Collaboration Challenges Facing CIOs: An Interview With Forrester’s Simon Yates

Q: Earlier today you were talking about Enterprise mobility and what’s driving the need for data sharing and storage solutions in businesses. What are some of those top mobility and collaboration challenges facing CIOs?

YATES: Well, you know, the interesting thing is when you look at the changing way people are doing their jobs, they use more devices to connect to information sources they need for work, they work from more different places than they ever did, and they use more applications than they ever have. So synchronizing all that information across all these devices and locations is an important part of people being able to productively doing their work. People are clamoring for greater freedom in the way they do their jobs, and it’s up to IT to sort of provide all of those capabilities to them, even when as individuals they provide their own devices and they bring their own tablets and their own phones to work.

Q: That’s a good segue. I wanted to ask you about consumer file sharing services in the enterprise. To what extent are they being used?

YATES: Well, to a very large extent and growing rapidly. So we do a survey of about 5.000 or so information workers. An information worker is someone who uses an internet-connected device to do their job. And of those people, almost 1.000 of them or basically 20 percent are using some sort of file-sharing service, whether it’s Dropbox or SkyDrive or Google. Across the board, they’re using them simultaneously for both work and personal stuff. So the blurring is a significant challenge because if you’re a company whose employees are using corporate information, whether it’s intellectual property or information that has regulatory requirements attached to its use, it’s being used on multiple devices and it’s also being stored in multiple different places that you have little or no control over.

Q: So why can’t you ignore the problem of these consumer file sharing services being used in the enterprise?

YATES: For CIOs, they know that security and compliance are challenges that they face, and they know that their employees are using these services.  I don’t think what they really understand yet though is how quickly the problem can get out of hand. We know that 40 percent of information workers use more than three devices, which means that in addition to their smartphone and their laptop, they have a tablet. They may have multiple tablets. Also, 35 percent of them work from at least three different locations in a month, whether that’s home or an office or a client site or while traveling, and they’re using at least seven different applications to do their jobs. So very quickly, corporate information is being scattered. When you look at the growth of the number of devices people use and the places that they work from, pretty soon for almost any company, and particularly for a CIO, you realize that you have no control anymore over where data lives, and you also just don’t really understand how much of it is sort of out there on these consumer services.

Q: Got it. So what are the steps that IT can take to manage the situation?

YATES:  It’s not easy. CIOs and their IT organizations have faced this kind of problem before. When you look at things like collaboration software and software tools for that, it’s all about adoption. People and employees want to use the services that are the most convenient for them, not necessarily a service that IT has imposed on them without asking their opinion. So really the most important thing that CIOs can do to start is to really get a good understanding of why people are using these services, how they’re using them, which ones they’re using, so that they can design a solution that people will use and adopt. It’s got to be a transparent experience. It’s got to be simple, easy. Some cumbersome process for sharing information with the people that you work with isn’t going to get adopted because people will always have the option of going outside of IT. So you got to put something together for them, and understanding why they’re doing what they’re doing is the most important step. Then it becomes a matter of putting together the core infrastructure that they need to support it, usually developed by your infrastructure and operations team who will understand the security requirements, they understand scalability, they understand networks, all of that so that then you can put together the tools that are useful to people that they will adopt and that they will continue to use over time because if they get frustrated or a better solution comes along they’re going to go out and start using it. So IT really has to put together a sustainable kind of solution for people otherwise they’re just going to go outside once again.

Q: Last question. How big of an issue are data sovereignty and compliance requirements?

YATES: Well, it obviously varies by company, it varies by industry. If you’re a European-based company, you have requirements about where you store data that can’t cross international borders. If you are in a highly-regulated industry, auditors want to know how you can bring that information back in. So for most companies, there are at least some compliance or regulatory rules that they need to address, but it varies by industry as to how rigorous those rules are. It becomes a risk analysis. What is the risk that you’re willing to take should this data be lost or should it be compromised?  If you’re a bank, you have departments that analyze that risk and measure it. If you’re a small company in retail, you probably don’t. So it’s certainly something that if you could have a solution that allowed you not to have to worry that what your employees are doing violates security policy or violates some kind of compliance law, that would be better than trying to figure out does Dropbox allow it or is it okay to put information into Dropbox but not into SkyDrive. IT can get very complicated very quickly.

Q: Well thank you, Simon. Appreciate it.

YATES: Thank you very much. I appreciate the time.