With the creation of cloud-based platforms, file sharing is becoming ubiquitous, and for companies, embracing mobile collaboration is crucial for survival.

Cloud computing

Courtesy of Flickr user FutUndBeidl. CC-BY

Indeed, at many companies, these mobile platforms give employees the freedom to contribute to their firms anywhere, anytime, using any device. According to a report by independent information-technology research firm Neovise, which screened 822 IT leaders and decision-makers, a majority of U.S. businesses (54 percent) are using some form of public or private cloud technology.

But things were different 10 years ago.

Microsoft SharePoint, a web application that launched in 2001, was one of the first file-sharing collaborative platforms to enter the marketplace. But it was a hard sell, says James Gordon, vice president of IT at Needham Bank. Although IT managers at various companies tried to promote the software, employees saw little benefit to it, and it didn’t catch on, Gordon says. They were already in the office, so it was easier to hold a meeting on site than to upload their documents, data and ideas to a sharing platform. If they did want to share documents over the Internet, they could simply attach them to an email. But as mobility grew in popularity, so did SharePoint.

By 2010, approximately 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies were using the software. Employees tend to “gravitate toward what’s easiest,” says Gordon. At one time, that was emailing attachments back and forth, and now it is keeping documents in a centralized location with platforms like SharePoint, he says. Cloud-based platforms make companies more flexible by making it easier for employees to access their work anywhere.

Technology companies are taking notice, too. Last month, Oracle launched 10 new cloud services, including a documents cloud. IBM recently launched its social, mobile, mail and meeting functions in the IBM SmartCloud to help businesses drive productivity. Needham uses Accellion’s business software, which offers a secure workplace cloud to share, sync and send files while ensuring data security and compliance.

Gordon says this software helps the firm streamline workflow and disincentivizes the staff from seeking the free – and unsafer – consumer-driven solutions like Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive. Public applications such as Dropbox are “dangerous for highly regarded institutions or any place that has secrets and wants to keep them safe,” he says. Instead of having employees seek out consumer-to-business programs on their own, executives and IT professionals should provide secure business-to-business cloud-based software, which offer more control and transparency about what data is being shared in the cloud, Gordon says.

While company executives are open to mobile work environments, they also need to be cognizant of how their information is disseminated in the cloud.

Indeed, Timothy Chou, who teaches cloud computing at Stanford University, says companies are vulnerable to privacy threats no matter which cloud-based platform they choose. Executives need to study different applications and their varying levels of security, and they should define security in the way that works best for them, Chou suggests.

CFOs, in particular, should allocate funds to find a secure and efficient solution, Gordon of Needham says. Finance chiefs can rate cloud software’s security by tiers, with the first tier being the most secure cloud software; classify the type and sensitivity of data (regulatory disclosures, trade secrets, customer information, etc.); and identify how the data needs to be shared and then accessed by authorized individuals. Financial executives should also ask themselves if it’s permissible by law, regulation and common sense for data to be stored in a particular system.

For publicly traded companies, things are a bit stickier. Public companies have more people and more data, which means more accidentally lost data. They also have to comply with Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, which govern the disclosure of certain data sets.

Because of increased regulations, it’s crucial to classify data into tiers. The most secure information should be matched with a secure data-hosting platform, Gordon explains.

If information is breached, who is responsible for the loss? It comes down to what the law and the contract say, explains Joe Rosenbaum, partner and global chair at advertising technology and media law practice Reed Smith LLP. “The first inquiry [a company should ask is] could the breach have been prevented had the cloud provider adhered to the security standards either that it agreed to in the contract or is required by law,” he says. If the provider did comply to those standards, then it isn’t liable, but if it did violate the law, the contract or both, then the provider is responsible for the security breach.

Companies can manage risk by ensuring their contracts “provide reasonable benchmarks for the cloud provider that they are held to certain standards of reliability and integrity of operating service levels,” he says. Company executives should not dismiss mobile collaboration because they’re scared of the risks, says analyst Kagan. But they should make sure they invest in a cloud-software company that is always upgrading its software and has the most advanced services, he says. Otherwise, it can cost a significant amount of money for a firm to constantly upgrade the software on its own every year.

As technology evolves and mobile collaboration becomes the norm, there will be an influx of software companies vying to be a company’s go-to source for mobile collaboration, Kagan says. In five years, software will be better, and continue to “change the way we do things,” he says.

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