Can security and usability live in one app without driving each other crazy?


In the 70s, there was a great TV show called "The Odd Couple", starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. The opening of the show asked, "Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?" You could ask a similar question when it comes to sync and share apps: Can usability and security live together without driving each other crazy?

I was talking to Jeetu Patel the other day. He runs the Syncplicity unit within EMC and we were talking about the huge challenge that companies like his face finding that balance between security and simplicity.

Patel was explaining that in order for an app like Syncplicity to be successful today, it has to serve two very different masters. On one hand, it has to be dead simple to use and provide frictionless access to content that's as good or better than any consumer tool out there, but on the back end, it has to have security and compliance capability to enable IT to put controls in place.

But he says it has to go one step further: It has to hide all of that complexity from the end user. And that is a challenge that every content management vendor is facing into today's market. Heck, every vendor regardless of the market is facing that.

The expectations have changed and users want tools that give them frictionless access to content. Whether it's Syncplicity, Box, or WatchDox or Citrix (or any other player in the market), they have to come up with products that put the user first, but that don't leave IT going, 'hey wait a minute, what about us?'

Think of it as the ultimate sibling rivalry. If you give too much to one party, the other feels slighted. It only works if you find close to a perfect harmony. Oh, and by the way, it needs to work across a variety of devices, link in the cloud (and maybe on premises too) and probably have some kind of social element--to take full advantage of all the trends hitting business today.

IT is feeling marginalized against this backdrop, but it has a role, maybe a bigger role than ever, but what it can't do is get in the way of employees doing real work. If they find a consumer product to sync and share and you don't like it, you need to build one or find one on the shelf that's as good or even better. 

One thing consumerization has clearly done is changed the balance of power in many companies. Sure, IT can dictate policy and I'm sure many CIOs and IT pros do so until they're blue in the face, but it doesn't do much good when users can provision software themselves easily on their smartphones and tablets.

And for those of you thinking  you can't do real work on these devices, think again. As Patel pointed out, his product lets you open Office documents directly from Syncplicity. That means if you need to fix a typo on your phone or start PowerPoint presentation on your tablet, you can do it--from inside the safety and security of your sync and share tool.

It's worth noting that other tools allow this as well, so Syncplicity isn't unique, but it shows how carefully these companies have to tread to make sure they make these tools as easy to use as possible while trying to keep IT happy.

Look, it's no secret that mobile devices have surpassed PC sales over the last year and the gap is very likely going to widen over time. Companies need to find ways to empower users to view, edit and share content on these devices, while providing just enough backend security and control that you don't inhibit the use of the tool.

It's clear that the very notion of  content management is changing and these types of tools are leading the way. People don't want to deal with huge business-class systems. They want tools that let them get at their documents and do their jobs, regardless of what device they are on. IT just wants to make sure the company IP stays safe. Surely, we can all find a way to get along, can't we? - Ron