Consumer cloud services: Friend or foe?

IT and workers alike can reap benefits from using the consumer cloud, but admins have to get past the concerns over data security first.

Consumer cloud services are a boon for workers, but IT often has concerns about data security that prevent them from reaping the benefits of employees' cloud use.

IT pros have valid concerns about data leaking from the cloud, but in the grand scheme of things, a data leak is only as earth-shattering as the information that leaks. If the information that gets out via a cloud hack or employee carelessness isn't mission-critical, then it stands to reason that it doesn't matter much that it's been made public.

If you can get past the security concerns, allowing the use of consumer cloud services -- such as Dropbox and Google Drive -- means that IT doesn't have to manage an in-house service.

How the consumer cloud works against you

Employees who use the consumer cloud might accidentally make corporate data public. Some workers may not know that their chosen cloud service has an automatic backup feature. If users have corporate data on their devices, that data could be backed up to the cloud without users -- or IT -- ever knowing about it. Sometimes, consumer cloud services get hacked, so even the most informed and careful user might lose data if his account or the service he uses is breached.

There are other issues too. If IT chooses a cloud service for workers to use -- whether that's a sanctioned consumer cloud service, an on-premises option or an enterprise service -- it's likely that some employees or departments will have adopted their favorite consumer cloud service already. It can be a challenge for the IT department to rein in. Plus, many cloud services integrate with other applications, making it easier for workers to access, edit and upload information to and from the cloud on their mobile devices. This integration makes it difficult for IT to control which documents are stored in the cloud.

How the consumer cloud works with you

Personal cloud storage services can improve productivity by allowing for collaboration among teams. Instead of emailing a project around, workers can just upload their changes to the cloud, and a new version is automatically available.

The cloud can also help the IT department. If employees use outside cloud services for work, IT admins don't have to worry about maintaining or supporting that infrastructure; it's the consumer cloud service's problem. IT can spend less time dealing with help desk tickets about SharePoint or intranet issues and more time working on more important projects.

Befriending the consumer cloud

Here's some food for thought: The CIA uses a cloud collaboration service. You can be sure that the CIA doesn't keep government secrets or national security documents in the cloud. It's likely that the CIA has policies around what users can and can't store in the cloud, and they've probably made workers aware of the terms of the policy. Despite the security pitfalls of the cloud, if you don't have sensitive or secret information stored there, why shouldn't workers use it?

Sure, there's reason to worry that corporate data might get out, but you simply need to make policies for cloud use. Define what "sensitive" data is, outline what kinds of information users cannot upload to the cloud, inform workers of how you'll enforce those policies, and let them know what the consequences of violating the policy are. If you're still not okay with letting workers use the consumer cloud, consider some of the alternatives that give IT more control over data. There are even corporate versions of users' favorite consumer services, such as Dropbox for Business.

This was first published in September 2013

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