With the rise of cloud-based services, such as Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive, sharing, syncing and collaborating on files on the consumer web is easier than ever. Not surprisingly, many enterprises are looking for ways to bring similar capabilities to their employees. However, enterprises are facing a difficult choice between expensive, overweight on-premise solutions or lightweight, cloud-based solutions that are often lacking the maturity enterprises need. Providing enterprise services for file sharing, synchronization and lightweight collaboration seems like a relatively simple use case for enterprises to solve. 

                            Real Story Group’s Cloud File Sharing evaluation report evaluates nine major players in this space: Accellion, Box, Citrix, EMC, Oxygen, Glasscubes, Huddle & SkyDox/Workshare.

    Traditionally, the options for enterprises to consider include enterprise content management (ECM) or document management vendors, who offer a full range of services to manage the complete life cycle of content, and enterprise collaboration vendors, with features such as instant messaging, presence, social networking and co-authoring documents. However, many enterprises don’t need such expansive (and expensive) tools for common document- sharing scenarios. To address this need for lighter weight and cheaper alternatives, a new crop of cloud-based tools has emerged.

    To be sure, nearly all large enterprises share a core content problem; they may have upwards of millions of documents sitting in shared folders, shared drives and individual disk drives. Most of that volume is of little or no importance, but because nobody knows what is important, and what is not, nothing is archived or removed. Ultimately, it accumulates to the extent that it eventually becomes quite a nuisance. IT departments typically cringe at the overhead of network drives for general file sharing, and simple, seemingly cheap cloud providers lend the impression that they could neatly address the problem. Business stakeholders want immediate implementation—some simple configuration capabilities and self-provisioning.

    Another major driver for cloud file-sharing is the need for data mobility. Planned or not, employees are using mobile devices to access corporate data in rapidly increasing numbers. Providing secure mobile access to corporate data is challenging, and by moving on-premise documents to the cloud, enterprises can deploy slick mobile applications provided by cloud vendors. Lightweight collaboration around documents is another major consideration here. In many scenarios, you want your teams to collaborate on short-term projects using very simple tools. In such cases, heavyweight collaboration tools are often overkill. The fourth significant driver for cloud file-sharing is the need to share data in a secured manner with partners, suppliers, distributors and customers—outside of the firewall.

    The relatively simple, cloud-based tools discussed in Real Story Group's report come into the enterprise because of their lack of advanced functionality; this simplicity is a key selling point. They offer only a subset of what the heavier ECM or collaboration tools offer but in a simpler and business-friendly way. But the trade-off for simplicity is often immaturity when it comes to administrative and security services.

    There's no perfect solution out there that neatly blends ease-of-use with all the administrative and security services you'd want to see in a single enterprise-wide platform. Vendors will, of course, dispute this vehemently, and there are a lot of exaggerated claims of the kind you often find in young marketplaces. Just understand that what cloud vendors call "enterprise readiness" and what you require for organization-wide deployment may be two very different things.

    Real Story Group’s report finds that the document management and cloud file-sharing segments are overlapping, as cloud file-sharing vendors build better document management features (such as library services), and document management vendors build or acquire synchronization and lightweight collaboration services. Finding the solution that is the right fit for your enterprise will take careful evaluation and testing.

    JARROD GINGRAS and APOORV DURGA both serve as analysts at Real Story Group, a vendor-independent analyst firm that evaluates content technologies. Mr. Gingras is the director of advisory services and an analyst covering digital workplace and marketing technology across the enterprise information landscape, including web content management and enterprise content management. Mr. Durga is a senior analyst and covers search, web content and experience management, portals, digital marketing, social media monitoring, mobile and SharePoint. Follow Mr. Gingras on Twitter @jarrodgingras or Mr. Durga @apoorv.