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File sharing is integral to many of the workflows found in modern digital offices. It's almost impossible to imagine how modern businesses would operate without sharing digital files.
Thankfully, there's no shortage of file sharing tools and applications. However, because there are so many options available, businesses often struggle to choose among them. Options for security, collaboration and mobility differ greatly between the many types of file sharing tools, and businesses need to weigh a wide range of variables during the selection process.
This Buyer's Guide will help you better juggle and more accurately weigh your priorities when selecting file sharing software. It covers:
What Is File Sharing Software?
The term “file sharing software" actually encompasses many different platforms, applications and add-ons. There's a huge range of products that can be considered file sharing software, but the range of products that will meet your company's specific file-sharing needs is going to be much, much smaller.
For example, Gmail and Outlook both let users share files as email attachments, but these email apps would only meet the file-sharing needs of companies with extremely basic file-sharing requirements. For example, they don't support collaboration or content management and they don't integrate well with other business platforms, like CRM or project management software.
To help you narrow down your search, we'll look first at the common features of file sharing software. Once you have a feel for the scope of applications, we'll look at some common use cases to help you decide which most applies to your business.
Common Features of File Sharing Software
The following table illustrates the range of applications and capabilities available across the wide spectrum of file sharing offerings. Be aware that there may not always be clear lines dividing some of these applications from each other.
|File sharing||The core application that lets users upload files, tag or save them them under a specific department, category or folder and share the files with other users, internally, externally or both.|
|File storage||Provides cloud-based file storage to upload and store files on either company or vendor servers. File storage apps may include various versioning control, user access tools and file recovery functionality.|
|File search||Offers an indexing and search functionality to help locate files by searching for a variety of parameters, such as: words or phrases in the title or body of the file; upload and last-modified dates; user interactions and more.|
|File sync||Lets users sync the files they're working on directly from a native application (e.g., word processor). Can automatically sync cloud-stored files to a local folder on your computer and vice versa.|
|User management||Create user accounts and distribution groups, set user permissions (e.g., "view only" or "editing"), match files to accounts based on email addresses, authentication type, pick storage zones and group memberships.|
|Mobility||These applications offer support for, and management of, data access from and storage on mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. Similar applications can be found in some mobile device management solutions.|
|Security and encryption||Adds MMS functionality to the platform allowing customers and businesses to send and receive multimedia messages, like photos, videos and audio recordings.|
|Contest and polling tools||These features control security and administration settings for users, content and endpoints, including encryption at all stages of the process, logging, access control, identity and authorization management. Encrypt file attachments sent via email, or even the body of the email itself.|
|Back-end integration||Capabilities here allow the file sharing software to manage, access or otherwise integrate with back-end services, such as network file systems, directories, workflow systems, repositories and business applications.|
|Collaboration and social||These capabilities help users work together on the documents being shared. They can include tools for recommendations, commenting, sharing, co-authoring and markup, task assignment and gamification.|
|Content management||Includes support for features that control and manage document content, including versioning, metadata, e-discovery, archiving and syncing. These applications are also present in dedicated CMS systems, which typically also offer file sharing capabilities.|
|Deployment models||Provides support for different server and endpoint operating systems and different deployment models, such as public cloud, on-premises, hybrid and private cloud. Most SMBs prefer public or private cloud options for their relative ease of use.|
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Gartner's report "Top 10 Best Practices for Choosing and Deploying an Enterprise File Sync and Sharing Solution" (available to Gartner clients) outlines three general use cases for file sharing software. Keep in mind that these examples are not mutually exclusive; most companies will find that all three apply, but to varying degrees.
- General productivity. This use case leverages the convenience of digital file sharing software to improve workflow efficiency in-office, with outside parties and on mobile devices. If this sounds most applicable to your business, then the most basic file sharing platforms will suffice. Focus your search on those that include, at a bare minimum, the first four applications in the table above.
- Extended collaboration. This use case applies to companies that want to use file sharing software to improve their collaborative workflows, both internally and with outside organizations. If this sounds most applicable to your business, look for a platform that includes basic and extended collaboration apps, like versioning, commenting and task assignments.
- IT modernization. This use case is for companies undergoing strategic digitalization and modernization initiatives. It applies to companies that, for example want to move away from older FTP file servers to more modern cloud services to take advantage of the latter's more robust access, automation and backup and recovery capabilities. These companies often prioritize the integration capabilities of file sharing services to ensure compatibility with legacy systems.
Market Trends to Understand
In choosing among the many file sharing solutions, you should pay attention to the level of control each offers. This level of control should be examined on two fronts: control over the operation of the platform—the “control plane"—and control over the data and the files themselves.
Small and midsize businesses with basic file sharing needs and small IT departments typically do best with fully cloud-based solutions. While some of these platforms offer APIs for customizing parts of the control plane, they're generally designed to be used out of the box with minimal configuration.
At the other end of the spectrum, on-premise solutions offer much more flexibility for more complex integrations. These companies may want to create a file-sharing service that blends seamlessly with an existing application. They may have stricter data privacy concerns, or are implementing real-time analytical tools. For such businesses, on-premise solutions may be a better fit, so long as the company has the IT staff needed to implement and support these customizations and systems.
Your Guide to Top File Sharing Software, June 2021
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