Part of Cimarex Energy Co.’s success in oil and gas exploration and production is due to its ability to collaborate on energy projects both within and outside the company’s firewall. But the size of the files that are exchanged and the possible repercussions of the wrong person getting hold of key company information have added pressure to share files in a more secure way.
When Rey Mirabel joined the company six years ago as its network systems engineer, the company didn’t have an enterprise collaboration platform, which meant about half its 1,000 employees were using assorted consumer products like Dropbox and their own Web mail accounts to share files on fuel development projects and various other business issues.
“It was a nightmare to manage and maintain,” Mirabel said. “We were breaking all the rules of networking principles from security aspects to in-house regulations.” He said that while no sensitive data was being shared, “geographic locations are held close to the vest and when a competitor finds out what our intentions are, that could impact business decisions.”
The key was to enable employees to collaborate in ways that increased productivity while avoiding the potential business hits that might come from workers creating their own mobile and file-sharing accounts using consumer programs.
This was especially true when it came to hiring highly qualified engineers and geologists. The Denver-based company has found one of the best ways to ensure it hires the best and brightest is to evaluate graduate students by enabling employees to collaborate with students on company projects.
“We recruit right out of school,” said Mirabel.
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After a careful search, Cimarex rolled out Accellion File Sharing for collaboration so it could do business without giving away the farm. The software enabled secure file transfer options and made it possible to share large amounts of attachments and documents, including data-intensive files of 100GB and more.
But the software had its problems. Mirabel and his team soon discovered that customizing permission levels and making sure the right versions of files were being used was a challenge. And then two years ago, Mirabel was asked to find a better way for Cimarex engineers to collaborate with graduate students at various universities and colleges on recruitment projects without giving them complete access to the company network.
Mirabel knew Accellion -- based in Palo Alto, Calif. -- didn’t offer the additional functionality he was looking for, so he began a search for a cloud collaboration platform because he wanted to manage it as a separate entity from Cimarex’s internal domain. After an evaluation process, the company picked SharePoint Online. It worked just fine, Mirabel said, and met company needs, “but licensing was going to become expensive.”
After a few months, SharePoint proved to be somewhat cumbersome, Mirabel said, explaining that the administrative management aspects of SharePoint, like its user setup feature, “was more time consuming” than he anticipated.
Around that time, Accellion started publicizing new collaboration features for its file-sharing application. Since Cimarex employees were already used to the interface, Mirabel said his company decided to become beta testers of the latest version of Accellion File Sharing.
The experiment turned out to be a success. Four or five senior geologist beta testers found it was easier and faster to set up a student with an account to share big files without granting any access inside the company firewall. The company geologist can grant individual students their own folder structure and assign specific permissions while the geologist maintains full control over the work environment, Mirabel said.
“All of this happens without having to involve me at all,” he said. “Another thing is the product is very intuitive.” A feature called kitedrive enables automatic synchronization of files within Accellion File Sharing to ensure users are working with the latest approved files or documents.
“We found a 20% to 30% cost savings overall,” Mirabel said, explaining that while Accellion has a similar volume licensing plan to SharePoint, the Accellion pricing more closely matches Cimarex’s situation. Accellion pricing is $15 per user per month for up to 500 users. As collaboration needs scale to high volumes of users, the list price approaches $4 per user per month. The combination of the cost savings and efficiency gained by users sold Cimarex on Accellion.
While geologists find it easier to interact with graduate students, the product has also evolved into a valuable human resources tool for the company. Another benefit, of course, is that if Cimarex identifies and then hires students it wants as employees, they’re already familiar with the firm’s enterprise collaboration platform and won’t require any training on the system.
So far, Mirabel said file sharing and maintaining control hasn’t been an issue, and when there have been questions, Accellion’s support has been fast to answer them.
“The only complaint I have is the product runs in Linux in a VM Ware environment, and I am not a Linux person,” he said. “I’m a little uncomfortable with that, but it runs so well you never have to interact with it.”
This was first published in May 2012