what Office 365 offers overall: email and calendaring, Office web apps, Lync for communications (instant messaging, web conferencing), Yammer and SharePoint for collaboration and document management and SkyDrive Pro for storing and organizing documents. That's an impressive package of collaboration worker tools at a great price point. And it can be used anywhere, at any time.

Depending on the version of Office 365/SharePoint Online you subscribe to, you also get content auditing tools, anti-malware detection and extensive information management compliance capabilities through the Record Management Feature.

The Softchoice survey cited above did include a concern about SkyDrive:

SkyDrive’s seamless integration with Office 365, Windows 8 and Hotmail appeals to users but presents a new set of challenges to IT departments," the report stated. "With SkyDrive’s tight integration, many users unknowingly transfer and store files in the cloud, posing unintentional risks that IT departments must get ahead of before adoption rates climb higher."

Microsoft’s focus on the cloud is a clear indicator that organizations need to shift their focus and look to technologies that improve business agility:

We also know that for today’s CIOs and business leaders, the cloud presents an opportunity to redefine the role that the IT and non-IT business functions play in implementing a business’ strategy. Because of its power to fundamentally change how businesses operate and compete, the cloud is a game changer for many companies.”

IT's Challenge 

The big issue I see is that IT needs to be able to monitor and track usage of cloud solutions, because people are knowingly and unknowingly sharing content via a range of these solutions. What IT needs to ask itself is, would they rather enable and support technologies they can have some access to and control over (this includes sanctioned solutions like SharePoint Online and SkyDrive Pro), or do they want to continue fighting the unsanctioned tool battle and run the risk of exposure of confidential information? I know what I would choose.

And then there is the issue of using multiple cloud solutions and trying to integrate them. In a survey this year on the State of Cloud Computing, found 66 percent of organizations used between two and five different SaaS applications, and 51 percent noted security holes in many of these services as a major risk. This again gives credence to the concept of one cloud that offers employees the many different capabilities that personal cloud services provide.

This, in my opinion, is a major opportunity for Office 365 (and SharePoint Online) -- give employees the features they want with any time, anywhere access, while at the same time providing IT some control/way of monitoring and securing usage. I predict we’ll see a greater move to Office 365/SharePoint Online as organizations evaluate their options and see the benefits this cloud service offers both the organizations and its employees.

Title image courtesy of IdeaStepConceptStock (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more of Steven's take on SharePoint in the cloud in 4 Reasons NOT to Move to SharePoint Online