Why File Sync and Share Apps like Box and Dropbox Weren’t Conceived for the Enterprise

CSOs and compliance officers of most global enterprises have fundamentally different goals from those of the average consumer of a free file sharing app.

14 March 2014


By Ron Hovsepian, President and CEO, Intralinks

Last week I gave an interview with Computing, in which I argued that Box and other file sync and share applications weren’t designed for enterprise use. The story drew a lot of commentary, including a response from Box executives. I stand by my statements and wanted to elevate the discussion to address some of the real challenges customers face.

The initial design point for these solutions was to satisfy the needs of individuals who wanted to easily store and share files across multiple devices with family and friends. They began by creating an open system which could be used to share and distribute content as widely as possible.  The foundations of these platforms were therefore built on ubiquity and the free flow of information for the Facebook generation, and they have been very successful at achieving that goal.

It was only later that these companies decided to focus on the enterprise software marketplace and set their sights on replacing SharePoint and other ECM deployments in large companies.  They are trying to pivot and re-invent their technology, business model and support services to meet the demanding requirements of corporate IT and central compliance functions, while still servicing their entrenched base of hundreds of millions of non-fee-paying consumers.

Sharing is good...but sharing outside the company is DIFFERENT.

The reality is that the CSOs and compliance officers of most global enterprises have fundamentally different goals from those of the average consumer of a free file sharing app.  Companies need control over the flow of information and content.  They need employees to structure their use of information and to pay close attention to its lifecycle.  The most important objective is not just to have the ability to share something as quickly as possible, but to have the ability to stop sharing it when there is no longer a company need or desire to do so.  They need to prevent some information from being deleted for auditing purposes while simultaneously ensuring that some data is disposed of at the appropriate time. They need to manage information barriers and maintain them when employees change roles; they need a chain of content custody when staff with access to company critical information leave their posts or an external advisor is changed.  Many security and confidentiality conscious enterprises see the idea of sharing a platform and infrastructure with hundreds of millions of consumers as too risky.

Building an integrated platform to serve inter-enterprise collaboration to help employees get work done is a fundamentally different endeavor than building an app to serve a consumer.  Addressing the needs of one master and then changing tack to serve the other is fraught with difficulty.

At Intralinks, we started by building solutions that solve the file sharing challenges of some of the most security-conscious global enterprises and financial institutions on the planet.  We were managing secure document exchanges over the Internet and handling some of the most confidential market data long before most people would trust a Web browser to do their online shopping. Thus, we built an integrated platform and customer experience based upon the principle of controlled collaboration rather than just uncontrolled 'shareability.'  Many of our customers use our platform for the simple sharing of documents or for syncing files to multiple devices.  But, we are also well-versed in delivering rich applications that solve real world business problems, whether that means managing information flow around syndicated loans, sharing confidential documents around an M&A transaction, or starting and operating a clinical trial.  Customers like law firm Kingsley Napley and payment processor WorldPay selected us because we meet their stringent security, compliance and policy requirements, and pass penetration tests that others fail.

Content is an extremely valuable asset in most organizations, and protecting that content while sharing it with the right people at the right time is a strategic imperative to aid our customers in getting “work done.”