File Sync and Share and the Data Hierarchy of Needs

I recently took the opportunity to sit down with Jesse Lipson, previously head of ShareFile and, since its acquisition, GM of Data Sharing at Citrix. Lipson wanted to talk to me about the ShareFile solution but we also spent some time talking about organizational and user needs around data, and what this means in terms of product design. Lipson has developed a model, based upon the well known and oft-quoted Hierarchy of Needs developed by Maslow. In Lipson’s version he develops what he believes is a model that articulates organizations needs around data. The stages of the model, in ascending order of value, are:

  • Creation of data
  • Storage of that data
  • Accessing of data in a timely manner
  • Searching of data
  • Discovery of relevant and contextual data
  • Drawing insight from relevant data

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It’s an interesting model and one which resonates with me. If we look at it in context of file sharing services on offer today, it shows just how far we have to go to deliver ultimate benefits to users. Arguably most file creation and sharing solutions only deliver upon the bottom two thirds of the hierarchy of needs. And most solutions only cover a couple of the stages.

Microsoft Office, for example, as a silo’d solution allows us to create and store data, but it stands apart from the higher level functions. The plethora of file sharing tools cover storage, access and search, but leave both the lower creation aspects to third parties, and haven’t yet delivered upon discovery and insight. A case in point might be ShareFile’s own financial services solution which is designed to help financial organizations comply with their data archiving regulations. The solution is focused on SEC and FINRA rules around retention, indexing and audit. While there is admittedly a degree of search on top of that, the solution is articulated as one for compliance.

Of course data storage vendors are somewhat hampered by customers’ lack of imagination when it comes to this stuff. Most people don’t understand the higher levels of data needs. To take an analogy from Maslow’s original model, if you’re struggling for food and shelter you’re unlikely to have a lot of time to focus on where your self-actualization might come from.

When it comes to the data hierarchy of needs there are some glimmers of hope. Huddle recently rolled out some functionality that uses machine learning and smart algorithms to surface content that is relevant to an individual user’s current context and situation. HP rolled some technology from its Autonomy division into some storage products and the combined solution surfaces relevant data quickly and readily.

Lipson’s model is a good one as it allows vendors to go beyond customer needs of today and to be able to start thinking about the ultimate needs of users and solutions that can deliver upon those needs. I’d be interested to hear data storage vendors’ thoughts on this model, and some ideas of what deep insight as a concept might actually mean for a product offering.