file sharing, sharepoint, dropbox, google drive A battle is being silently waged between IT personnel and business users over the way important business documents get shared at work. 

On one side, 200 million business users have voted to use Dropbox, a simple but inherently unsecure solution. On the other side, 135 million enterprise user ballots have been cast by corporate IT for Microsoft SharePoint, a hard(er) to use but secure solution.

Truth be told, the battlefield is even bigger, since these are just the biggest companies on each side. In fact, according to a recent Forrester Research report, there are “as many as 30 or 40 vendors offering file sync and share capabilities as part of their application or document collaboration or mobile management solution.” 

So who is right? Workers who opt for convenience and ease of use, or IT who opts for security and governance at the cost of usability?

The answer is depends. In the previously-mentioned Forrester report, analysts Ted Schadler and Rob Koplowitz point out that there is “an astounding breadth of document collaboration scenarios,” and no one solution fits all needs. And there is no shortage of reports that survey this rapidly-changing market landscape and present a dizzying array of recommendations. But at the end of the day, it really comes down to a small number of basic factors.

This article summarizes the main considerations you need to weigh before making an informed decision. For a more detailed investigation, I urge you to read the Forrester report entitled, “Forrester Wave: File Sync and Share Platforms Q3 2013,” as well as the recent Gartner Research report entitled, “IT Market Clock for Enterprise Mobility, 2013” by analysts Monica Basso and Bryan Taylor. Both reports contain comprehensive surveys of the current market landscape and offer concrete recommendations.

What You Need to Consider

The first thing you need to know is that there is no single product or service that fulfills all document sharing and collaboration requirements. Rather, you need to consider a number of factors before deciding what is right for your organization. Here are the main factors you should consider:

Universal Access

Does the service allow you to share documents from all the devices from which you access and share documents, specifically -- the desktop, smartphones, tablets, and the cloud? Dropbox and Google Docs provide universal access via an extremely simple user interface; SharePoint comes up short here -- while ‘accessible’ on all platforms, it is only via a complex web interface, deemed hard to use by business users. Good native interfaces are sorely lacking. Good third-party solutions can fill in the gaps here, but they need to be added on top of SharePoint.


Does the solution provide password protection, encryption, remote wipe, document access control, containerization, tracking and reporting, and centralized provisioning for setting up document storage and access rights? ‘Free’ services like Dropbox and Google Docs typically do not. So these service need to be augmented with a variety of overlays to make them secure. However, asking IT to configure and manage these overlays is anathema to end users who want simple, ‘hands-off’ document storage and sharing. Because once you get IT involved, these solutions lose their luster. SharePoint of course provides much of this out of the box, specifically for the desktop and web. For mobile devices, you will need to add capabilities like MDM and a third-party SharePoint app to get a secure and practical solution for SharePoint, but these are probably already part of your mobile strategy.

On-premise/cloud storage

Does the service store documents in a public cloud, private cloud, or on corporate servers under the control of central IT? This is a complex issue that depends a lot on legal requirements, the particular industry, corporate culture, and plain downright pragmatism. Dropbox and Google Docs are strictly cloud-based, while SharePoint offers the flexibility to be either; cloud or on premises, including mixed ‘hybrid’ models. For many organizations, a hybrid model that provides important flexibility and future-proofing should at least be explored.

With whom are you sharing documents?

Are you sharing documents with people outside your organization, like partners, suppliers, and customers? These folks almost certainly do not reside in enterprise identity registries that are used to control access to corporate documents. So sending them links via Dropbox is a simple and easy way to share documents without having to add them to an identity registry. On the other hand, when you share documents with co-workers, you are probably already set up to do so securely in SharePoint. In this case, storage and sharing sites have already been configured and document access control has already been defined. So sharing documents with these folks via SharePoint can done securely without any extra work…or cost.

Ease of use / Simplicity

How easy is it to use the service? Does it require training? Do you have to configure each one of your devices to be able to share documents? Dropbox, Google Docs, and their clones win this one hands-down. These solutions are drop-dead easy to use; you can easily store, sync and share documents, even large ones with anyone…even with people who don’t subscribe to the service. What can be easier than clicking on a link and gaining access to an important document, without having to consider where it is stored or how it got to me? Of course, the flip side of this is data leakage, so read on.