This blog post I wrote ran on Harvard Business Review today.
File syncing is evolving into the mainstream, with the adoption rate of services such as file access, sync, and share growing from 9% in 2010 to 15% in 2012. Gartner is predicting that one-third of consumers’ digital content will be “in the cloud” by 2016. What’s more, file syncing is moving beyond the consumer space and into the business environment — almost two-thirds of the devices used by information workers are now portable, and more and more people are sharing files and information across multiple devices (smartphones, tablets, PCs, etc.) in their daily work activities. Fifty-two percent of information workers now use at least three devices for business, and 34% use four or more. We’ve seen this new wave of technology coming, and now its usage is being validated.
As a result, more and more people are combining their “personal” and “business” clouds for greater efficiency and productivity. Workers say they mix work and personal use on 60% of their devices. Earlier this year, Entrepreneur magazine said: “The idea of having a ‘personal cloud’ for storage is so 2011. Now you can combine office, mobile, web-based and even home-based storage options to achieve near-automatic caching of data on everything from your smartphone to your TV set-top box. What’s more, the line has become blurred in terms of personal and business use of such technologies.” According to the Forrester report, 47% of all cloud users are storing both personal and work data. While photos and personal documents remain among the top items stored in the cloud, other media and work documents have grown by nearly 30% in the past couple of years.
With all the data in our lives intermingling in the cloud, we need to be conscious of how we want it to function, and we need to be smart about how we organize it. Many of us enjoy the convenience of accessing multiple sets of data (personal and business) from a single cloud. But what about those who like to keep more discreet lines between their personal and professional lives? Both companies and individuals need to think through the scenarios of access, permissions and backup. For instance, what happens if you change jobs? It’s important to clarify who has access to which data. What is the company policy on having personal data on a work device and vice versa? A great way to manage in this situation is to put all of your data — both personal and business — in the cloud so you have easy access and so that it’s backed up, but you only sync local to the device that’s appropriate. When choosing a cloud solution, users should be sure to verify that this is possible.
I believe we’re only seeing the beginning of file syncing adoption and its value. (Full disclosure: I’m the CEO of a cloud computing company, which gives me a good deal of perspective — and also makes me somewhat biased.) Indeed, what’s the point of having all of these powerful smartphones and tablets if we can’t access our digital files anywhere, at any time? What does it mean for our personal and business lives, and where is this growing trend leading us? Here’s what I see from my vantage point: With people storing more of their information in the cloud, both hardware and software companies will need to continue developing “out of the box” solutions for both personal and business use (including ways to keep the two accessible, but separate), which will make it easier than ever to access, manage, and sync content. File syncing will need to remain affordable, while reducing the need to purchase bigger, more expensive hard drives. Cloud services companies will most likely continue to offer a limited amount of storage free, with larger or group plans priced economically. As a result, I think we’ll also see more IT organizations support the integration of personal and business cloud services for their employees.
This “infrastructure” is supporting a true cultural shift with business and personal data blending in the cloud, and HR policies will need to follow suit. Organizations will need to accept the fact that employees will interact with their “personal” data — such as Twitter and Facebook posts and LinkedIn connections — while at work, and rather than viewing this as a distraction, they should recognize that it is a “whole person” who shows up for work, and that being able to access personal information and networks while on the job actually makes for more productive employees. And certainly there is a bit of tit-for-tat given that employees are frequently working beyond the traditional work day.
As the lines between business and personal lives are shifting, the cloud has emerged as a key tool to keep people productive and organized. The ‘personal cloud’ is evolving to an ‘all-purpose cloud’ that helps us manage our entire lives. “Getting in sync” will soon become an everyday life action and expression, with a technical meaning that everyone understands and automatically uses.