SharePoint, Dropbox, and shadow IT

This morning I had a problem with SharePoint. Well, when I say the problem was with SharePoint, it could be considered a “layer 8 problem” (i.e. user error) but it still illustrates a major issue  with corporate IT provision – not just in my organisation but in many, many businesses, all over the world.

You see, last night, I uploaded a presentation to our intranet. It was a 20MB file over an ADSL/VPN connection and the browser upload session timed out so I used SharePoint’s Windows Explorer view (which I think is WebDAV).  The file was copied, I edited the properties in the browser and all was good, I thought.

Fast forward to this morning and people were telling me the links to the presentation in my team’s newsletter didn’t work. But they did for me… embarrassingly (because the newsletter goes right up the company – to CEO level), I sent an email with the correct link in naked form (horrible long URL, rather than as a hyperlink on some nice text) but people were still getting HTTP 404 responses (file not found).

To cut a long story short, the WebDAV upload had not checked in the file (by design, I now think) and even editing the properties afterwards didn’t. I could see the file, but no-one else could. Once the file was checked in all was well – except from  my red face (and my insistence that HTTP 404 isn’t a permissions error – that would be 403).

I lost a good chunk of this morning on this and the related clean-up activities when, essentially, all I wanted to do was share a file with some colleagues – a common business requirement that shouldn’t really be a problem in 2011. So I tweeted:

I need Corporate Dropbox; SharePoint is just one usability nightmare after another... (cue flow of tweets telling me SharePoint is great...)
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

I expected a deluge of people supporting SharePoint and telling me that I’m just a dumb user, what I actually got was RTs (showing this is not just an issue for me) and then a succession of people suggesting various Dropbox-like  products for that could be used by corporates.

Lots of people are suggesting Box.net and there’s Dropbox for TeamsOxygenCloud and ShareFile too. I suppose, taken at face value this sort of product is exactly what my tweet asked for but it’s not really a corporate version of Dropbox that I need – it’s the simplicity of Dropbox (dump “stuff” in a folder and it’s wherever I need it – in the cloud, on other machines, available to share with others, etc.) – I’m sure there are many solutions that do this, with varying degrees of success (just that Microsoft SharePoint is not one of them…). But technology is only one part of the issue.

My scenario (and the reason I’m writing this) is actually a perfect example of why we have shadow IT in organisations today. End users (consumers) want to do “something”. That “something” is hard to do with their enterprise tools, so they find another way around the problem. Over time that solution becomes embedded – that’s when the problems start for the CIO (or, maybe, for the individual who didn’t follow the stated IT policy…). Those problems generally boil down to one of two things: security and manageability. In this case, the file is already available on SlideShare, but it could have been something confidential – like the business model I was creating yesterday afternoon – and that wouldn’t have been something I wanted floating around on servers that my company doesn’t control.

I’m sure that the multitude of “solutions” to my problem are all great in their own way but if I start to use them, well, all I’ll really be doing is perpetuating the issue of shadow IT.

(Incidentally, I did come across some interesting projects from the responses I received: remember Novell iFolder? it’s still around in open source form from Kablink; and VMware’s Project Octopus could have potential too.)