Construction Executive: File Sharing Apps: Assets or Liabilities?

Millions of construction project team members are flocking to file sharing apps in an attempt to simplify information exchange and collaboration with internal colleagues as well as contractors and subcontractors.

Firms are understandably thrilled with the potential benefits real-time file sharing apps can provide, but at the same time, unauthorized and unregulated employee use of these tools can pose serious security risks. Employees are increasingly leveraging their personal file sharing apps at work, frequently without the company’s knowledge. Without specific and enforceable policies in place, it’s nearly impossible for IT to monitor which employees are using which file sharing applications to share company information assets.

While most employees have very good intentions, everyone can get careless from time to time; thus, user error is a common problem. Clear guidelines about the use of file sharing apps and personal devices are necessary to help project teams avoid risky behaviors such as sharing sensitive documents with others who are unauthorized to see them, or storing intellectual property on unmanaged sites or devices.
Beyond the information security risks, when employees store company documents on their personal file sharing apps, they’re also helping to create a more chaotic content management environment because there are now multiple versions of a document in existence. Is the most current version in the employee’s file sharing app, or on the company network? What happens if someone else updates an older version of the file? The result is that employees end up wasting enormous amounts of time searching for the information they need, and then verifying if what they’ve found is indeed the most current version.

Construction businesses can avoid the pitfalls of risky behaviors with a combination of the right technology solution, oversight, employee education and proactive management practices. IT can start by learning more about current employee behaviors and preferences.

Next, strive to get all employees using sanctioned solutions by implementing a solution that delivers the right balance in terms of ease of use and a full set of information management features and capabilities. There are many enterprise content management solutions that deliver the simplicity users crave as well as the security controls and workflow capabilities IT demands. Best-in-class solutions provide a full range of security enablers: data defense, controlled access, data inspection, tracking and logging, protections against loss and more.

A clear policy then can be developed based on the chosen solution, and employees can be educated about the reasons necessitating the policy. Construction companies can take advantage of documented and proven guidelines and best practices, and leverage suggested security frameworks such as Forrester’s “Holistic Data Protection” model.

Besides risk mitigation, the introduction of a fully supported enterprise content management solution offers many additional benefits including productivity boosts for large teams and greatly enhanced collaboration. Employees will spend less time searching for the right information, and many project workflows can be automated to save time and increase safe information sharing behaviors. Project team members enjoy the simplicity and elimination of reliance on chaotic file folders, and project managers can more easily define content rules and automate common workflows. The intelligence inherent in modern enterprise content management solutions can further offload managers and teams with advance notification of upcoming deadlines and deliverables, to keep review processes and other workflows on track and put teams in a more proactive state for the entire project life cycle.

The benefits also extend beyond the organization to suppliers. Integrated with ERP and CRM systems, an enterprise content management solution provides efficient access to the information that drives strategic planning and relationships with the companies that supply goods and services to the organization.

Regardless of the primary motivation (risk mitigation or enhancing business processes) it makes sense to evaluate current file sharing practices and how the organization might be better served with a fully supported enterprise content management solution. Increasing numbers of construction companies are going through this exercise, and project management has become one of the most prevalent use cases for best-in-class enterprise content management solutions.