Intralinks consolidates its secure content collaboration platform

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Intralinks offers a range of general-purpose and industry-specific applications for secure content management, collaboration, and workflow based upon a common cloud-based platform. Here we cover the company’s overall portfolio and its content management, collaboration, workflow and task management capabilities. We also explore Intralinks’ industry-specific solutions and assess the company’s future direction and suitability for particular use cases.

Top takeaways

Secure content collaboration isn’t just for the highly-regulated

It’s not only regulated industries that can benefit from an enterprise-grade secure content collaboration solution that’s designed to support workforce mobility. Other industries (such as engineering, construction, and high-tech manufacturing) where the security of IP assets is paramount, are also on Intralinks’ target list. The company’s rationale is that any organisation ignores the risks of unmanaged collaboration at their peril.

Intralinks Distributed Content Nodes extend the hybrid options

The security-orientated features Intralinks announced with version 2.0 of Intralinks VIA in 2014(Customer Managed Keys, Information Rights Management, and integration with Microsoft Office Online) are becoming more commonplace in content collaboration suites now. However, what still marks Intralinks apart is the extent to which it’s delivered on its vision.

For instance, by hosting Microsoft Office Online in its own datacentre it’s able to guarantee that cloud-based content doesn’t need to leave its own infrastructure to be edited in Word, Excel or PowerPoint; and Intralinks IRM is natively provided so that end users don’t need to install third-party plugins on any devices to benefit. Intralinks’ new Distributed Content Nodes service, planned for initial release in the first half of 2016,is designed to address current customer demands for hybrid cloud solutions –but rather than simply syncing on-premise content with a SaaS offering, it will give customers control over where content is both stored and processed.

Today’s content needs to work more

The extent to which Intralinks platform’s enterprise integration meets your needs will depend on your use case and your expectations around how people in your organisation and your partners will work with content. Intralinks does have key security, governance, and data residency/sovereignty concerns covered for content collaboration – it leverages its considerable experience in servicing heavily regulated industries, and there are rules-based workflow capabilities attached to the collaboration tool.

However, for more specialist case management use cases (in a ‘flexible BPM vein’), with or without content analytics to add a degree of ‘intelligence’ and context around the content, Intralinks’ strategy is to partner for integrations that bring these capabilities to the table. That may risk the seamless user experience and dataflow integrity for which the platform is known within its core use cases. So, as content collaboration and content management worlds collide, one question is:how long will Intralinks strategy focus on ‘complementing’ ECM solutions, before it feels the need to offer additional ECM-like capabilities itself natively?

Intralinks(TM), is a registered trademark of Intralinks® Holdings, Inc. All references to Intralinks and other product names throughout this article are acknowledged as such.

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Intralinks, its platform and its applications

Company background

Headquartered in New York City, Intralinks employs 810 people across 20 locations worldwide. It now has over 3.1m paid users across more than 90,000 organisations; Intralinks products are used by 99% of the Fortune 1000 and all of the Fortune 100–and the company reports that $28.1 trillion worth of transactions have been executed on its platform to date. Customers include KPMG, NHS, Grant Thornton, Skandia, Brussels Airport, Investec, and Barclays Bank. The company has been publicly traded since 2010, and in 2014 it reported revenues of $255.8m.

The company was founded in 1996 by investment banking, trading and fund management veterans Arthur Scully, John Muldoon and Mark Adams, and its heritage is in providing specialist content-sharing and collaboration workspaces to organisations inheavily-regulated industries

Its first product was the IntraLoan loan syndication application,from which it went on to produce the first virtual data rooms to support financial transaction management (DealSpace, in 1999), then spending some 15 years further developing its banking application portfolio (with the DealNexus, DebtSpace, and FundSpace products) and support for pharmaceutical and biotech firms undertaking clinical research(StudySpace), before launchingits VIA product for general-purposeexternal content sharing and management in April 2013.

The Intralinks platform

Each individual Intralinks application is designed to address particular enterprise content collaboration needsin different use cases. Although Intralinks’ applications present their capabilities through different user interfaces(all have desktop and mobile interfaces, with collaboration ‘workspaces’ designed ‘mobile-first’), they are all based upon a single common platform that provides cloud-based capabilities for:

  • Content management across the document lifecycle (including capabilities for:creation, indexing, publication, syncing, sharing, alerting, and collaboration).
  • Plug-in free Information Rights Management (IRM) underpinning external access management capabilities.
  • Rules-based, customisable document workflow.
  • A common security infrastructure.
  • Compliance reporting(tracking all access and changes to controlled documents).
  • Integrations with other enterprise applications through RESTful APIs and out-of-the-box connectors to third-party applications such as Microsoft SharePoint and Salesforce.com’s applications.

The platform comprises:

  • An application layer (delivering native, partner, and customer-configurable horizontal and vertical business applications).
  • An orchestration layer (delivering capabilities at web scale and reliability levels).
  • Distributed content nodes(planned for initial release in the first half of 2016) where Intralinks’ and the customer’s own data nodes can be combined to provide storage and processing infrastructure in the cloud and/or on premise.

Intralinks applications

Whereas MWD Advisors’ 2014 report on Intralinks focused specifically on Intralinks VIA, this profile expands its scope to cover the company’s overall portfolio and its content management, collaboration, workflow and tasking capabilities. This update also makes more mention of Intralinks’solutions to provide use case context around its specific offerings in regulated industries. Intralinks’ application suite is described in more detail below.

The Intralinks Platform, Intralinks VIA, and Intralinks vertical solutions

Source: Intralinks [excerpt]

Intralinks VIA

Intralinks VIA is designed forgeneral enterprise-wide secure content sharing and collaboration use cases–complementingorganisations’ Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems to support the content lifecycle through creation, collaboration, distribution, production(with workflow and tasking tools, analytics and compliance reporting features) for both internal and external users.

Intralinks VIA 3.1 (released in October 2015) comes in ‘Pro’ or ‘Elite’ varieties. Intralinks doesn’t publish list pricing but states it’s negotiable “based on volume and duration of contract”. Intralinks VIA Pro charges for provisioned and internal users, whereasall users –provisioned, internal, and external – are billable for Intralinks VIA Elite.

Intralinks VIA Pro provides ad hoc team collaboration capabilities, secure file sync and share, with access from mobile devices. It’s designed principally for team collaboration, secure file sharing, and mobile content access (in scenarios where many users require access to content, but the ‘business value’ of each user isn’t necessarily high).

Features include:

  • Sync, share and collaboration. Based around the concept of ‘workspace’ collaboration areas organised into ‘boards’, shareable content can be assigned to multiple owners, and can be required to have an expiration date. Content shareability is controlled by granular policies that facilitate white-/black-listing at the individual email address level,so users can be removed and prevented from being re-invited). There’s file sync-and-share capability built-in, with user-controlled sync bandwidth and support for over 500 synced Workspaces. Individuals can view, edit, and comment on documents (Microsoft Office and PDF formats) against an inbuilt version control system; what’s more, there’s a built-in Microsoft Office Online instance, hosted by Intralinks, that means data doesn’t leave Intralinks’ own data centres. There’s also a Microsoft Outlook plug-in; desktop (Windows and Mac), web, and mobile (iOS and Android)applications; unlimited data storage; and 24/7/365 support for internal and external users (available in 140 languages).
  • Security and audit. VIA supports multi-factor authentication; customer managed encryption keys; single sign-on; Active Directory integration; monitoring and audit reporting (including the ability to ‘watch’ a set of people/tasks); remote wipe; and the setup of an admin role facilitating the transfer of Workspace ownership amongst joiners, movers, leavers across multiple business groups.
  • Content distribution and management. VIA offers full-text search; plugin-free Information Rights Management supporting update, edit, and upload back as well as preview (which can be toggled on/off by workspace or folder in Intralinks VIA); the ability to un-share (and revoke access to) content that’s already been downloaded; posture-checking of remote devices to restrict access to viewing protected content if the device doesn’t have particular security features enabled (such as biometrics, etc.); the RFC 822-format Compliance Link report (which lists all communications between users in Intralinks VIA, including comments, workspace invitation alerts, etc.); and integration with Intralinks Exchanges and Intralinks DealManager (see below).

Intralinks VIA Elite builds upon the Pro edition, and is aimed at more semi-structured content distribution and management scenarios (where the userbase may be well smaller, but the ‘business value’ per user is higher). It provides additional content distribution and management features, namely: design and management of enterprise content portals (e.g. for sales, HR, legal, partners, etc.); externalisation of ECM content (from Microsoft SharePoint, etc.) across an organisation’s extended enterprise; five-level user role permissions and group management; configurable compliance reports; user-defined structured workflow; support for standard and user-defined metadata fields; use and group report dashboards; further customisations through Intralinks Professional Services.

Intralinks industry solutions

The structured content solutions based on Intralinks Platform are typically deployed where a small number of high-value users requireaccess to secure content and collaboration tools in vertical (regulated) industry-specific use case. They include:

  • Intralinks Debtspace. Virtual data rooms for debt capital market transactions, such as loan syndication, portfolio loans sales,commercial lending, and bonds.
  • Intralinks Fundspace. Secure online portals for alternative investment, such as private equity fundraising, hedge funds, and investor reporting.
  • Intralinks Dealspace. Virtual data rooms for mergers and acquisitions deal management.
  • Intralinks Dealmanager for Corporate Development. Deal management across all phases of the deal lifecycle.
  • Intralinks Studyspace. Secure online portals and repositories for life sciences clinical trials.
  • Intralinks Exchanges. Secure on-demand web-based workspace for sharing information, collaboration, and workflow management inside and outside the enterprise (across a business network).

Intralinks’ platform provides services to all Intralinks offerings, but new developments apply to Intralinks VIA first –so following the launch of Intralinks VIA 2.0, the company was able to focus on baking some of the new features this heralded into its specialist applications. For example, all now support Intralinks IRM and eSignature.

The company also now runs industry-specific ‘Trusted Business Networks’, supporting communities of professionals in regulated industries. The first such is Intralinks Dealnexus –a real-time online deal sourcing community comprising 12,000 mergers and acquisitions professionals in over 7,000 firms.

Intralinks’ partner ecosystem

Intralinks’ policy of acquiring key technologies (such as docTrackr, in 2014, for IRM) largely means that key capabilities are integrated natively within the core product via platform enhancements. Intralinks end-to-end control of these capabilities not only helps make the user experience more seamless, but it also means that no third-party application data flows are required (and so the company can certify that data and processing doesn’t leave its own infrastructure).

That said, the platform does provide APIs to facilitate integration with third-party applications for customer-/ partner-specific use cases not covered by Intralinks’ own product set. Integrations are also available with ECM applications like SharePoint, and the company has a licensing relationship with Microsoft for running its own Office Online instance.

2015 has seen the company expand its enterprise partnerships further, with an integrated go-to-market approach coveringfour distinct groups of partners:

  • Ecosystem. i.e. major enterprise vendors that furnish Intralinks with access to an existing partner and customer ecosystem of their own; e.g. HP.
  • Enterprise fabric. i.e. integrating best-of-breed technologies that improve Intralinks’ ‘enterprise IT-readiness’; e.g. RSA, IBM, Okta, MobileIron, Splunk, Symantec, Good Technologies, HP.
  • Business applications. i.e. complementary third-party business applications that extend Intralinks’ coverage in vertically-focused use cases; e.g. Microsoft, SalesForce, iCapital Network, MISYS, Wingspan Technologies.
  • Consulting and systems integrators. i.e. partners that extend Intralinks’ market reach with subject matter expertise and delivery capacity; e.g. Protiviti (risk and business consulting, internal audit), NIT finance.

Future plans

Intralinks’ Distributed Content Nodes service (which enables customers to stipulate where data storage and processing take place in country-specific data nodes, whether customer-or Intralinks-managed) is planned to pilot in the first quarter of 2016. It’s designed to allow customers to benefit from SaaS economics and functionality, but with tools that control where content is stored and processed. This ranges from on-premise, through hybrid SaaS arrangements involving a customer-hosted instance, to an ISV-hosted instance, SaaS using datacentres within a customer-defined geography, or ‘true SaaS’. Customers may optionally have their data reside exclusively on their own dedicatedcontent node in a specified Intralinks datacentre and apply rules to data types governing what content is stored where. For instance, data containing Personally Identifiable Information (PII) could reside in a (more expensive) customer node, whilst less sensitive data continues to exploit standard (and less expensive) Intralinks cloud services.

Intralinks plans to address migration of content between public / private cloud and multi-tenant cloud in 2016; and at the same time plans to introducegeo-fencing capabilities that control and track access to content based on a device’s physical location. The company is also considering whether to offer an increased number of Customer Managed Keys per customer in 2016, so that individual departments can separately secure their content at the Workspace level.

From 2016 onwards, Intralinks VIA’s roadmap signals a convergence of the company’s range of applications (allowing customers to access all their Intralinks content-centric work –from ad hocIntralinks VIA Workspaces, to highly structured mergers and acquisitions due diligence virtual dealrooms in Intralinks Dealspace) through a single seamless experience, from any device.

Suitability

As we noted when MWD Advisors covered Intralinks in 2014, the Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) market is fast-evolving,in line with ever more sophisticated customer expectations. Vendors are beginning to provide more than simply “access to content anytime, anywhere, and from any device”. They now need to offer more comprehensive security options, better integration with popular business applications, and provide distributed access to distributed content (i.e. from any storage, to any device). Hybrid cloud configurations, and options that facilitate a degree of geo-specificity for data storage can help satisfy data residency and data sovereignty concerns. They can also cater for customers whose bandwidth-hungry content exerts too much ‘data gravity’ to rely on far-flung cloud-based datacentres alone(when comparing application performance with on-premise storage options).

As you might expect from a vendor with a heritage of supplying secure content and collaboration solutions in heavily-regulated industries, information security and data residency/ privacy concerns in extended enterprise collaborationsare of paramount importance to Intralinks’ approach. Beyond Intralinks’ 256-bit AES encryption for data at rest, 2048-bit RSA key and 256-bit AES packet encryption for data in transit, and permission controls and tracking capabilities, Intralinks’platform currently delivers three main features that the company is promoting in combination to emphasise its security credentials:

  • Information Rights Management (IRM). This feature is available natively within the Intralinks platform, resulting in a much smoother experience for users, who also don’t need permissions on their devices to install third-party plugins. It allows organisations to control access to content (including by location and context), long after it leaves the repository. Documents can be ‘un-shared’, revoking access and visibility even if they’ve already been downloaded / synced. Intralinks IRM manages the removal of content from remote devices according to records management rules, and audits and logs access to files wherever they reside.
  • Integration with Microsoft Office Online. Intralinks uses an instance managed inside its own datacentres, meaning that when users operate within Office Online they’re able to do so whilst remaining within the Intralinks environment. Therefore, content can be guaranteed not to be shifted onto anyone else’s cloud, which is all the better for security and compliance.
  • Customer-Managed Keys. An optional hardware / software solution that gives customers sole control of the encryption keys used to protect their cloud-based content (something which can go some way to allaying data residency / data sovereignty concerns for international customers wary of foreign government or law enforcement intrusion). Currently this is only available as a single key assigned per customer organisation.

These capabilities (and the way they’re implemented) more than satisfy many customers’ requirements for enhanced security, and Intralinks Distributed Content Nodes will go a long way towards addressing data privacy and residency / sovereignty concerns regarding where data can be stored and processed. In addition, Intralinks has already invested in regional European datacentres in London and Germany, as well as an Australian datacentre with partner HP.

Also Intralinks’ frequent mobile interface updates on iOS and Android maintain the quality and seamlessness of user experience on remote devices.

Another consideration for enterprise viability of content management / collaboration solutions is an offering’s ability to provide rich, seamless integrations with common business applications that play a part in a content asset’s workflow journey. As well as file-editing and productivity tools, this requirement is also starting to pull in social collaboration experiences. To this end, Intralinks platform’s enterprise integration credentials have benefited recently from the company’s focus and effort to expand its partner programme, swelling the ranks with major enterprise and business application vendors, those offering best-of-breed technologies in areas such as mobile device management, as well as industry-specific systems integrators.

How well Intralinks’ partner integrations hit the spot remains to be seen. The company prides itself on being able to offer capabilities (such as IRM) natively, thanks to strategic acquisitions of key technology vendors –in areas where competitors are forced to rely on partnerships, and trades on this approach as a strength insofar as it gives it more control over delivering a seamless user experience (and also results in less friction, because users don’t need to download third-party plugins). So, whereas partner integrations to ensure Intralinks works smoothly with popular business applications is one thing, but relying on them to deliver key ECM-related capabilities is another.

This point is particularly relevant when considering a real growth area recently: Case Management. A raft of vendors are acquiring, partnering, or natively developing their way to folding in workflow (and sometimes analytics) features in order to present Case Management capabilities. In this area there’s no specific dimension to Intralinks’ offering –whether native capability or identified partnership.

More broadly, we’re seeing significant customer interest in integrated tools that do more with content in context. These requirements, at the nexus of content management, collaboration, and workflow, represent an area in which– if Intralinks wants to cover all bases –it will need to build, acquire or partner in order to satisfy future customer demands.

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