Software for collaborative work known as “groupware” has existed in some form since the first computer networks connected American researchers on opposite coasts in the 1970s. Security wasn’t an issue in those days but it certainly has become one today. Security is the largest obstacle to adoption of groupware technologies in professional fields with sensitive or regulated data like medicine, law and finance.

Lawyer Computer

Computer software has always had to walk a tightrope balancing security and functionality. This is particularly true with groupware platforms which must be easily accessible by their very design. Recently, it appears it feels like the field has now reached maturity. I recently tested Citrix’s forthcoming ShareFile Legal platform and it seems to point towards a future filled with specialized, deeply-networked applications for professionals. And of course, the key component is security.

Robust Professional Collaboration

This spring Citrix rolls out the specialized version of their groupware service ShareFile customized for the workflows of the legal profession. It handles team-based task and contact management as well as project and legal matter management. A document management system (DMS) underlies the whole structure with tools such as document tracking, digital signatures integrated into Outlook and integration with third-party document management systems.

At its core ShareFile is a more business-friendly competitor to the mass market DropBox and Google Drive file sharing services. The key difference lies in enhanced security and functionality. Google Drive and DropBox are successful due to their ease of use and free options. They’re easy to use and free because those companies can play fast and loose with their infrastructure. Your data hosted by those companies could be in any data center around the world or split among any number of data centers. The hardware is often off-the-shelf. The encryption is the minimum necessary.

Knowing this reveals something about ShareFiles. While their custom applications certainly add a lot of value, the actual ‘services’ Citrix charges premium rates for are security and accountability. Citrix secures client data with high-grade encryption both in transit over the Internet and at rest on their storage. It hosts multiple disaster recovery backup sites both in the US and Europe. Most importantly, Citrix’s data centers are compliant with the SSAE 16 auditing standard. This is the fiscal reporting standard of the financial and legal professions of the United States and through those professions is necessary in many industries. It’s not that collaborative software is only useful in these professions and connected industries once security standards became cost effective, they simply couldn’t exist without them.

Where We Go From Here

Encryption, security and especially regulatory compliance are key. Now that providers like Citrix have figured out how to cost-effectively institute them we’ll start seeing the next wave of these features hit the groupware market. The next one we’re likely to see is increased analytics and automation. Amazon is already a pioneer of this tactic ‘renting’ computing power through theirElastic Cloud Compute service. Similar to Citrix’s efforts in building collaboration suites customized for specific professions like ShareFile Legal, I would expect to see vendors build customized analytics and automation features in these computing environments.

Collaboration Technologies for Your Profession

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