Harnessing the tyranny of autonomy: the Dropbox problem and the manager’s dilemma

1Executive Summary

Many businesses are fighting “the Dropbox problem” – the unsanctioned and ungoverned use in the organization of file-sharing applications and services originally designed for consumers. These cloud-based file-sharing applications and services are often insecure, disrespect privacy, are subject to prolonged outages, and offer inconsistent levels of customer support. In short, using them can put a business and its valuable and perhaps confidential information at risk every day.

Using publicly available information and new research commissioned for this report, we detail the Dropbox problem and characterize the reaction of many IT departments, which is decidedly negative. Most organizations react to the problem by attempting to block access to unsanctioned file-sharing services, but this invariably is ineffective or backfires. Without a viable alternative, employees become less productive or use different consumer file-sharing services under the radar of corporate IT.

Managers are natural and indispensable mediators of the conflicting views on file sharing held by various levels of individuals and groups in large organizations. They manage the trade-offs between information freedom and control on a daily basis. This report introduces two simple frameworks that managers can use to lead on this issue by arbitrating conflicts and ensuring that the file-sharing requirements of both camps are considered and met.

Key observations include:

  • The very characteristics that make consumer file-sharing services attractive to employees trying to get work done spawn nightmares for the senior executives, IT departments, and the risk, security and compliance officers of their organization.
  • Managers must support their employees and help them be productive, but they are also required to enforce corporate information policies. To succeed, managers need to find a file-sharing solution that is accepted and used by both line-of-business employees and those charged with ensuring information security, privacy, and compliance in the organization.
  • Every organization occupies a unique position on the file-sharing freedom/control continuum. Using the frameworks presented in this report, managers can help their employees, IT staff, and senior executives to first determine where their organization lies on this continuum and then to choose an appropriate file-sharing solution that enables achievement of individual, group, and corporate objectives.
  • Most companies, particularly those in regulated industries, should endeavor to increase control over their file-sharing policies, practices, and technologies, but should do so in ways that do not impede employee productivity or satisfaction.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock.

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