What’s the Issue with EFSS?

For more than a decade, electronic file sync and share (EFSS) applications have become increasingly popular tools for content management, document sharing, and collaboration. Indeed, in 2017, the research arm at Gartner, Inc., officially changed its abbreviation for the technology to CCP, for Content Collaboration Platforms.

EFSS solutions provide a way for users to store content in a cloud-based repository and then access that data anywhere they have access to the Internet. They can do this through a web browser, a mobile phone, or by using a proprietary software client that adds additional capabilities, such as synching content across multiple devices.

In a typical enterprise, business people use cloud-based EFSS tools to share information with colleagues, as well as with partners and customers outside the organization. EFSS proliferated through grass-roots adoption; its value was discovered by individual users in organizations where IT could not, or did not, offer anything similar to meet their needs for content management, document sharing, and collaboration. Traditionally, accessing corporate content remotely meant logging in through a VPN, which was not always reliable, and certainly not fast.

So why are we hearing the drumbeat to eliminate these popular applications from the corporate technology portfolio?

Two answers:

  • In honest conversations with IT managers, many admit that they don’t care for EFSS solutions because EFSS wasn’t their idea to begin with.
  • The other, less emotional reason to reject EFSS is that its use runs contrary to an organization’s plan to migrate to Microsoft Office 365 (O365) in the near future.

The truth is that in many enterprises, IT hasn’t done a great job of offering file-sharing options to users. Employees themselves—via shadow IT—have bought and brought Box.com and other file-sharing platforms into the mix.

For many in IT, sync-and-share solutions like Box and Dropbox are perceived as something that’s expensive and a risk and that needs to go away. IT usually can’t manage those subscription services well. They can’t provide security. Most of the time, it’s difficult for IT to even know if and where EFSS solutions are being used.

So these solutions are prime targets for cost and risk reduction, particularly if there’s a pending O365 migration on IT’s roadmap. And even if O365 isn’t in the immediate future, most organizations already have some tools in place to share files: SharePoint, Outlook, and traditional shared drives.

Talking to Doculabs’ clients, it would appear that many IT executives and managers already have made plans to eliminate the use of EFSS solutions once they move to Office 365. Microsoft’s suite certainly contains tools that offer similar functionality, OneDrive being the obvious threat to EFSS vendors.

At first glance, eliminating EFSS seems to make sense; after all, there is a direct cost that ceases when you stop subscribing to it.  And EFSS is built using an architecture that appears to ignore many of the best practices of content management. Documents are widely duplicated, in silos, and organized at the whim of the end user. IT staff can’t easily perform information lifecycle management on the content stored in these systems, much less do e-discovery.

But even if Box.com originally came in through the backdoor, are you sure that it needs to go away? Indeed, for smaller and mid-sized organizations, Box.com could serve as a primary way to store documents.

Could EFSS become your main content management solution? Can EFSS become the new enterprise content management (ECM) system? These are the questions I plan to take up in upcoming blog post, looking at 1) the arguments for (and against) O365, and 2) the three leading players in the EFSS market and their respective pros and cons.

Rich Medina
Jeff Phillips
I’m a Principal Consultant, specializing in strategies for using ECM tools such as Microsoft Office 365 for information management.