Managed File Transfer for the Masses (A Non-Technical Definition)

managed file transfer definitionThe frequently asked “what do you do?” question. We’ve all been there. Backyard barbecues, birthday parties or family weddings. It makes no difference, someone will ask what you do for a living.  My typical reply is “I develop managed file transfer software.” The typical reaction is a smile and a halfhearted nod of recognition followed by “what is managed file transfer?” Not surprising considering managed file transfer (MFT) is not part of most people’s vocabulary.

This experience isn’t limited to personal interactions. My job, like many other MFT professionals, often requires explaining MFT to prospective clients who aren’t technical.

Goal

Clearly, a non-technical definition is needed, a managed file transfer for the masses if you will. My goal is to create simple but effective definitions that concisely explain MFT. I say definitions because I feel there is a need for both a short non-technical and a longer slightly more technical definition.

There are a number of lengthy overly complicated technical definitions available on popular internet sources. I won’t name names but these definitions tend to be littered with acronyms and terms like ad-hoc, non-repudiation, DMZ streaming and securing data at rest which can be intimidating to people who are not familiar with MFT. Granted, these definitions may work for an engineer, but what the MFT industry needs is a simplified definition that focuses on the key benefits of MFT and is easily understood. We don’t develop MFT solutions in a box. They are are meant to be used by tech and non-tech people alike so simplifying definitions ensures we can communicate effectively.

The short definition should focus on the core purpose of MFT. The long definition would be expanded to cover typical features and benefits common to MFT solutions. In both the short and long definitions use of acronyms and industry terms should be avoided as much as possible.

Core Features and Benefits

Using product information from several leading MFT solutions, I created a list of core features and benefits that have been identified in the table below. Each of these features has then been categorized. While there a number of additional features that MFT solutions may provide this list has been distilled down to only the core features to ensure simplicity.

Feature Benefit Category
Protocol Independence Ability to support multiple file transfer protocols including AS2, FTP/S, SFTP, SCP and HTTP/S. Protocol Independence
Protocol Security Ability to securely transfer files over public and private networks using encrypted file transfer protocols. Security
DMZ Streaming Ability to stream data typically located in private internal networks to public facing networks (e.g. Internet). Security
File Security Ability to securely store files using data encryption methods such as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). Security
File Transfer Automation Ability to automate file transfer processes between trading partners and exchanges including detection and handling of failed file transfers. Business Workflow
Authentication Modules Ability to authenticate users against existing user repositories using technologies such as LDAP (Light Directory Access Protocol), AD (Active Directory), OpenID, SAML and RDBMS (Relational Database Management Systems). Integration
API Ability to integrate existing applications using documented API (Application Programming Interface) e.g. REST. Integration
Reporting and Auditing Ability to generate detailed reports on user and file transfer activity. Visibility
Platform Independence Ability to effectively communicate with various operating systems and devices e.g. Windows, Linux, UNIX, mobile, tablets etc. Platform Independence

From the table above we can see that MFT solutions generally offer six core features that include Protocol Independence, Security, Business Workflow, Integration, Visibility and Platform Independence. These six core features will be used as the basis for creating both short and long definitions.

Short Definition

“Managed File Transfer (MFT) is software that manages an organization’s file transfer processes.”

This definition is perfect for a quick reply.   It leaves the door open for additional questions.

Long Definition

“Managed File Transfer (MFT) is software that manages an organization’s file transfer processes. It can support multiple file transfer protocols and platforms, securely transfer and store files, automate workflow, integrate with existing applications and provide visibility into all file transfer activities.”

This definition works well in a professional environment or in social situations with people who are knowledgeable about the IT industry.

Sample Conversations

To demonstrate how these definitions may be used I have composed two conversations. In the first, I am talking with a friend who is mildly curious about my profession. In this case I will use the short definition. In the second, I’ll use the long definition with a potential customer at a trade show who is interested in how MFT can help her company.

Short Definition Conversation

Bob> I’ve meant to ask you. What sort of work do you do exactly?

Me> I develop managed file transfer software.

Bob> What’s that?

Me> It’s basically software that manages an organization’s file transfer processes.

Bob> So, in simpler terms you help companies move data around?

Me> Yes, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you’ve got the idea.

Long Definition Conversation

Susan> So, what does your company do?

Me> We develop managed file transfer software.

Susan> You mean like FTP?

Me> Well, sort of. MFT supports multiple file transfer protocols, FTP being just one of them. There is a lot more to MFT but in short it manages an organization’s file transfer processes.

Susan> I see. What are some of the benefits of MFT?

Me> There are several but the core benefits are being able to support multiple file transfer protocols and platforms, securely transfer and store files, automate file transfers, integrate with existing applications and provide organizations visibility into all file transfer activities.

Susan> That’s interesting. Our file transfer processes are a bit of a mess and we’ve been looking for something that can help us with that. Can I get your card?

Me> Of course.

Summary

In this article I have hopefully achieved the goal of drafting simplified definitions for MFT that can be understood by all. So next time you’re at a party, wedding or even a trade show, you are ready. I encourage those of you who work in the MFT industry to provide any feedback on these definitions by contacting me (vglass at jscape.com) directly.

About the Author

Van Glass is Founder and Chief Architect at JSCAPE, a manufacturer of managed file transfer and network software.