Cheerful blonde student sharing multimedia files on mobile synch application.
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The marketplace for enterprise file synching, sharing (EFSS) and collaboration is changing quickly. Leading analyst firms not only label the category differently from one another, but they even use different definitions and different evaluation criteria by which to rate the vendors. Needless to say, this can make it difficult for IT managers to shortlist solutions in terms of which best meet their needs.

Today's workers are digital natives and they expect to be able to access, share and collaborate on content from anywhere, at any time, with any device and they are going to do it with or without IT's authorization. More than that, IT managers who are charged with controlling, safeguarding and ensuring compliance expect these capabilities to be built into the product or service by default. It's also worth noting that in many enterprises more than one file-sharing/collaboration solution is present, which can create silos that make information management and collaboration difficult and otherwise hasten the digital enterprise.

Here are some of the ways analysts label and categorize what most IT managers refer to as EFSS, as well as links to their reports (many charge a fee):

Understanding what questions to ask, is key to making the right choice for your organization. We asked experts and analysts for their insight. Here are the questions they say are important to know the answers to to before moving forward.

Related Article: The Death of Enterprise File Sync & Sharing: What's Next?

Do You Need a Hybrid Solution?

This is where some files are stored on premise and others are stored in the cloud. This may be needed in cases when some files are on old and less reliable systems but not used much, so moving them to cheap file storage in the cloud works, according to Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder of Deep Analysis. "For many it's more complex — their 'ECM' systems are highly customized and essential to their business processes — but that same ECM system is likely over engineered for some simpler tasks (so move those to more collaborative cloud sharing systems).  What EFSS does not do well is complex application and process management, which often involves multiple systems and data stores, so stuff stays on premises or leverages a hybrid set up," he said.

What Are the Advantages of Cloud Only EFSS Solutions? 

In some cases the answer often depends on the size of the organization in question. "If they are small, it's more about the cloud than anything — low cost — no maintenance — no hassle — cheap and cheerful and probably more secure than you could do by yourself," he added. He points out that he can also point to large organizations that have gone cloud-only.

Should You Consider a Best-of-Breed Vendor?  

The reason being that they likely provide applications and services without bundling into another platform or should you look at EFSS solutions that are already part of a platform? “Niche vendors often have the advantage over platform vendors in delivering new features faster and providing more tailored solutions for specific use-cases. However, customers who do not need to be on the cutting edge often find suites meet their needs, providing a more seamless experience for end users, administrators and developers, and are often included in the price they are already paying," said Alan Lepofsky, Vice President and Principal Analyst collaboration research at Constellation Research.  

What Differentiators Should You Look For To Ensure Your EFSS Investment Meets Your Future Needs? 

In the Forrester Wave Enterprise File Sync And Share Platforms — Cloud Solutions, Q4 2017, Forrester analyst Cheryl McKinnon pointed to the following.

  • Library services 
  • Support for migration
  • Team Collaboration
  • Task Management and Workflow
  • Analytics 
  • Cognitive content services

Not only that, but McKinnon also noted that leading EFSS platform vendors are also looking to offer capabilities around the delivery of "granular, web, and mobile-friendly content apps,” “secure document processes that embrace the extended enterprise," as well as "file share and legacy ECM replacement projects," according to McKinnon.

Where Deployments Will Be in Public, Hybrid, Private Cloud, What Features Should You Consider? 

Gartner, in its MQ, uses Mobility, Simplicity and Usability, File Manipulation, User Productivity, Collaboration, Content Management, Workflow, Analytics, Security and Data Governance, Administration and Management, Integration and Storage.

Watch out for Market Consolidation

The EFSS market is consolidating quickly, consider that the prediction that Gartner made in 2015, "By 2018, 70 percent of today's enterprise file sync and sharing destination vendors will cease to exist;" so aside from looking at features and benefits, it's worth asking if a vendor will even be a viable alternative after this year.