How Can My Organization Share Information Efficiently?
If your organization is like most, you probably have an IT environment that includes a variety of platforms (devices and operating systems), with employees at different levels who need access to and the ability to share applications and documents.
You are not alone. One of the challenges IT organizations face today is this very issue.
I’ve worked in IT for nearly 20 years. I’ve seen the evolution of business communication first-hand. In just the past few years alone, we’ve progressed to a highly remote workforce and on-demand video calls. IT professionals have needed to be adaptable and forward-thinking to help businesses adjust on the fly.
Individual users have preferences (often based on applications they’ve grown comfortable using outside of work) and companies are always striving to implement the latest IT solutions in a constant search for efficiencies while balancing the need to keep data safe.
How do you make sure information is shared safely and efficiently?
The end goal is to decide on one file-sharing application as the standard for your organization.
After reading this article, you’ll know what to consider when deciding which file-sharing application is right for your organization.
What Are IT Platforms?
Let’s start at the very top level.
Years ago, the platform (which was defined as the hardware or device and operating system software) was important because applications or processes would run differently (or not at all) depending on the platform.
What Are Applications?
Another top-level definition to make sure we are all on the same page.
An application is software that allows a user to perform a task on a computer or mobile device.
The IT platform is less important today because most applications are made to run on different platforms. Today, what is important are the applications we use to collaborate and communicate.
This article will focus on the applications that make file-sharing possible.
Why Is Sharing Information Important?
Most businesses today need to share information outside of the office.
Whether users at several remote offices need to access the same form to invoice customers or an IT professional needs to access a help ticket from the road during a service call, the ability to access and interact with information keeps businesses operating efficiently.
What Does It Mean To Share Information Across Platforms?
Sharing information across platforms means that information can be accessed by a variety of devices no matter which operating system they use.
As applications have evolved, we’ve entered the age of what I like to call “Digital Sprawl.” In other words, several applications perform the same basic purpose.
Let’s use an example we’re likely all familiar with – photos.
We now have multiple photo applications we can use to share pictures.
Our older pictures may be stored in one application. Later, we may have “graduated” to another application on our phone that makes it possible to post photos immediately to social media.
The result is that we have similar information stored in multiple applications that we may want to access and share on a variety of devices.
Does Every Business Need To Share Information?
The short answer is no. While the ability to share information is critical in today’s business environment, not everyone needs to share information across platforms. Let me explain.
If you run a local cafe with a small on-site staff and your devices all run the same operating system and applications, everyone who has permission should be able to access the same applications from their device. Sharing information is straightforward.
On the other hand, if your organization makes and ships widgets, one IT application may control manufacturing equipment functions, while there may be others that are primarily used in the office environment. In some cases, the two applications may not need to interact or share information.
But consider what happens when a manufacturing organization uses an inventory tracking application, for example.
The information in that application would be accessed daily by people in a variety of roles. For example:
- Manufacturing technicians and engineers might use it to track the flow of raw materials within the manufacturing cells.
- Purchasing people would use it to track and maintain inventory.
- Shipping and logistics experts will need to track production and prepare for outgoing deliveries.
- The salesforce may want to track and update customers about delivery dates.
Not only does the inventory tracking application need to be shared across platforms, but it may need to be accessed remotely by a salesperson via a tablet or phone to respond to customer questions during a site visit.
An inventory tracking application is a key management tool that stores information that needs to be accessible across a variety of platforms and users.
How do you ensure that information will be available no matter which platform and application need access? How do you make sure it remains secure and that the appropriate levels of control are in place?
What Options Exist For Sharing Information?
There are three basic options for sharing information. The traditional solution was to store and share all information via on-premise local servers. As technology has advanced, most information is stored and shared via cloud-based applications. In other words, the files are stored in the cloud and hosted remotely somewhere. Controls are put in place to restrict access to authorized users.
Two popular cloud-based options for businesses are Google Workspace and Microsoft 365; both provide options for chat, instant messaging, email, and file sharing.1. On-Premise Local Server
The heritage solution was to store and share all information via on-premise local servers.
This solution was only available when users were on-site and connected to the network or off-site via a virtual private network (VPN). While some companies still use this approach, it has limitations.
2. Google Workspace (formerly G Suite)
Most people are likely familiar with the Google suite of products (Google Docs, Sheets, etc.).
Google file-sharing applications, which were born out of Google’s experience in the public space, are geared toward ease of use and they focus less on security.
Google file-sharing may be a cost-effective option for smaller organizations that don’t share sensitive information and don’t want to invest in the software licensing fees associated with other applications.
The downside is that data stored on Google is not captured by company backups and if the organization eventually decides to migrate data to another platform it can be difficult and costly, often requiring hiring a third-party organization to migrate the data.
3. Microsoft 365
Microsoft 365 applications typically require a certain level of technical expertise to manage. Its file-sharing application is based on Microsoft’s heritage experience and understanding of the cloud environment.
Microsoft applications can be less user-friendly, but they provide more security options. They feature automatic tools to control data flow and how users share information.
(Other free, cloud-based options exist for sharing information including Dropbox, Box, and Egnyte.)
5 Factors To Consider When Choosing A File-Sharing Solution
So, the ultimate goal is to decide on one file-sharing solution that balances your organization’s need for security, accountability, and productivity.
Here are 5 factors to consider when evaluating file-sharing solutions for your organization:
1. Number of Users/Types of Platforms
If there are 10 people within your organization who all work at the same site and all use the same platform, file sharing is a breeze.
If people using different platforms either within or outside your organization need access to the same files and information, sharing becomes more challenging and more important.
2. Security/Regulatory Issues
Organizations working in certain industries may need to follow security and regulatory guidelines about whether file sharing is allowed and what applications can be used.
Some of these include health care organizations (HIPAA), those that use or store credit card information (PCI-DSS), and companies under contract to the Department of Defense (NIST 800-171) or other government agencies.
Organizations that decide to switch file-sharing platforms may need to recertify their processes with their customers.
3. File Size
Computer-aided design (CAD) files are huge. They can be 100 gigabytes or more. Some file-sharing applications may have limits on the size of the files that can be shared.
Do you work with copyrighted documents? Copyright protections restrict the sharing of certain documents. Just because an application makes it possible to share files, doesn’t mean there aren’t restrictions on which files should be shared. Many people make the mistake of overlooking copyright restrictions.
5. Internal Restrictions
Some documents are labeled to limit distribution. Documents labeled “restricted,” “internal use only” or “company private” may be limited to internal file sharing applications only or restricted from file sharing entirely.
It’s important to recognize not only the technical limitations of file sharing applications but other restrictions that pertain to the types of files that should and should not be shared.
What’s The Bottom Line When It Comes To File-Sharing Applications?
In this article, we started out by establishing common definitions for a platform and application.
We went on to explore why sharing information is important, what it means to share information across platforms, and who needs to share information across platforms.
We also considered the options for sharing information across platforms and the factors to consider when making file-sharing decisions.
You now have a broad understanding of the options that exist and the advantages and limitations of each. You have the information you need to be an informed consumer.
If you find that you are still struggling with this important IT decision and don’t have the internal resources to help, you can consider working with an external IT provider.
Kelser offers a comprehensive managed IT services package (including Microsoft Office 365 and virtual Chief Information Officers) that can help. We know managed IT isn’t right for every organization, which is why we publish articles like this one. We believe in supplying unbiased information business leaders like you can use to make the IT decision that is best for your organization.
If you are wondering whether managed IT might be the solution your organization has been looking for, take this short quiz to find out.