Could sophisticated enterprise file-sharing applications go the way of Betamax videotape?
An understanding of the whole VHS vs. Beta story in the 1970s and 80s could prove instructive for corporate IT system managers and executives trying to cope with the growing need for workers to be able to access work documents and reports – including those containing sensitive proprietary or client data – from just about anywhere and everywhere. That particular problem is, in some ways, similar to the issues over the VCR format wars of 35 years ago were fought.
New data from SkyHigh Networks shows that when workers, both in the United States and in Europe, need to be able to access company files from home or elsewhere outside the office, they are far more likely to use consumer-grade cloud storage systems such as Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive than they are to use more sophisticated, more secure enterprise-level storage and file sharing technologies and services.
The company’s recently-issued European Cloud Adoption and Risk Report, based on data from 40 companies spanning financial services, oil and gas, manufacturing, retail and utilities, found that of the 2,501 cloud services in use currently around the world, only 194 actually provide enterprise-grade security capabilities.
The Story of Sony and Betamax
Okay, so what’s that got to do with the old VHS vs. Beta fight from three decades ago? Plenty, if you’re looking for lessons on trying to predict human preference between two competing technological approaches to solving the same problem.
In 1975, Sony introduced Betamax as a consumerized version of the videotape format used then by TV stations and networks, mostly for news programs (an updated version of Beta is still used by TV news departments). A year later, JVC rolled out a competing technology called VHS. Both companies/formats found support from other electronics manufacturers. A few manufacturers even produced home video cameras and VCRs (for playing the home videos) in each format. By all objective criteria, Betamax, or Beta as it was better known, was the technologically superior format and technology. It provided a higher quality video capture, recording and viewing experience. Beta cassettes were smaller and lighter. And it was promoted by Sony, at the time the world’s kingpin consumer electronics maker.
But try to buy a Beta player or camera today. You’ll have to scour the Internet for antique electronics dealers. And if you can find one to buy, good luck finding movies to play in a Beta VCR, or blank tapes on which you can record videos. That’s because VHS won the war, overwhelmingly. Though VHS clearly was the technically inferior format, JVC and its allies succeeded by winning favor with ordinary, relatively unsophisticated users who weren’t impressed by Beta’s technical superiority. Instead they liked the fact that you could rent a lot more movies in the VHS format than you could in the Beta format from the mom-and-pop video stores that were on every corner in America in those days.
The Lesson for Today’s Businesses
So the lesson for today’s businesses – of all sizes – as they wrestle about what to do with employees’ strong preference for consumer-level file storage and sharing technologies and services over far more secure, enterprise-level storage and sharing technologies and services? Don’t bank on the fact that your company’s preferred solution is technically superior. That’s what Sony did, and it lost the VCR war.
Instead, the smart thing to do would be to find ways to make consumer-grade file storage and sharing services and technologies work for your people and your company. How do you do that? Well, for small and midsize companies, which often lack the staff numbers, experience and sophistication to tackle such a challenging subject, the best option would be to engage IT consulting experts who understand all the issues related to file storage and sharing by increasingly mobile and flexible employees.
They can help your company think through computing management and which types of data and documents can, in fact, be shared via consumer level clouds and devices, and which data and what documents need to be shared in far more secure and safe commercial level cloud environments.
It helps that Box and several other more secure enterprise level cloud sharing services are now on the market, and that Dropbox, Google and other consumer level cloud providers have introduced or soon will be introducing tougher, enterprise-level versions of their consumer level cloud products. But for small- and midsize businesses, sorting out the differences between all the options can be overwhelming.
Maybe had Sony listened to the market – meaning actual home video viewers – it would not have made the mistake of sticking with a superior technology that ultimately failed because end users wouldn’t use it. And maybe by enlisting the help of experienced tech advisors on finding a cloud storage and sharing service that works for your company, you can avoid making the same mistake.