Secure File-Sharing Platform Delivers Social Network Benefits

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 14:21

The Editor interviews Barrie Hadfield, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Workshare.

Editor: Barrie, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your organization.

Hadfield: Workshare is a leading provider of secure enterprise collaboration applications. Its headquarters are in London with additional offices across the United States and Australia. Currently, more than 1.8 million professionals – predominantly from legal and professional services firms and the legal counsel of the Fortune 1000 – put their trust in its award-winning desktop, mobile, tablet, and online applications. In fact, this includes 62 percent of Fortune 100, 43 percent of FTSE100, 98 percent of Am Law 200, 98 percent of UK Law 50, and 85 percent of Professional Services 250 companies.

Workshare was founded in 1999, and I was among the original founders and CTOs. I’ve spent over 20 years of my career developing award-winning software, and since 1990, I’ve founded four companies. When I started Workshare, my insight into the industry allowed me to see that other collaboration solutions on the market only complicated teamwork. Workshare was built on a vision to streamline it.

Editor: Workshare enjoys the dominant market share for its desktop applications across law firms globally. Has Workshare considered tailoring its file-sharing platform to help corporate counsel?

Hadfield: Yes. We are in a unique position to reach corporate counsel because our software is already installed on the majority of lawyers’ computers around the world. Up until now, we focused on providing tools that enable law firms to compare and control complex and sensitive legal matter. More recently we have added functionality to our Workshare Professional and Protect applications that allows our clients to work more effectively with their clients by uploading documents into a secure environment and exchanging links. In doing so, we can leverage our existing strengths around document security to benefit corporate counsel who are often working across many law firms and with various internal counterparts.

We offer two main capabilities. The first is our comparison engine, which allows users to quickly understand how documents are changing. This capability is mainly used by law firms, and we’re going to make it available to corporate counsel via our online platform. The second is metadata removal and policy management, which provides assurance that the documents being sent out are exactly what you expect them to be and that there is no hidden information being accidentally disclosed.

Editor: What specific bells and whistles within your software can address these kinds of control issues?

Hadfield: This is best illustrated by the following scenarios: a government organization collated information about venture capital deals and generated a PowerPoint presentation that was sent out to the press. They didn’t realize that the sent file included an enormous amount of Excel data that underpinned graphs within the presentation; thus, they accidentally divulged details as to deal amounts and individuals involved. It was a perfectly innocent mistake, as are well over 90 percent of such instances. This example highlights that organizations must define where potential data leakage may arise and that effective systems, such as Workshare’s, should be able to warn users before those mistakes happen or automatically scrub metadata before the documents are sent.

Another useful capability involves the contextual nature of data. It’s very easy for software to scan and look for words in documents; however, while the word confidential in a document body may mean nothing of consequence, the appearance of that word in a document header or footer certainly might signify that the document is confidential. Here, the software should respond and then issue a warning when someone wants to send the document externally. These policy enforcement features are a very important part of Workshare’s collaboration platform.

Another excellent capability would enable users to identify documents that require potential readers to sign an NDA before access is granted. Once the document is identified, the entire system should automatically enforce the requirement from that point forward. For me, this is what’s next.

Workshare pioneered these kinds of features in its current generation of desktop applications. Generation two involves making these systems more intelligent and really thinking through policy issues – how to control where data is placed and make systems useful in the workplace by ensuring the same functionality that the legal sector has known, used and trusted for over a decade, available for the online and mobile environment.

Editor: What are the main issues for corporate counsel when it comes to file sharing and synchronization, and document collaboration? Please describe the dynamics of information during the evolution of a legal document.

Hadfield: The need for synchronization and mobility from the law firm’s perspective actually is driven by client demand. Corporate counsel don’t want to have to think about multiple portals for their different firms. They might prefer to use consumer-grade file-sharing applications that make the latest drafts of the documents available on their iPads and smartphones as needed.

For law firms, the participants in a legal document review cycle are usually quite limited, perhaps a few attorneys and support staff. Law firms have spent billions perfecting their internal systems – including complicated document management systems and ethical walls; and with so few players involved in the document lifecycle, it’s very easy for them to maintain.

On the other hand, corporate legal departments are dealing with their own staff attorneys, many law firms and a complex relationship of internal structures and stakeholders. While email is the prevailing system for sharing documents, it’s the completely wrong system to manage this complex environment. Generation two applications like Workshare Desktop Sync address the limitations of email by providing file access, file updates, presence indicators and positional commenting for all collaborating parties – on any device, from any location rather than just from behind a desk in the office. Sharing has to be intuitive, syncing across devices has to be transparent, file sharing has to be powerful and efficient whether it’s online or offline, and access to content has to be secure and controlled.

This application was especially designed for today’s growing mobile workforce and the trend of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) in the enterprise, where many information professionals rely on a multitude of devices to collaborate and work from various locations, invariably creating a complex collaborative ecosystem.

Editor: Does this complexity refer to the uncertainty created when documents are emailed out, altered by the recipient offline and then sent back?

Hadfield: That’s right. Let’s think about it in terms of Facebook, where users can dip into a very complicated environment and quickly understand what’s going on with family and friends – all in real time. We can’t do this in our business lives and, instead, have to work with individual silos. For example, when you receive an email with version eight of a document attached, the only way to understand the current version is to open all participants’ emails and review what each individual did. You also have to think separately about business issues that are driving this document in the first place.

So business software today is doing a very bad job of helping people do their work, yet Facebook has proven that complicated situations can be managed in very collaborative ways. At Workshare we have taken learning from the consumer technology space and have applied this simplicity to the secure enterprise application space.

Editor: Why should corporate counsel care about secure file sharing? Tell us about the benefits.

Hadfield: One important consideration is ownership of information. Most consumer-grade file sharing and social networking platforms make it very clear in their terms and conditions that they own the information that’s uploaded to their sites, and many people use these systems without thinking about that.

The benefits of secure file sharing relate directly to fundamental concerns for corporate counsel. These are data security, confidentiality and the proper handling of highly sensitive documents, such as those relating to a company’s intellectual property, product development or M&A activity. So, in having a secure shared space for document collaboration, with all its back and forth, corporate counsel can eliminate the risks and process inefficiencies of using email.

Access to information is another key reason to care about secure file sharing. Corporate counsel expect to be able to access information in any location, perhaps on an iPad or other mobile device, and if they go to a meeting and take notes, they want those notes to be accessible to everyone who is working with the relevant documents.

Editor: What questions should corporate counsel be asking their CIOs about strategies relating to the cloud, mobility and BYOD?

Hadfield: Companies are losing control of their data, and further, they are not able to leverage it in the context of a growing organization. What happens to data when employees come and go, particularly when company data resides on mobile devices that the employees own? In helping companies manage these issues, Workshare wants to deliver a system that’s in the center – one that’s retaining data regardless of whether it’s being copied/shared or in the midst of a collaborative process. Those are higher-order activities; the base order is storage.

Now, storage and search go together, which means that data needs to be findable in a way that’s meaningful to the user. For example, I may remember seeing a spreadsheet with a nice graph that proves the thing I’m working on, and I know that I worked on it last spring with a colleague when we were communicating with the press. But I can’t remember anything else. Search engines like Google do well because of their simplicity, but they do not comprehend the “who” and “when” of information because these concepts are not part of the underlying process. Workshare’s system engages with information contextually and can use all these scraps of information to find what I need.

Editor: Can you give us an example of how this process takes place on a large scale?

Hadfield: One of our customers for our file-sharing platforms is the European Court of Human Rights, which has the largest jurisdiction in the world, more than a billion people. It’s essentially the European Supreme Court, and they are using our system to accept electronic applications. The court’s concerns in adopting an electronic system were privacy and preserving the anonymity of court members. Using our system, people can upload information and files, such as photographs, directly to the court, even from their mobile phones.

But the key issue is time. Uploaded items are immediately given a time stamp, and if a document is converted to a PDF, a stamp is put on every page. Documenting the precise moment of submission is a key feature because it enables the court to know with certainty whether deadlines were met.

Editor: Are lawyers ready to use social networks as a means of interaction with clients? What are the concerns, and how do these tie in with Workshare’s software?

Hadfield: Let me start by reporting the outcome of two meetings I recently attended with corporate counsel and law firms in which this topic was debated. It appears that only the most sophisticated law firms are ready for social networking, but that most corporations are absolutely ready and eager to use it. If you think about the nature of the work, law firm attorneys tend to work on their own, so social networks don’t offer any real benefit. On the other side, corporate counsel work very collaboratively within their organizations.

Now let’s talk about social networking in terms of open and closed collaboration, and compare Facebook and Skype as an example of each. Facebook is an open system in which you post information in a quasi-public space without really knowing who is reading it. Skype is a closed system in which you are assured that no one else has access to your discussion thread except for a small group of people that you select. In truth, these systems are very similar inasmuch as both are based upon databases – one system in which data is being moved around.

So it’s interesting to define exactly where the open-communication and closed-communication boundaries should be, especially when you are talking about cross-company collaboration, and much depends on whether the user feels secure on a particular system. In short, we want people to feel confident in using the Workshare Platform as a closed system, even though the main purpose of it is for open collaboration.

I invite your readers to visit to learn more. 

Please email the interviewee at with questions about this interview.