The enterprise is potentially months away from a significant crisis, a slow-moving malaise that will weaken the efficiency of accessing a company’s data and intellectual property. In the worst case scenario, companies could lose information forever. And yet few enterprise IT vendors are paying any attention.

The problem is that employees are busily stashing data all over the place, in all sorts of cloud services, which is leading to what Huddle CEO Alastair Mitchell calls a “fracturing of the enterprise brain.”

“This is my massive prediction for 12 months from now,” Mitchell says. “When employees are storing stuff in the cloud, and using something like 15 different cloud storage tools to do it, their corporate knowledge, their brain, is destroyed.”

To be sure, Mitchell has some skin in the game, since Huddle is an enterprise content-collaboration platform that leverages content to provide collaboration and storage services. It’s doing pretty well at it, it seems, landing some big enterprise customers and demonstrating enough security to add the UK Ministry of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to the user rolls.

Despite the self-interest, though, Mitchell raises some good points. The problem he highlights is very real.

Who Knows What?

Employees are the keepers of knowledge within a company. Want to run the monthly payroll? The 20-year-veteran in accounting knows how to manage that. Building the new company logo? The superstar designer down in the art department is your gal. When such employees leave the company, it can be a bumpy transition, but usually not impossible, because the data they’ve been using lies on the corporate file server and can be used to piece together the work that’s been done.

Of course, that’s based on the premise that, for the past couple of decades or so, data has essentially been stored in one of two places: on the file servers or the employee’s local computer.

Today, though, people store data in a variety of places, not all of it under the direct control of IT. Gmail, Dropbox, Google Drive or a company’s cloud on Amazon Web Services… all ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous services that make it all too easy for an employee to stick the data for that Q4 fiscal report out in the cloud. Or leave the travel expense report from HR attached to the original email message so you can find it later.

But what happens a couple of years later, when an employee has left and a company audit needs those Q4 2012 report data files? That data is out of IT’s reach. A quick call may be able to get that data back, but what happened to that data when it was sitting out in some storage account for those two years? And what if the former employee is unreachable?

The Daily Time-Suck

The problem crops up even without employees leaving the enterprise. On a day-to-day basis, workers themselves increasingly struggle with the problems of finding data. Where did I put that latest template for the expense report? My document folder? In the project folder? In Dropbox? Oh well, I’ll just email HR for another copy.

Time wasted, again, and redundant effort from the worker and the people that have to help workers replace data they already have. Yes, this might take just five minutes, but how many times does this happen every day?

Services like Huddle, or on-premise cloud storage services like ownCloud, attempt to avoid the problem by enabling IT to set up easy-to-use storage and collaboration that enterprise IT can keep tabs on at all times. Microsoft SharePoint and Alfresco also offer centralized storage and collaboration, but enterprise social can have problems of its own.

But here’s the rub: With the introduction of every new separate social, collaborative or storage service, the problem actually gets worse, because it sets up yet another location for data to live. Without a truly universal service-bridging search tool or the potential to integrate these services, the fracturing of the enterprise brain will only continue.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.