How GIW shares files and sheds backup risks with Dropbox

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Slurry pump manufacturer GIW has deployed Dropbox for two reasons: to enable it to share files across its globally-dispersed workforce, operating in often challenging environments; and also to create a centralised backup of files hitherto held only on field personnel’s laptops.

Case study key facts

Organisation GIW
Industry Mining and metals
Current goals GIW is focused on solving two main business problems, namely: sharing content securely amongst its teams of geographically dispersed personnel and staff at headquarters; and ensuring files that field personnel hold on their corporate laptops (which are often taken into hazardous environments) are securely backed up by being synchronised with GIW’s central cloud-based file store.
Current approach GIW has deployed Dropbox both as a means to share files, and also to utilise its desktop sync function to act as a de facto backup service for field laptops.
Outcome Dropbox has enabled GIW personnel to share content with partners, customers, and amongst themselves much more efficiently and securely than before, and Dropbox’s admin functions and its sync function has reduced the company’s exposure to data loss risks. GIW isn’t currently looking at any deeper, longer-term, strategic integration of Dropbox with its wider business applications at the moment. But with the solution in place and well adopted now, there are collaboration capabilities the company is able to explore in the medium-term without the need to roll out more new technology.
Tools and suppliers used Dropbox, Okta

Organisation background

US slurry pump manufacturer GIW Industries, Inc. was founded 1891, and is now a subsidiary of German pump manufacturer KSB. Its pumps are used worldwide, primarily in mining and dredging operations.

The markets GIW is active in mean that its sales personnel are scattered across different territories and timezones, complicating effective communications amongst the teams themselves, and also complicating communications with customers and partners.

Project background

GIW’s primary use cases centre on sharing content (often large data files in remote areas with poor connectivity); and backing up from laptops in the field.

When sharing content both internally, amongst its dispersed workforce; and externally, with suppliers, customers and partners beyond the company’s firewall, GIW previously relied upon the use of email attachments (though this had file size limitations), cumbersome access via FTP sites, and even the fallback solution of popping DVDs or USB memory sticks in the post! GIW wanted a solution it could deploy to improve content sharing and sync’ing and also deploy to address its remote backup concerns (a particular issue for its field sales representatives, who might have had 50Gb of material on a laptop being used in potentially hazardous conditions – such as aboard a dredging barge). GIW’s previous reliance on unsecure email attachments and memory sticks, etc. presented the company with security concerns around immediate access, audit trails, and data loss prevention.

The issues became a priority for GIW in 2012-13. At that time, the company didn’t have many staff using (consumer orientated) Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) solutions because of the strict controls it had in place on its corporate networks to block their use. However, despite preventing shadow EFSS at work, it did find that staff were simply taking the files home and using such services on personal accounts from their own networks, thereby circumventing GIW’s safeguards.

GIW quickly identified that a business-focused cloud-based file storage solution would address both its sharing and backup needs, and so began the search for an EFSS solution. The project was led by Lucas McCuistian, GIW’s Network Operations and Computer Support Manager.

Implementation characteristics and status

GIW has implemented Dropbox for Business as a means to solve two pressing issues it had with file availability, security, and backup. At present GIW has no plans to embed or extend, its EFSS solution deeper into enterprise application workflows; it’s purely wanting an effective means to satisfy its main use cases (namely, sharing files securely internally and externally; and syncing files on laptops to provide a form of remote backup).

GIW’s German parent company currently still has file-sharing services blocked (and McCuistian reports cultural barriers to adopting them), so opportunities for expanding Dropbox’s reach beyond GIW itself are limited.

The approach

In pursuit of an EFSS capability, GIW investigated services from Dropbox, Box, Microsoft OneDrive and Citrix ShareFile. Although all these services met its requirements, it found all except Dropbox were over-engineered for its needs.

Of the candidate services listed above, GIW tested Box alongside Dropbox amongst small groups (10-20 people), chosen as representative of their use case roles and for the ability to give constructive feedback about new technologies and practices. One of the reasons GIW gives for selecting Dropbox (aside for not needing all the ‘bells and whistles’ Box was offering, at a price) was the difference in the quality of the administration user interface between the two products. With less extensive features needing to be exposed and controlled, GIW describes Dropbox’s admin controls as “simpler” and “easier to operate” than those in Box.

Strategy

GIW’s EFSS roll-out of Dropbox isn’t part of any wider enterprise strategy. McCuistian is happy that the company’s initial use case goals have been met and it isn’t intent on going any further and integrating Dropbox with GIW’s enterprise applications. He admits he might be more “visionary” if he had a team of developers at his disposal to build on a suite of APIs, but that doesn’t reflect the make-up of GIW’s IT resources (and also means that Dropbox’s recent forays into the realms of content platform haven’t impacted upon his plans; GIW is a product user, not a platform developer).

All this has meant that GIW hasn’t felt the need to pay close attention to Dropbox’s roadmap in terms of any effect on the its own IT strategy (there’s no platform development investment in play at GIW, for instance). It’s happy just to know broadly where the product’s going, and has benefitted from some improvements along the way. For example, initially Dropbox didn’t provide the means to implement a bulk install (it had to be rolled out manually), but now the product supports command-line installation. McCuistian puts such initial shortcomings down to Dropbox being relatively new to the business software marketplace (and the requirements of enterprise IT administrators) in the early days of Dropbox for Business.

No formal mechanisms are in place to measure the results of deploying Dropbox, but McCuistian’s team do use Dropbox’s admin console to monitor the number of active users, links created (for sharing content), and the amount of storage used and shared folders active (both continually growing). McCuistian takes these as proxy measures for adoption success, reasoning that if Dropbox wasn’t meeting the need, it wouldn’t be used (and usage certainly wouldn’t be increasing).

Organisation and people

Adoption

As of June 2016, GIW had rolled out Dropbox to around 240 staff. 200 were given Dropbox in a first wave over the course of a month – with laptop users taking it first, to quickly provide a syncing alternative to un-backed-up local files. The subsequent 40 users were given access on a needs basis depending on individual requirements. GIW’s laptop users now use Dropbox’s desktop sync to provide backup with unlimited revision history and file retention. Its mobile users have also found Dropbox’s iPhone and Android apps to be “liberating” for their workstyles.

McCuistian reports that the Dropbox brand has been useful for adoption; most of the company’s employees reporting having used the service at home. Dropbox adoption has therefore benefitted from a springboard effect, because users are familiar with it from their own personal accounts. Out of the 240 users given Dropbox for Business accounts, only one has reported being “unhappy”.

Although McCuistian has noticed a difference in acceptance between GIW’s younger and older staff. He notes that broadly, people have found Dropbox’s interface so intuitive to use that he’s not felt the need to implement any formal training to accompany roll-out. Natural ‘champions’ have emerged in different offices though, where use of Dropbox has “changed people’s lives”.

Roles and resources

GIW worked with Okta to provide a single sign-on service that linked Dropbox to its Active Directory accounts. Beyond that, it managed the roll-out of Dropbox in-house without outside consultants or partners.

People only come to IT if there’s an issue – such as discovering that Dropbox’s ‘unlimited file size’ is supported with desktop sync but not web uploads. Because Dropbox hasn’t been deeply embedded within other GIW systems, there’s been little change to its business processes.

Governance

McCuistian reports that GIW haven’t encountered any new governance issues to deal with as a result of deploying Dropbox to share content.

Technology and infrastructure

GIW’s key technology requirements for its EFSS capability were:

  • Integration with Active Directory – either natively, or via Okta. GIW has exploited Dropbox’s partnership with Okta for this.
  • Ability to handle very large files, and a very large number of files. Files uploaded via Dropbox’s desktop or mobile apps have no size limit (though uploads through a browser at dropbox.com cannot exceed 20Gb); the number of files is only limited by the amount of storage (teams start off with 1 TB of space per user on Dropbox, but it offers to increase space upon request at no additional cost).
  • McCuistian recounts that the company “needed to feel confident” that any data stored in the service would be safe there.

The results

Take-up by GIW’s mobile workforce was swift, with content on company laptops in the field now safely backed-up in Dropbox (employees are now working with synchronised, rather than local-only, file copies). In an industry where sales teams work in potentially hazardous environments, that small change to a way of working has had a great impact on the company’s data loss risks.

Content is also more secure and trackable, because it’s shared amongst globally-dispersed teams and partners via Dropbox (rather than relying on GIW’s former use of email attachments, posting USB memory sticks and DVDs, etc.).

McCuistian doesn’t cite any formal ROI calculations, but reports that staff are now able to engage with each other, customers, and partners much more effectively and efficiently – with faster access to the most up-to-date information.

To date, GIW’s roll-out of Dropbox hasn’t had any significant impact on wider business processes involving the management of and collaboration around content, as it hasn’t been integrated into the company’s other business applications. However, GIW staff have been able to leverage Dropbox’s native capabilities to manage content workflows, and edit documents where necessary.

Recommendations for adopters

In our conversations with GIW’s Network Operations and Computer Support Manager Lucas McCuistian for this case study, he offered two recommendations in particular for organisations embarking on a similar initiative:

  • Don’t over-engineer or over-pay. Don’t get diverted by bells and whistles if you don’t need them. Even if you pay-as-you-go / pay-for-what-you-use in cloud storage, you still risk paying-for-what-you-don’t-use in tool functionality.
  • Tools must be useful and usable to ensure they get used. If not, people will look for workarounds to get their job done (even resorting downloading files to share from home if they feel they have to, and can).
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