Businesses exchange files. That was the basic premise of my last post, and the foundation on which I made a case for Managed File Transfer (MFT) as a critical category of infrastructure software behind B2B processes. I’d like to expand on that this week, to talk about the role people play in file-based business processes, and what that means for MFT.
Business processes (sometimes) involve people. Seems simple enough. So what?
For starters, that means MFT systems have to support people with tools that help them to do their job, while protecting all of the things that make MFT necessary in the first place. To do this, a complete MFT system needs a range of client options that allow end users to exchange files simply, and transparently. Along with this, they need the peace of mind that, in the background is machinery to handle:
- Reliable and verifiable receipt of delivery
- Large-file handling
- Uptime protection
- Visibility in all the comings and goings of files across critical, file-based business processes
- Non-repudiation and proof of file integrity
Imagine an auto insurance company handling its most basic business process: claims adjustment. Without getting into messy details, the basic process involves the receipt of claims and validation that the claim can be paid, often after several loops of workflow with law firms, body shops, the customer, and so on. Files change hands in these workflows – and all of them are in some way material to the claims-adjustment process – as the insurance company works toward a final disposition on the claim.
The process involves a number of people, from the claims adjusters at the insurance company, to the clerks at partner law firms, to the poor customer sitting at the requesting end of the workflow, wondering if he is going to have to pay out-of-pocket for the unfortunate incident in the mall parking lot (I’ll call him Joe Fenderbender). Files will likely flow between several pairwise combinations of these players, and there may even be multi-party access to the same files at some point in the process. But the players are not equal partners in the exchange, and have different needs when it comes to tools to support their role.
Email alone isn’t sufficient for getting business done
Today, a lot of business gets done with email, and a lot of files move as attachments. Consider that a vast majority (84%) of the respondents to our third annual survey about data security send classified or confidential information as email attachments. But could you possibly imagine a worse tool for structured file exchange? Just think about the signal-to-noise ratio, for starters. Not to mention, most mail solutions handle very large files poorly – a real challenge in an age of HD video and tens-of-megapixel cameras masquerading as smart phones. Mail servers were never meant to be content-management systems. While it may be possible to conduct business via email, it is probably not going to serve every aspect of our example process equally well. However, email likely plays a role.
Consider, for instance, file exchange that takes place between the claims adjuster and our hero, Joe. It is probably reasonable to assume the insurance company has no control over the technology on Joe’s end of this exchange. So the easiest thing to do may be to employ plain-old mail as a way to communicate status, or receive/deliver materials. For security or compliance reasons, the insurance company won’t want to do this using traditional attachments (consider for example if Joe has whiplash, which could introduce patient information into the equation). Instead, they will employ a secure-attachment option that provides Joe with a link to files securely stored in the MFT repository, for his eyes only. The company may even want to provide him with temporary access to a Web-based upload/download space where files can be staged for the duration of the adjustment process. You can imagine the role email might play in this workflow of the process, since Joe is a temporary participant, with unknown skills and equipment on his end of the exchange.
Managed File Transfer streamlines file-exchange workflows
For contrast, consider the relationship between the insurance company and a partner body shop. In this case, the relationship is a little more permanent, and the two partners will likely have a more streamlined workflow in place, possibly with a durable shared upload/download space, and client technologies that make exchange very easy. In this case, the exchange might be better served by traditional FTP clients, or possibly a simpler background-synchronization option that links folders at the two parties’ locations through a central store, hosted by the insurance company. Email may still play a role, but because of the volume between these trading partners and the durability of their relationship, it makes more sense to use tools that are more tightly tied to the MFT system. These tools – and this integration – should make their exchange workflows quicker and simpler, so that all exchange is bagged, tagged, and verified in a more structured way with minimum friction.
You could even imagine a claims investigator from the insurance company employing his smart phone to collect photographic evidence at the body shop, or at the accident scene. A mobile MFT client would tie those collected files directly to the claim to speed processing, and keep all the evidence and artifacts in one place, stored securely.
Let’s pull back and take stock for a moment. In one simple business process, we have just imagined several types of file sharing workflows, and several types of tools to support those activities. We’ve covered:
- Secure email attachments for exchange between temporary parties
- Web-based file upload/download, and structured storage for universal access
- Folder synchronization for simple, durable exchange between tight partners
- Traditional FTP clients for cases of bulk upload, or automated exchange
- Mobile access and file origination for employees in the field
My simple thesis is: All of these tools are necessary for end users of an MFT system today. And it follows that a complete MFT system will support a variety of exchange models and tools to make these options possible.
The digital world changes quickly, and IT departments find themselves on their heels a lot these days. IT has to serve the core processes of the business, protect the business with security and compliance coverage, and do all that with tools that bring end users along for the ride.
When it comes to MFT, bringing end users along has become more of a challenge than it used to be. That’s because end users have been targeted over the past few years by a number of consumer-grade, cloud-only file sharing services offering incredible ease of use for a very narrow synchronization and sharing use case.
As research firm Ovum states, “The shift in the balance of power from corporate-led to consumer-driven IT innovation has in part been caused by the cloud, since it has provided consumers and line-of-business managers with an alternative range of services that run independently and are competitive with the portfolio of applications provided from on-premise corporate IT infrastructure.”
This movement has largely been driven by the proliferation of mobile devices, and the desire to have all of one’s stuff on any of one’s devices, available at all times. It’s no wonder a Gartner survey found CIOs expect mobile technology will be the most disruptive force in the enterprise for the coming years. Users have eaten this stuff up, and that has led them to expect a level of usability, polish, and capability when it comes to the exchange of files.
That users employ these tools for their own “personal cloud” is fine, but when usage bleeds into business workflows, IT managers tear their hair out. These services store critical data offsite, have no guaranteed security, and are not under the visible control of the business. But the damage is done, and IT knows whatever they deploy to gain back control over business file transfer has to meet the changed end-user expectations for ease of use, convenience, and seamless fit in users’ existing workflows.
Modern MFT systems like Ipswitch MOVEit provide a full range of client options, including all of the options mentioned above, to serve our customers’ business-critical workflows – even the workflows that involve people who expect more today than ever before.
I appreciate feedback. Are you concerned with the tools your people are using to move files? Are you confident that they enable your employees to be productive while ensuring IT and the business meets their security, internal auditing and external compliance requirements?