Cloud computing and mobile technology have produced a largely uncontrolled work environment in which personal and business information comingles. IT is challenged with adapting to this environment while minimizing business risks.
— By Karen White
When clouds gather in the sky they form new shapes and configurations, intermingling with abandon. The same is true for cloud computing which involves centralized storing and accessing of data and programs on the Internet rather than on a computer hard drive.
The commercial cloud was the first technology iteration, but it was when the personal cloud appeared that it became apparent IT organizations must adapt or risk irrelevancy. While the commercial cloud is closed and proprietary, the personal cloud enables individuals to collect and store digital content, apps, and services and access them across any computing device, including smartphones and tablet computers.
The next obvious step was the convergence of personal and commercial clouds, meaning IT has new challenges to manage that include protecting proprietary data while giving people the flexibility needed to be as productive as possible. Unless IT organizations adapt to the new cloud environment, they risk failing to meet critical user needs.
When IT Becomes a Barrier
The last few years have seen some major changes in the computing world. Smartphones and tablet computers are outnumbering desktop computers, and users expect to access their digital content no matter where they are at the moment. Services like Google Drive and Dropbox, enabling people to combine their love of mobile technology with easy access to cloud based data, are driving user behavior changes on a personal and business level.
The convergence of personal and business cloud being pushed by the consumerization of IT means IT cannot remain relevant by insisting on a bifurcated approach to cloud applications.
Employees are storing business documents and other data, and using productivity tools, in the personal cloud and sometimes they are doing it by going around IT.
The intent is not to bypass the rules, but people will not let the keepers of technology slow them down. Scott Davis, Chief Technology Officer of VMware, joined the converging technology crowd for that reason. The IT organization could not meet his needs on the commercial cloud. Davis traveled around the world giving presentations and needed IT to give him an exception to the rules concerning the size of email attachments in the cloud. IT asked him to reduce the content or to carry USB drives. His response was to start using Dropbox.
IT organizations need to accept the fact that people today have options, and the personal cloud is one of them. If the business cannot meet their needs, slows down productivity, throws up technology barriers, and presents other challenges to getting the job done, people are going to bypass the IT systems and find more efficient methods.
The issue for businesses is the potential storage of sensitive or proprietary information on the cloud that is not business controlled. Balancing security and privacy in the cloud space is one of the most critical issues for IT organizations today.
More Solutions Needed
Cloud apps are used for work and personal use on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the IT sanctioned cloud apps are often behind-the-times because they are designed to protect the business based on an environment in which people could not easily combine personal and business.
Technology has created an environment in which the corporate data is on a third-party cloud service which is delivered via third-party mobile networks to employee mobile devices they are expected to carry.
It would be nice to be able to say that an absolute solution to this challenge exists. In reality it is getting more challenging because companies are increasingly requiring employees to bring their personal technology to work, creating even more issues concerning the mixture of personal and business information in the cloud. It is an uncontrolled environment in which both sides – employer and employee – are concerned about privacy.
Early attempts to secure business information available in the cloud have not been popular. They include monitoring or inspecting all personal and business data in the cloud app, and putting mobile device management software on employee devices. Traditional risk management approaches no longer work.
Another challenge for the IT organization is that employees are using personal online file sharing systems without appropriate IT approval. This increases the risk of data breaches. Periodic surveys of IT professionals, including the Lieberman Software Cloud Security Survey, indicate that most believe cloud data could be corrupted or lost, or it could be accessed by hackers or unauthorized people.
IT also faces the challenge of finding a way to bring silos of information together so that employees can collaborate and work more efficiently. The silos include data flowing from desktop computers, mobile devices, cloud apps, email accounts, ECM repositories and network drives. IT organizations in global companies also must deal with dissimilar Data Protection and Privacy laws from country to country.
Leveraging the Cloud
The mixing of personal and business clouds is a practice that is here to stay, and IT risks irrelevance by adhering to traditional risk management strategies. In the connected, mobile world people will go around the security measures, raising the risk of data breaches. Businesses attempting to block employees from using the cloud are also missing out on important networks in which employees are involved.
The IT industry is working on a number of solutions, none of which are yet perfected. This state of affairs offers plenty of opportunities for IT businesses to develop new products and services.
IT organizations must encourage the development of in-house software that leverages the cloud to streamline business processes or to adopt externally developed software that enables local data transfers between devices. Coupled with a policy that encourages data transfers is a set of policies and practices that better secure business data. They include ensuring the cloud computing provider has strong security in place, uses open and transparent standards and technologies, can protect data confidentiality, and takes other appropriate measures.
IT organizations need to adapt to the integration of personal and business clouds. The blurring of the line between private lives and business lives means IT will need to make it easier, not harder, for employees to use services like Dropbox. IT cannot control the applications people use or where they store documents. The focus will need to be on protecting business documents and information.