We live in a very connected world, at least in our private lives. We share information on Facebook, update our LinkedIn profile, post pictures on Instagram… and they’re instantly accessible for our friends. When we write a business document, we post it to the file server, a new and promising lead is entered into the CRM system. But is that instantly accessible for our colleagues? Can a colleague, using his smartphone or tablet, access your excellent business document? No, very often this is not the case. But why is this so, why are the tools we use in our private lives so much more open and connected than the business tools we use to access company information?
A lot of the innovation that has happened in the last years is consumer-driven; it is driven by the needs of the consumer. Then, later, these innovations are adapted to businesses and their needs. Or businesses simply start using the consumer-oriented tools. Take Apple, for instance, they are a consumer-driven company. Most of their products and services are geared towards consumers. iPhones and iPads, and iPods before them, are geared towards consumers. Granted, many of their products are also used in the corporate world, but often as a result of pressure from employees and managers, or as a part of the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) trend. Blackberry tried to start on the other end, with corporate products only. They failed miserably, and now have a market share of 3.1% in the US and their global market share is 0,6% Even Windows Phone is bigger. So consumer-driven innovation seems to be the way to go if vendors want to survive and thrive.
For information access as well, the trend has been consumer-driven. Google and its competitors are free tools financed by ads-same with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and virtually all other social media tools. Consumers rarely want to pay for software and online services; this is also seen for services like Dropbox where 95% of its users are using their free service and only 5% pays. So innovative services for sharing and accessing information, targeted towards consumers, and which are basically free- this has been the trend in the last years. The enormous number of users these services have attracted has made their business models sound.
What about security? This is the number one question businesses ask when evaluating new technology, be it a consumer device or software or anything else. Corporate information is sensitive, much more so than private information posted by individuals on Facebook. Your business document is to be read by your colleagues only, no one else. Mature technology normally has sufficient security features to be used in a business environment however.
No one can say that Facebook is truly safe. You can use their privacy settings, but most people don’t bother with that. By default everything is available for everyone. So it is good for sharing information with everyone, but not for sharing sensitive information with just a few. This security mindset is also present in Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Information is by default shared with everyone, and there is no IT department that can change access rights ‘en masse’ if you have shared a bit too much.
Even though businesses use systems that have built-in security features, this does not mean they are always used correctly. Some years ago, I was working with a company that made company-internal information more visible, and the system was installed at a new customer. Some days later we had to turn off the system, since it revealed glaring holes in the configuration of their access control system. Anyone could access anyone’s pay slips and other sensitive information, and it was total chaos. Turned out the company had used ‘security by obscurity’, since no one knew they could access this information, then it was fine. But with a system that made information more available for everyone, this horrible security was very ineffective. It took their IT department some weeks to set all security settings the way they should have been to begin with, and after that they were happy customers. But this shows several things: a) Employees have access to information, but it is not used (then the security problems would have been discovered earlier), and b) when given tools for efficient localization of information, employees find information they have not seen before.
The Big Gap – and how to close it
There is a gap between consumer-driven innovation and business-driven innovation when it comes to easy-to-use information technology. Why is it so easy to google for things on the internet but so hard to “google” for anything behind the firewall? There is clearly a technology gap here that should and could be closed. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, available technology is not used in many businesses. This is part of the reason why information access is not an easy thing unless you’re in front of your computer at the office. And even if you have “access” (through VPN), access alone will not enable you to google to find what you’re looking for. So there is considerable work yet to be done in this field before companies have caught up with consumer-based innovation and easy access to information. But things are happening, Coxito has a solution for increased information sharing, get in touch with me if you want a demo of its capabilities.
Having access to the information you need when you need it is mission critical. Imaging you’re building a building, and when at the building site you need access to the drawings of the building. But they are safely stored on the file server. In the office. Behind the firewall. And you only have your smartphone with you. You may just call this bad planning, but having systems that support your way of working gives immediate benefits. If you tend to forget to bring papers to meetings, it is entirely possible to stop worrying about that and just pull them up when you need them. So information access when needed, without anticipation or in-advance-planning, is a flexible and productive information access strategy that yields good results pretty fast.