SharePoint, Dropbox, and shadow IT

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

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...)
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 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.)

5 thoughts on “SharePoint, Dropbox, and shadow IT

  1. Interest point on how slow enterprise versions of simple products take to show up.
    SharePoint seems to be the ideal solution but just needs a few simplifications (on the user side of things). I think the Microsoft SharePoint Workspace app in Office 2010 (a.k.a. Groove in 2007) is meant to be a kind of dropbox/google docs equivalent

    This is one reason people still are so stuck with email. Then again, if you emailed it to everybody you wouldn’t have encountered this issue!

  2. A friend of mine works for MS, but before he did, he contracted for them “every now and then”, and he said to me that the only place he’d ever seen Sharepoint properly deployed was at Microsoft. Everywhere else it’s half implemented or not integrated properly.

    Personally, I like the look of things like Sparkleshare (which uses Git as it’s backend), or the new OwnCloud service is looking good. Historically, I’ve also used Subversion’s WebDav module, but I’ve encountered some issues with that with people who didn’t understand it’s purpose or implementation.

    These all come from an Open Source world, so I know they’re unlikely to be picked up in a corporate model – especially when Sharepoint (theoretically) contains a version control service and WebDav, so everything should be usable from that.

    I’d really like to see Google releasing a Google Apps box, in much the same way they have a Google Search box that you can buy and deploy… but I can’t see that happening any time soon.

  3. Open source is starting to gain some traction in the corporate world but, in the case of SharePoint I think it’s important to recognise it’s a platform upon which to build, and using it “naked” is likely to lead to some, shall we say “interesting”, gotchas (like the one I found…)

  4. Yes, I think that the DropBox-Concept will carry us much further, to have more users using SharePoint for everday business. I mainly think of small sized companies. They need also DMS, CMS and more.
    I have made a little SketchFlow-Mockup-App to show (no function inside it) what my Vision for using SharePoint in small-sized companies is:
    You can download the Mockup there, and participate with your wishes, for the software. Thank you.

  5. Thanks Google alerts,
    and thanks Mark!!

    At we are attempting to consolidate the iFolder documentation, files, forum and community into a familiar and friendly portal and ensure that the project continues in the event Novell and the consortium abandon development. Please help us extend the site and cover as many installs and issues as possible.


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