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Once upon a time, online collaboration meant business file sharing

Not too long ago, the terms ‘file sharing’ and ‘collaboration’ were used more or less interchangeably in the context of cloud services. The idea was that people’s ability to work together depended on their ability to access the same files and documents – and the cloud became the most accessible (and cost-effective) repository for that information.

Gradually, the meaning of the terms file sharing and collaboration has shifted – for both cloud software providers and the people and organisations that use their services. They terms are no longer interchangeable, mainly because users have realised two things:

1. Collaboration is a strategic imperative of growing importance, whereas file sharing is a function.

2. The scope of online collaboration extends far beyond file sharing.

Forbes contributor and business tech expert Kurt Marko traced the development of the market in a recent article based on the highly successful IPO of consumer file sharing giant Box in January. He noted that Box is in the process of repositioning itself. Previously seen as a pure file sharing service, a point product for cloud storage, the company now wants to be known as ‘a cloud-based, mobile-optimised Enterprise Content Collaboration platform’.

Marko’s analysis of the reasons behind the Box rebrand was fairly cynical – he believes Box is locked in a winner-takes-all battle with its direct rival Dropbox for a share of the market, and must therefore move away from its association with pure file sharing to become a cloud collaboration tool. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, he was surely right when he said that “standalone file sharing services … seem like temporary bridges between the PC and mobile/cloud eras. Bridges are surely valuable, but they’re never one’s final destination”

A growing number of organisations are starting to realise what the destination is – bringing teams, departments and entire organisations together to solve problems and find better solutions. Removing barriers to productivity created by a dispersed, multi-generational workforce in which a growing number of people are used to working flexibly. Eradicating internal siloes so that lessons are always learned and applied next time. In other words, collaboration.

The cloud, together with mobile technology, makes all of this possible. But it requires a lot more than file sharing.

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