Why we reject IT-recommended file sync and sharing tools

water blastingI saw an article in  Information Management Online about research done by London-based Ovum  titled: Widespread Dissatisfaction with File Sync, Sharing Tools

The results of Ovum’s research, conducted with over 5000 corporate employees, indicates that only 9% of them using commercial file sharing technology that is authorized by their IT departments, like it.

This would be pretty damning, if true – but I have no reason to believe otherwise. The article claims over 19 vendors were named in the survey including Box, Citrix, Dropbox, Egnyte, EMC, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce.com and WatchDox.  Part of the problem, of course, is that file sync technologies are integrated with corporate workflows and there are probably lots of reasons why people dislike those. When the goal of a technology is some form of bureaucratic processing, there just isn’t going to be a big fan base.

When there is discord, there are bad experiences, such as frustration underlying it. One thing I’d hope to find out from this research is what angers everybody so much about these technologies. I suspect a lot of it has to do with the amount of time it takes to find shared files. As the file store gets bigger and more fragmented, the different ways people name and categorize things becomes an obstacle and group cognition slows to a crawl.

While it tends to be most dreadful in large organizations, small ones are not immune. I have experienced the same frustration looking for a file in Google Docs working with a team of 5 as I have using SharePoint at Microsoft with many thousands of people. In other words, I don’t think the tool is the problem. It’s us. We need to find better ways to collaborate at work.

Changing this situation requires overcoming human fallibilities. If we aren’t good at finding files, then our crutch could be better search tools. That’s what the whole business of enterprise search is all about. It’s also what file analytics is about, although the dynamics are different.  Both allow co-workers to find each other’s files, but in the case of file analytics, the search tool is geared to managing files that are identified by the search process.

So even though file sync and share mostly suck, we are stuck using them.  Remedies for that may come from much better searching tools . That or we could just blob out into information entropy.


  1. Marc,

    This is truly a perennial problem. There are a number of issues;

    1. Keeping integrity/sync order with multiple locations that may be allowed to do updates; it’s only possible to be 100% sure of sync integrity with a single r/w master and all other copies being r/o.
    2. Replication time & volume of data transfer – how long it takes to replicate changes and how to be 100% guaranteed that data is in sync. There’s a question as to whether sync should be done with each file update or on a regular timer process.
    3. Management of security permissions. What task has permissions? On Windows, is this a user task or service with what credentials?
    4. How can the status of replications and data in/out of sync be monitored?

    I’ve seen these problems at a number of customers without a real solution. Obviously some solutions were based on array features like NetApp’s Data ONTAP SnapCopy, others using products like Robocopy to kick of replications. Robocopy was a nightmare (never mind the myriad options to choose from), simply from keeping a running login on a server in order to complete the process.

    A decent solution is definitely needed.