Secure social collaboration: what’s changed?

Back in 2012, our COO Stuart Barr looked at the two hot topics of technology at the time – social software and cloud computing. He concluded the two were not mutually exclusive and that secure social software is the way forward for enterprises looking to increase productivity and reduce costs. So, what is the state of secure social collaboration today?

What is secure social collaboration?

Over the last few years, secure social collaboration software has been adopted by more and more businesses who have seen the potential advantages of its use. Secure social collaboration provides employees with software that meets their needs for productivity and information sharing, meaning they don’t go out and find these applications on their own. Social software usually involves some combination of secure file sharing, blogs, wikis, microblogs, task management, people profiles and activity streams.

The benefits of cloud computing and software as a service in particular are now well accepted and represent an effective way for organisations to reduce the costs associated with running their own data centres and developing applications in-house. In addition, the adoption of enterprise social tools is seen as an effective way of improving workforce productivity, communication and knowledge sharing both internally and externally.

There is nothing inherently risky or insecure about software as a service or social tools in comparison to traditional solutions but they need to be implemented well and managed correctly. If the correct cloud solution is chosen and it is implemented well, it can lead to significant cost reductions, gains in efficiency, much more flexibility and access to cutting-edge technology that would otherwise take years to implement.

Secure social software in 2015

For most companies nowadays, the question is not whether they will be moving their business to the cloud, but when and how. In the last ten years, social collaboration has gone from being characterised as “Facebook for the enterprise”, a term suggesting triviality instead of utility, to a tool used daily by organisations worldwide. Companies are seeking better communications with employees and customers and the last few years has seen the use of cloud-based social collaboration software rocket. In the past there have been huge concerns over the security of the cloud and the security of being “social”, issues that have been aggravated further by breaches like the Snowden affair. But with people getting a bit more “cloud educated” and articles on the advantages of social collaboration filling the internet, these reservations are beginning to fade. Businesses are beginning to believe that social can be secure and the cloud can be too.

The “cloud educated” understand that consumer-grade cloud providers like Dropbox and iCloud are prone to insecurity and are not the best places to store sensitive data. However, most employees are ignorant to this fact or maybe they just ignore it, thinking only of their own productivity. We are now having to battle with an emerging BYOC (Bring Your Own Collaboration) culture. In the modern workplace employees divide time between multiple office locations, their home and public places like cafés and they need to be able to access files on the go. BYOC sees employees using their own consumer cloud services to store confidential data, posing a huge threat and significant security implications. Employees “BYOC-ing” are doing so to be more productive; however, these kind of solutions dramatically increase data security risk and vulnerability for the enterprise organisation. So it’s clear that businesses need to understand what their employees are using consumer technologies for and what tools their business is lacking, they need to educate staff of the risks associated with consumer tools and they need to invest in the right enterprise-grade technologies.

From BYOC to BYOD – a rapid adoption and extensive use of mobile devices has meant that a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) culture has gradually increased in the workplace over the years. BYOD is when employees bring personally owned mobile devices (laptops, tablets and smart phones) to their workplace, and use those devices to access privileged company information and applications. The trend becoming common in offices worldwide is dramatically changing how we access and store information, how we collaborate and how we do business. The incorporation of BYOD in business practices has led to an increase in employee productivity and reduced overall technology costs. However with information increasingly being accessed using personal, mobile and unmanaged devices, huge security threats are being imposed on businesses because sensitive enterprise information travels and is stored outside the network premier. BYOD is now so commonly used in the workplace that companies are beginning to introduce BYOD policies in place to reduce the security risks.

Welcome to the age of the hybrid cloud

Companies must look towards specialist providers who build enterprise-grade services specifically for those industries where security and control are paramount. They have their own private clouds and their businesses depend on running secure and dependable services for high value clients. They are constantly striving to come up with new technologies that will further enhance the security of their clients confidential material. 2015 is seeing these specialist providers take the security of their solutions to the next level by adding features to their software to make their clients data even more secure.

A hybrid cloud is a solution which allows the customer to choose where they want to store their data, so some could be in a private cloud and some in a public one; this offers incredible flexibility and data security knowing they have the option of storing files within a particular jurisdiction or within their own network. Previously, hybrid cloud deployments were rare, but in 2015 companies are growing their cloud budgets and beginning to take things hybrid. Another solution being introduced by specialist providers is encryption key management. Typically most cloud based systems will hold the encryption keys in the cloud alongside the data it’s protecting and, whilst this does offer protection, it does mean that anyone who manages to get access to the data might also be able to decrypt it. By allowing customer to hold the encryption/decryption keys on-premise in an appliance, another layer of abstraction and protection is added and it means the keys are never permanently held in the cloud.

A quick look to the future

So we can see that secure social collaboration software has come a long way, both in terms of acceptance in organisations and products. There are still issues that enterprises are facing regarding trying to be as productive as possible, spending as little money as possible and staying secure. We are already seeing tougher security measures being created and implemented in existing solutions and specialist providers will continue to work to improve their solutions further. In the coming year, there will be a further maturity for the hybrid cloud. Organisations will not only store data across multiple clouds, but they will combine and integrate them to provide enhanced capabilities. There will be huge increases of collaboration via mobile. Mobile devices now rule, leaving desktops rather redundant. The increase in mobile collaboration will mean a further increase in the BYOD culture previously discussed.

As people become more “cloud educated” and the maturity of cloud usage increases, cloud users will stand to benefit much more from cloud computing, particularly with hybrid cloud. Businesses don’t want more tools; they want the tools they already have to do more and specialist providers will continue to work hard to deliver this.

Corporate collaboration toolkit




Emily Sullivan

Editoral/PR assistant at HighQ
She has a passion for researching and writing engaging copy and has a keen interest in how technology can enhance people's personal and business lives.
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