The Balancing Act: Sharing Data Versus Guarding Trade Secrets

Companies are grappling with how to foster collaboration inside and outside the organization while protecting proprietary information.

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By Tianyi Jiang

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In this age of information, digitization and connected networks, businesses need to make informed decisions faster than ever before to stay competitive. While a two-man startup can rely on free solutions like Gmail and Google Apps to handle their business communications from their iPhones, a billion-dollar global corporation in a highly regulated industry may still depend on legacy platforms like Lotus Notes and BlackBerry phones. The common denominator for success, however, remains the same: Process information faster in order to react to rapidly changing market forces.

Cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things offer new ways to innovate, but with these disruptive trends come the reality that those who cannot adapt quickly will face existential challenges. Within the past two years alone, we have seen technology industry titans such as BlackBerry, Motorola and Nokia lose their competitive edge. So how can businesses stay ahead of the innovation curve?

In today's interconnected world, thanks to social media and video chatting, individuals can effectively communicate ideas to the rest of the globe with ease. The same idea should be applied within companies. Empowering your employees to connect, share and collaborate in a constructive way is the best way to ensure innovation.

Related: The Secret to Higher Employee Productivity: Social Networking? (Infographic)

The reason collaboration directly relates to innovation is simple: People cannot possibly know everything. In our information-driven society, the amount of data created by humans doubles every two years, making it impossible to learn, digest and process every bit of information available to us. Truly successful companies combine employees' different skill sets to generate new ideas.

While everyone is aware that getting access to the right information at the right time is key to staying ahead of the competition, the real trick is empowering seamless access without compromising sensitive information. In our attempts to make information accessible, we often create tremendous risks by allowing unintended information transparency.

We have all seen numerous examples of data breaches over the past year, instilling a sense of fear about leaving too much information in untrustworthy or inexperienced hands. We see enterprise collaboration companies like Jive facing stiff growth resistance because its enterprise customers cannot allow deployments across regulated departments.

Related: Cyber Security a Growing Issue for Small Business

Even Microsoft's latest preview of Office Graph and Oslo, which enable documents and social feeds to be recommended to information workers based on their workload, face big challenges as major clients worry about sensitive information becoming inadvertently available to "nonprivileged" information workers. At SharePoint Conference 2014, I heard one executive in a highly regulated industry say, "Instead of just one Edward Snowden actively looking for sensitive contents to steal, now all of your employees will be tempted with potentially sensitive content."

Enterprise collaboration carries some risks of information leakage, but you need to understand your company's tolerance for risk. Will the risk of information loss outweigh the benefits of information inefficiency? The answer varies, so enterprises should consider a structured way to measure this. Some points to consider include:

1. Ensuring user adoption of new technology by integrating it with familiar collaboration processes and repositories; don't just create another data silo. Incorporate new policies and processes into your normal information workloads and/or workflows to keep enterprise environments secure. Business IT's role is to guide the right behavior as it relates to the new process or technology.

2. Losing the fear of change or technology. Instead, embrace them and incorporate them into your business operations with many baby steps, agile deployments, and gradual expansion.

3. Resisting the urge to jump on every new technology. Not every new offering will be advantageous to your business. Ask yourself how this new technology will help your business well into the future; not just today.

So encourage collaboration across job roles and departmental boundaries; that's what often generates new innovation. Proper integration of people, process and technology is necessary, however, to ensure proper information flow and protect against data loss.

When cars first hit the road, they lacked brakes. While many thought implementing brakes was to safely slow down or stop the vehicle, brakes actually allowed them to travel faster. In order to achieve effective enterprise collaboration, process improvements through proper data governance and compliance act as a safety precaution needed to increase the speed of information access while protecting businesses against inadvertent data loss.

Related: Tools to Keep Remote Employees Motivated and Productive

Tianyi Jiang
Tianyi Jiang is the co-founder and co-CEO of AvePoint. He oversees product strategy and business development for the company's global businesses.

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