Think Before You Sync

Some simple strategies can ensure that unauthorized file sharing will not put your firm at risk.

AN INCREASING NUMBER of commercial real estate professionals are using file-sharing apps like Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive at work. This is a loud and clear signal to firms that their employees want easy-to-use solutions that enable them to quickly access and share information.

While personal file-sharing apps offer plenty of benefits, they also create significant risk, particularly in the workplace. Unauthorized and unregulated use of these apps by employees can result in serious consequences such as security breaches, loss of document control and a lack of compliance with various laws and regulations, such as those requiring that only authorized personnel have access to credit documentation. In fact, an M-Files survey on the risks of file sharing found that 46 percent of employees have shared sensitive documents via personal file-sharing solutions.

In the fast-paced and information-intensive world of commercial real estate, progressive firms are nurturing collaborative workplaces equipped with easy-to-use information management solutions that enable their employees to access content from anywhere, at any time and on any device — while also avoiding the security and compliance threats associated with using personal file sharing and syncing tools. Here are some best practices:

Develop an information management policy, and make sure everyone knows about it. Many CRE firms do not have a formal information management policy. Even those that do have such a policy sometimes fail to ensure that all of their employees fully understand it. Employees who use personal file-sharing apps at work may not be aware of the risks and potential consequences of doing so. In order to maintain strict control over vital information assets, a company must not only put into effect explicit rules and guidelines related to how content is stored, managed and shared. It must also ensure that all employees are aware of and understand this policy.

Equip employees with a simple yet secure information management solution. An increasing number of CRE firms are deploying new-generation enterprise content management (ECM) solutions in order to balance the need for security and data protection against their employees’ need for a simple way to share documents and collaborate with individuals and businesses outside of the organization. For example, Boxer Property, a Houston-based commercial real estate investment and management company, has deployed an ECM solution to more effectively manage and process its massive collection of lease, tenant and accounting documentation. This ECM platform has enabled Boxer to provide its staff with a simple and secure way to access and share documents while ensuring that only authorized personnel have access to confidential files and records.

ECM solutions enable employees not only to easily share information with external partners; they can also streamline information management processes with automated workflow capabilities.  More than basic file sharing, leading ECM systems provide co-authoring capabilities that enable multiple users to edit the same file simultaneously in a controlled manner.

In addition, ECM prevents different versions of the same documents residing in different locations or applications, precludes data loss when changes are overwritten and avoids confusion associated with multiple outdated versions. Moreover, ECM enhances an organization’s ability to restrict system access to authorized users and to define them according to employee job role. For example, within a CRE firm, an accounting manager would be able to access financial documents, but a marketing assistant would not. Modern ECM systems use metadata (data about data) in order to safeguard that access to specific files is restricted to authorized viewers.

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