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Social vs. Exchange vs. MFT vs. Enterprise Social Networking vs. Content Store-and-Share

So many technologies are jumping into content sharing. But can they truly collaborate?

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Content Sharing is Out of Control!

Confusing title, I agree: Social vs. Exchange vs. MFT vs. Enterprise Social Networking vs. Content Store-and-Share. However, after sitting through a plethora of presentations in the last few months, I came away with the impression of a vast but non-integrated landscape. More importantly, the end-users in the audiences were also confused by the array of choices and methods for sharing. They want to share content and they want to collaborate on it. In addition, they have an urgent need to see how the components fit together—integrate—before they make further purchases.1 Each technology space has benefits aplenty. And each is easier or more difficult to implement and integrate based upon your core solution providers—the providers of your platform and enterprise-centric portfolio.2

Examples of the components for content sharing are the MFT providers,3 the content store-and-shares,4 and enterprise social networking players, plus the standard-bearer Exchange (sorry Gmail and Yahoo mail, you just don’t cut it for truly multifunctional business communications products).5 And of course, there are the so-called collaboration products.6 Each has attributes, yet limitations that cause them to fall short of being a fully functional collaborative tool set. And the more choices users have, the more challenging for the CIO, who has to ensure security and legal compliance.7

Social networking, for example, is great at P2P. If you combine that with web meeting features such as slide sharing, video etc., it can handle both structured and ad hoc communication. You can also monitor the ongoing communication on a topic, if need be. But it fails in document control and security.

MFT is great at secure document and messaging, but has no P2P.

Email is great for keeping a log of what you sent and to whom, but it does poorly in ad hoc and real-time communication during meetings. And file size limitations have users moving in droves (on the sly) to content store-and-share sites.

Content store-and-share is great for just that—a place to remotely store content. But there is no P2P, and no ‘official’ communication management protocols (AS2, etc). In addition, collaboration ability—the interactivity, the ability to work together on designs and documents—is not present. In order to ‘get social,’, for example, is integrated to salesforce’s Chatter. Firms like Box and YouSendIt/ HIGHTAIL8 provide easy-to-use services. But since Box is still collecting coinage from the investor community, one wonders about the long-term sustainability of these firms. 

The CIO’s vs. the Users’ Burden

What Users want:

  • 1-to-1 through many-to-many communication
  • Managed EDI, AS2 and various industry standards and formats for communications
  • Multimedia communication—mail, social, and video
  • Document sharing—large file transfers
  • Document management—revision control, retention
  • Integration across social platforms—between Twitter and FB, Google+, Chatter, LinkedIn and ESNs, for example
  • Integration to enterprise solutions

The burden: Users have been left with trade-offs and limitations in ease of use vs. lack of integration.

What the CIO wants:

  • Monitoring of all documents leaving the enterprise
  • Document control and search
  • Interoperability between mail, communications servers; and auditability functions within the enterprise applications (i.e. sent a PO, sent a design spec, sent sales orders, invoices, etc.)
  • Interoperable communications and standards such as XML/HTTPS, X12, EDI, AS2, SWIFT, ACH, etc. 
  • Highly secure access
  • Appropriate integration—i.e., only when reliable, relevant and secure—between business applications; this can include workflows to ERPs functions
  • There’s more about creating secure gateways here

The burden: The CIO is accountable for security and is in a race to stay ahead of the user community.

These needs are not incompatible, just difficult to attain given the limitations of the technologies mentioned above. Lately, however, some of these providers have been branching out to include a broader spectrum of integrated technologies that provide more security and ease both the users’ and CIO’s burden.

One Platform for the Masses

I met with Ipswitch recently and got a walk-though of their strategy going forward. They get it. There is a lot of ‘vs., vs., vs.’ out there, and enterprises, especially in the mid-market, want a holistic approach.  Ipswitch went through a few years acquiring many of the technology components. Now they have been streamlining and creating a more integrative approach. Their recent website moniker, Stop the Madness, is aptly named! It provides a B2Bi (business to business integration) package for enterprise.

It includes:

  • Highly secure file transfer
  • Support of multiple protocols such as EDI, AS2; financial transaction networks such as SWIFT; and customer-specific approaches
  • A2A workflow into enterprise applications, as well as associated rules that need to be put in place to control and monitor the flow of information between applications and trading partners
  • Once you get beyond 1-to-1 communications such as orders, PO, and invoices, you have additional issues that may be requirements in regulated environments. Ipswitch’s MessageWay coordinates and monitors communications and document transfers across multiple servers and multiple organizations, providing SOX, HIPAA, and PCI DSS compliance. 
  • Ad hoc email—the path of least resistance for most users is email. So this is a big win for the enterprise.
  • Deployment in the cloud or on premise. Smaller companies are embracing cloud due to ease in implementation and upgrading. Larger companies are clinging to on premise.

OK, it doesn’t include social, but that may on a different stream/style of usage—P2P vs. B2B. The neat thing here is that customers can buy this menu as a package or as one-offs. We have found that the mid-market prefers to have a package. They find it’s a relief to be liberated from integrating separate components.

Exchange and MFT

Recently, I had an in-depth demo of Attachmate’s FileExpress  product. In a few clicks, I was set up on the ‘friends’ list and we began sharing very large-content files via email. Sharing distribution lists and methods by email was quite easy. I have to say the process was ‘fun.’  

Ad hoc is a huge issue for the CIO, as we noted above. Using FileExpress, employees can continue to use their email servers/Exchange; the FileShot technology ‘picks up’ the file and routes it through the secure server. The sender gets their large files sent, along with notifications that the receiver has picked up the file. Equally important, the CIO has auditability and reporting on the file exchange. File retention issues can also be addressed to ensure that appropriate documents are retained and not disposed of. 

Vs., Vs., Vs., Etc., Etc., Etc. … Interoperability Needed

Lots of requirements, but not fully supported by any one choice. In additional to functionality, there are deployment choices: all-cloud SaaS; private clouds; on premise, where the enterprise has to purchase services (albeit fairly inexpensively); and hybrids. Enterprises are already using many of these—officially, or on the sly.

Email is another messy problem, one which only Microsoft as an email provider seems willing to solve, to their credit. This will keep business users on their platform for decades to come. They have everything from appointment setting, document recognition, to reformatting, to name a few features. And they have made it easy for the MFT providers to blend mail, mega content sharing, and document management. So whatever your choices are in MFT or collaboration suites, one email will get your message there.

In talking with some of the tool companies, especially the content-store-and-share, we found that they seem fearful of partnering. I suppose this is due to the fairly low barrier to entry. However, for ERP providers, having multiple partners in social and MFT looks like an important move, since this is what users are asking for, even if you provide it within the platform. MFT's security, scalability, standards, and protocols make it a natural center for many of the combined capabilities. I expect we will see more consumerization from the industrialength MFTs as the market evolves.


Social Networking
B2B Integration


1. Integrating between components as well as to business applications -- Return to article text above
2. Microsoft,, IBM, SAP, Epicor, or open source worlds and worlds of others….. -- Return to article text above
3. Cleo, DiCentral, Ipswitch, BTrade, Attachmate, HIGHTAIL, and more… -- Return to article text above
4. Box, Dropbox, etc. -- Return to article text above
5. Yes, you do get what you pay for!-- Return to article text above
6. WebEx and GoToMeeting, et al -- Return to article text above
7. For a discussion of the CIO’s needs, read Sorry, Dropbox.-- Return to article text above
8. Both have millions of users and ~100k customers at various subscription levels. -- Return to article text above

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

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