Data, Humans and the Cloud, Part 1: Unexpected Behavior

Digital transformation is changing the face of business. All business. As part of this shift, many IT leaders have decided to use their cloud collaboration tools for data protection and recovery—tools like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box and Dropbox. According to a 2017 Intel Security Study, 74 percent of businesses now store some sensitive information in the cloud. And according to a Code42 customer survey, 67 percent of companies have data in three or more cloud storage services.

While a cloud-focused future is clearly the goal, there is still a considerable amount of data being saved to the endpoint. In fact, Code42’s 2017 CTRL-Z Study revealed that IT decision makers believe that as much as 60 percent of corporate information lives on user laptops. Over the course of our three-part blog series, we explore the critical role human behavior plays in how data is stored and protected as your business moves to the cloud.

“ Understanding how your employees actually create, store and share information is a critical first step in smoothing the path to any digital transformation. ”

Part 1: The disconnect between digital transformation and human behavior

Where do your employees store the files they create? Your policy may be for employees to put them on an approved shared drive, but that doesn’t actually answer the question. Policy is one thing, but what your employees actually do is something else entirely.

It’s clear there are benefits to deploying cloud collaboration products. Tools like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box and Dropbox can improve employee collaboration and productivity, enhance customer experiences and accelerate companies’ digital transformation strategies. It makes sense that many companies have mandated their use in today’s knowledge economy, in which ideas drive business growth. But just because you have a rule doesn’t mean it will be followed. Understanding how your employees actually create, store and share information is a critical first step in smoothing the path to any digital transformation.

Unexpected employee work habits  

To gain deeper insight into workforce habits, Code42 partnered with customers with between 500 and 5000 employees to examine data storage behavior. This study surveyed 1,039 users, 1,192 endpoint devices, 120 million files and 105 TB of data. The results quickly painted a clear picture: employees are not working the way that business leaders believe they are.

The study found that only 23 percent of the data employees generate and store on laptops and desktops makes its way to tools like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box or Dropbox. That means 77 percent of data lives exclusively on employee computers. When measured by file count, a mere one percent of all the files created are stored on cloud collaboration platforms. It goes without saying that if 99 percent of all files created are not being stored in the cloud, then the goals of digital transformation are not being realized.

Why does this disconnect exist? Employees are, at the end of the day, human. And its simply human nature to prefer to work using methods that feel the most productive and satisfying. We all have an emotional connection to the work we produce, as there is a natural tendency to feel that what we create has a piece of ourselves in it. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that employees tend to ignore policies that hinder their productivity or otherwise prevent them from producing their best work. This is true from entry-level workers all the way up to the C-suite. In fact, Code42’s CTRL-Z Study revealed that 75 percent of CEOs admit to using applications/programs that they aren’t sure are approved by IT—all in the name of productivity.

“ Code42’s CTRL-Z Study revealed that 75 percent of CEOs admit to using applications/programs that they aren’t sure are approved by IT—all in the name of productivity. ”

IT’s view on endpoint data is wrong

There is an opinion held by many IT leaders that nothing of value lives on employee laptops. Our study shows, however, that this isn’t the case at all. In addition to demonstrating the quantity of files on employee endpoints, the study also looked at employee-created files by file type. The study found that 36 percent of the files on employee laptops and desktops are indicative of intellectual property (IP), such as programming files, images, spreadsheets, zip files, presentations, and audio and video files. Failure to properly safeguard IP can leave a business open to significant risk. For example:

  • Losing source code or product roadmaps can impact time to market;
  • Losing strategy documentation can affect time to opportunity;
  • Losing customer lists or project proposals jeopardizes time to revenue; and
  • Losing customer information puts companies at a high risk of non-compliance.

Not only does data exist in large quantities on endpoints, that data has huge value. IP can account for 80 percent of a company’s business. If your IP lives on endpoints—not in the cloud—then IT needs a new approach to protecting that data.

The big picture

How can you bridge the divide between human behavior and your digital transformation into the cloud? Crafting policies around data backup that require employee action is, in a word, pointless. Employees didn’t back up in the era of file servers, and they won’t today with corporate-mandated cloud collaboration platforms. To safeguard their success, businesses on the path to a cloud-only digital transformation must accept and operationalize the fact that:

  • The files employees create and store have value to the business.
  • The majority of employee files today still live on endpoints, such as laptops and desktops.
  • Failing to protect every file from loss creates risks to productivity, security and compliance.

To deal with the divide between human behavior and your digital transformation, comprehensive data protection that doesn’t rely on user intervention is required. When all endpoint data is securely and automatically protected, you can be sure that all of the valuable data on employee laptops is being preserved. This is especially important given that four types of users in your organization all store data differently.

In my next blog post, I’ll dive deeper into these four user types, which will shed more light on the reality of how data is being stored in your organization.

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