The consumerization of IT battle is playing out across the enterprise and content management and social collaboration software are two of the biggest fronts.
While IT can turn to a wide array of enterprise-ready social collaboration software like SharePoint, Igloo, OpenText and Huddle, that hasn’t stopped employees at companies large and small from bringing their consumer applications into their workplace.
“This trend is probably not so much of a new trend as it is one that is manifesting itself in a different way,” said Shawn Shell, principal consultant at Chicago-based Consejo Incorporated. “It’s not to suggest that these tools don’t have a purpose or that there isn’t a set of needs that would require SharePoint or Igloo or Open Office or Hyper Office. But there are some firms like Google or Microsoft that are providing a base level of functionalities that are simply good enough. And good enough is resonating.”
Shell believes that the problem of employees using outside, consumer-focused tools at work is not the fault of the vendors that offer “enterprise tools,” but on the enterprise itself for not matching tools to tasks.
“From my perspective, I still think there is a usability problem at the enterprise,” Shell said. “They are so systematic, so methodical and so rigid that they see tools from the tool-sense alone, but don’t make a good [case] to match the tool to the task.”
Shell, who is also a contributor for SearchContentManagement.com, uses the example of word processing. He opines that no one would use Google Docs instead of Microsoft Word for word processing, but that the narrative is muddled when that file needs to be co-edited or shared.
“Your enterprise might have SharePoint, but they haven’t made the connection with the employee about what that means,” said Shell, adding that it’s that point in the process where applications like Google Docs, DropBox or FilesAnywhere come in. “Consumerization of the enterprise is the enterprise’s fault. They have not provided a compelling case for the tools that they have purchased. And I don’t think this is a vendor problem; this is an implementation problem.”
Consumer tools vs. enterprise social collaboration tools: What’s the difference?
The differences between consumer and enterprise social collaboration tools are not necessarily that big, according to Andrew Dixon, senior vice president of marketing and operations for Canada-based Igloo Software.
“I think that the common ground between tools that are used by consumers and tools that are used in the business are the Web 2.0 technologies,” Dixon said. “Things like blogs, wikis, profiles – all those things are seen as being very useful in the consumer world, and increasingly in the business world.”
Dixon argues that the main differentiator between the two is the problems they aim to solve. He refers to Google Docs, DropBox and similar programs as “point solutions,” applications that aim to solve one problem.
“End users are coming across their functionality and think, ‘Hey, this would be great for my job,’” he said.
He sees Igloo and the similar line of products from competitors as “platform solutions” or applications that aim to solve a host of problems by not having a narrow functionality and by ensuring that collaboration tools can interact with the other applications in an enterprise.
OpenText’s Debra Louison-Lavoy agrees. She sees the line of tools that Dixon calls “point solutions” as creating silos in the enterprise, where one team may use DropBox to share files but another uses FilesAnywhere. She believes that this siloing effect makes it difficult for one hand to know what the other is doing, which is a problem she says enterprise collaboration tools aim to solve.
Louison-Lavoy also notes that OpenText, because it sells software, is forced to be more responsive to users than a free or freemium tool has to be.
“It’s a bummer if Gmail goes down, but it’s catastrophic if your business goes down,” she said.
She does acknowledge the role that consumer-based social collaboration software has played in the design of user interfaces, saying that “consumer usability has leapfrogged enterprise usability in the last decade.”
Security: always on the enterprise’s mind
Ask a vendor for a distinguishing factor between its software and what’s available free through a browser and one answer is common across the board: security.
Louison-Lavoy referenced security and compliance among several key issues that she believes OpenText can handle and consumer tools can’t. Dixon also makes the distinction, saying that the last thing IT wants are applications that “don’t work together and compromise things like security.”
The line of consumer tools that Louison-Lavoy and Dixon are referring to are hosted in the public cloud and are not protected by a firewall.
But, Shell sees that argument as a canard in some ways.
“Security would presume that you must work in an environment that has absolute control of content, and frankly we use insecure systems all the time -- it’s called email,” Shell said. “As soon as somebody forwards it, it’s no longer secure.”
Shell says that Google and others have made a commitment to users to only share documents with authorized users.
“How is that any different than an enterprise repository, aside from maybe having a firewall or two extra?,” Shell said, adding that hacking has proven that even the best firewalls can be breached.
Google and content management in the enterprise
While the discussion of consumer tools for sharing, collaboration and content management include anything from DropBox and FilesAnywhere to Facebook, often the focus is on the varied free applications offered by Google.
“Google’s an amazing company, they do a lot of incredibly amazing things,” said Louison-Lavoy. “Do they really care that much about the enterprise space? I get into this debate a lot with various people. What does enterprise mean to Google versus what it means to the enterprise?”
Shell sees evidence that Google is already creeping into the enterprise, noting examples like Google’s 2009 contract with the city of Los Angeles to host its 30,000 email accounts on Gmail.
But, while these examples exist, Shell does not believe that Google is truly interested in putting forth the effort necessary to compete with Microsoft in the enterprise.