File transfers between an organization, its business partners, and customers can be fraught with challenges.
Today, organizations must support ever-increasing file sizes, types, volumes, and user numbers under severe budget constraints. Also, they must address extensive security requirements and compliance challenges, meet strict SLAs, and support the rapidly-changing needs of the business.
In the past, these challenges may have been viewed as technical problems, approached with an assortment of technologies and file transfer methods—including “free” technology such as FTP. However, to keep pace with the evolving needs of the business, protect a wide variety of data, and mitigate risk inside and outside the enterprise, organizations have realized the need for enterprise-class managed file transfer solutions.
In this post, I’ll explore these common challenges and the vital role these solutions play in overcoming them.1. Increasing File Sizes, Number of Users and Applications
The increase in the size and volume of transfers, along with the growing number of connections, has become a massive headache for many organizations. Data volumes and huge file sizes are proliferating while the need for speed continues to accelerate.
Aberdeen Group reports that the volume of file transfers is growing between 8% to 11% per year, while the size of files is growing between 6% to 7% per year. Meanwhile, the growth of full-time IT staff associated with file transfers is growing at a mere 1% to 2% year over year.1
The growth in Big Data, use of cloud applications and platforms, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and IoT devices compounds this issue. For example, according to a Vanson Bourne report, 88% of line of business executives say they are facing challenges moving Big Data.2
The number of users needing to transfer, sync, and share files continues to increase as well—not just employees, but also contractors, business partners, and customers. Aberdeen Group reports that the number of users needing to transfer files is growing at a rate between 6% to 9% per year.1
Also, the number of applications and devices leveraging file transfer when integrating, transforming, and delivering content is skyrocketing. Research from Vanson Bourne reveals that 55% of all system-to-system integration is accomplished via files.3
All of this creates bottlenecks when transferring files, maxes out systems, drives up costs to maintain the load on the servers, hampers productivity…and leaves the IT department frazzled.
2. Lack of Visibility over File Movement
Being able to move files isn’t enough. Both business and technical users inside and outside the company need visibility into what’s happening with their files. When users can’t see what’s happening with their files, there is a much higher chance of errors, which increases costs. Also, this forces them to respond reactively to problems caused by failures and errors.
Vanson Bourne reports that the average FTP failure rate is 8%, which requires an average of 24 minutes to resolve—once someone discovers the failure.3
However, inefficiencies and delays caused by file transfer errors, in general, is much larger than this. The average time to correct errors, exceptions, and problems related to file transfers was between 4 and 5 hours, according to Aberdeen Group.1
During a time where speed and accuracy are paramount, these problems hurt relationships with customers and partners, slows down—even halts—business processes, and are significant barriers to generating revenue.
3. Supporting a Plethora of File Transfer Methods, Modes, and Protocols
Left to their own devices, users choose whichever method of file transfer is most convenient to them: email, physical drives, consumer-grade web-based services, FTP, or other ad hoc means.
Business partners have their preferred B2B file transfer methods as well, which can be incredibly complicated to support. In fact, according to a Vanson Bourne study, 44% of respondents identified the complexity of B2B file transfers as their biggest problem with their current file transfer solution(s), second only to security.3
However, accommodating different partners and customers with different capabilities, and adapting to their requirements quickly—such as file-tracking requirements and emerging protocols—can be a substantial competitive advantage.
Also, there are a variety of modes of moving files that must be supported: person-to-person, process-to-person, person-to-process, process-to-process, business-to-business—creating even more challenges within the organization, as there is no accountability or visibility into who is sharing or accessing files.
Supporting all these methods and modes requires more IT resources than most companies have. Reliability for some of these methods can be spotty, resulting in poor user experiences, data loss, and dissatisfaction among partners and customers.
4. Ensuring Data Security and Regulatory Compliance
News of high-profile security breaches is everywhere. Companies need to protect files that move inside and outside the organization with strong authentication and encryption—but ad-hoc file transfer methods, such as FTP, regularly fail to meet these requirements. FTP has no inherent method of encryption, and SFTP can be confusing and difficult to use.
As a result, companies face a higher risk of data breaches and hefty fines from regulators. Security and compliance incidents related to file transfers has grown by approximately 4 percent year over year, according to Aberdeen Group.1
Ensuring the security of data is not only imperative to meet industry and government mandates, but to meet customer and partner expectations as well. Organizations must assure partners that their business processes and data are not at risk under their watch.
However, with many ad hoc methods, organizations can’t ensure the level of security, visibility, and controls required to do so. They don’t have the visibility to respond to potential problems or have audit trails for the files transmitted or received to prove compliance. Furthermore, they can’t enforce security policies to protect critical data or networks.
To overcome these security challenges, companies need more than just basic HTTPS, FTP/S, or SFTP transport layer encryption. Enterprises need a solution that offers credentials—such as certificates, IP address validation, and security tokens. Additionally, protection of internal files from connections initiated outside the organization, as well protection of data at rest is a must.
5. Integrating with Existing Solutions and Supporting New Capabilities
Some organizations look to file transfer gateways to manage file transfers, only to learn that the gateway doesn’t integrate easily with their key infrastructure components. Or, it locks the company into one platform that doesn’t grow with them.
Companies need a file transfer solution that not only integrates with what they already own but what they may potentially use in the future. It must also quickly adapt to new business process requirements, new protocols, and technologies. This enables them to make the most of their investment while ensuring that future file transfers are standardized, secure, and seamless.
How Managed File Transfer Solutions can help
Organizations can overcome these challenges with an enterprise managed file transfer (MFT) solution combined with a mature file transfer processes. The right MFT solution can address the critical pain points and challenges associated with outdated file transfer systems, and provide greater visibility, security, collaboration, compliance, efficiency, and reliability.
Also, a comprehensive MFT solution can reduce the burden of managing and troubleshooting complex, legacy, and ad-hoc file transfer systems. According to Aberdeen Group, companies can experience 26 percent fewer issues with file transfers and resolve problems 4.8 times faster with an Enterprise MFT solution.4 Why?
Support for a Wide Range of Requirements
Enterprise MFT solutions include many advanced capabilities, including support for a wide variety of use cases, protocols, and modes—all in a centralized platform. They also provide delivery mechanisms that are convenient, secure, and reliable to a wide range of users, helping to prevent the need for ad-hoc, ungoverned file transfers.
Furthermore, they support multiple file types, including multimedia, PDFs, email, Microsoft Office documents, XML, EDI, and more.
With an enterprise MFT solution, organizations gain a holistic set of capabilities to support collaboration between individuals and integrate business processes within and between enterprises. Also, they gain capabilities to address the speed, flexibility and scalability requirements resulting from the proliferation of Big Data, cloud, IoT, AI, and more.
Comprehensive File Transfer Visibility
Enterprise managed file transfer solutions can provide full visibility into who is transferring files, what is being shared, and how much volume is passing through the system. They can provide a 360-degree view—in near-real time—across the full lifecycle of a file transfer: from origin to fulfillment.
They also offer a full view of trading partner exchanges, and proactively alert users to potential issues like errors, failed transfers, and the risk of missing SLAs. This level of visibility enables organizations to resolve issues before they become problems and ensure they are meeting customer expectations.
These MFT solutions can provide audit trails that can be used to demonstrate regulatory compliance. They can generate reports on transfers, times, formats and more.
Some solutions offer self-service functionality to provide customers and partners with access to actionable information about their file transfers. Role-based dashboards can be customized for different partners and users, presenting what they need to see while protecting other data. As a result, organizations can improve partner and customer satisfaction, while reducing the time and costs of providing direct support to them.
The benefits of greater visibility are significant. According to Aberdeen Group, organizations with these capabilities reduce cost and achieve faster time to revenue—and are 10 times more likely to experience no incidents of data loss, audit deficiencies, or unauthorized access.
Tighter security and governance
Security can’t be an afterthought for file transfer, and managed file transfer solutions can help to end the hodgepodge of unsecured file transfer methods. They can help you encrypt data in motion and at rest, encrypt internal and external transfers, protect your network, and more—providing greater all-around protection of the security of your, your partners’ and suppliers’ files.
They can provide a defense-in-depth strategy and protection at the edge of the DMZ. For example, IBM File Gateway and IBM Secure Proxy together provide extensive security capabilities, full audit trails, session breaks, and protocol inspection to maximize the protection of sensitive data at multiple layers: authentication, DMZ perimeter security, defense at rest, and secure protocols.
Furthermore, companies gain centralized control over policies and system-wide visibility of file transfer activities for auditing and reporting.
An enterprise MFT platform provides easier ways to integrate with existing applications and infrastructure—including partner systems—with a standardized architecture, pre-built connectors, and APIs that enable interoperability with third-party systems. This helps to avoid vendor lock-in, time-consuming custom integrations, and helps to future-proof the organization.
Furthermore, by eliminating the need for programming or coding to set up partners, MFT solutions can reduce the time it takes to bring on new trading partners and transfer files. Companies can quickly and easily onboard new business partners, make it easier for them to share data, and connect to an ever-expanding network of partners and suppliers. Support for multiple protocols and security standards makes it easier to do business with you.
Support for Growth and Improvements
With the combination of an enterprise-class managed file transfer solution and mature file transfer processes, companies can easily adapt to new business process requirements, new technologies, standards, and protocols. Through a dynamic and extensible architecture, an MFT solution can provide the necessary flexibility to add new services, and more easily integrate with the systems of those and your partners. It allows you to flexibly define, manage, monitor and adapt business processes as needed—without investing in expensive new systems or extensive programming time.
In addition, enterprise MFT solutions can support rapid growth. Solutions like IBM File Gateway can scale to thousands of communications endpoints, and can help meet requirements for high availability, failover and disaster recovery.
Companies stand to gain a wide variety of benefits through an enterprise MFT solution, as it helps them respond faster and more proactively, reduce risk, increase customer and partner satisfaction, and reduce time to revenue.
We'll dig deeper into these topics in upcoming posts. In the meantime, please visit our website to learn more about managed file transfer solutions. Also, we recommend checking out the Aberdeen Group ebook below.
About the Author
Lori Angalich is the VP of Marketing at Lightwell. She loves exploring new technologies and business models, learning how things work, solving problems, and developing new ideas with others. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and an MBA in Marketing, and she enjoys applying her knowledge from both each and every day. Lori has a passion for travel, art, wine, music, wildlife (including her two dogs, who are a bit on the "wild side"), and most of all, creating great memories with her family.