Location, Location, Location is the saying and today the location for document management and collaboration is in….”The Cloud.” If you use a document management system, or struggle with a shared drive, you have probably wondered if the cloud-based collaboration systems are any good and if they offer capabilities that you currently don’t have. You may have even opened a “free 2 gig” account to play with one or several of these offerings.
This is the beginning of a multi-part series on cloud collaboration strategies and technologies that are available today. Future blogs will explore the different applications available to the user, issues and concerns that you may be thinking about, and where, from a strategic POV, these types of technologies may lead you.
At its most simple, cloud collaboration is a way of putting files into a cloud storage application and allowing other people to access those files. This allows you to share and collaborate on large files, with any number of people, and not have to email (or FTP) the files back and forth. The basic benefit is that you are not storing versions of the same file on your system (and in your email system), you can work on files larger than your email allows you to send or receive (for most of us the limit is 6 megabytes), and you can access the files from anywhere you can access the Internet. As an added bonus, these systems are browser based and so Apple users can finally be included.
The drawback to this simple scenario is that all you really have is your “C” drive in the sky, which means that access/editing is single threaded and you can’t work on the file while it is being worked on by your teammates. And to get around this limitation, you start to create your own versions of the file – proposal_mike_v1, proposal_jane_v2, etc. So nothing has really changed except that you have, perhaps, a more accessible file structure allowing people outside of your department or company to participate by directly accessing the file. Oh, but let’s not forget that you did this without involving IT, didn’t have to wait for an FTP site to be provisioned, didn’t have to worry about firewalls, security, passwords and all that other stuff in order to share a file or two for a quick project. For many of us, just this simple capability is enough to justify the effort but, I also get access to the files from my home computer (no more sneaker “thumb drive” net), if I’m mobile enabled, I can see and work on the files from my smartphone or tablet, and I get an email when files have changed. All that for free? Wowzers!!
The downside to this is that you may or may not upload completed files to your corporate site where such things as governance, compliance, and internal business rules apply. If something happens to you and your company wants to have access to “your” site for any reason, the cloud provider will most likely deny the request because you are the owner of the site, not your company. This can lead to problems for your company if they ever need those files for audit reviews or legal claims in which the files become part of a legal action. Many (or all) of the free sites do not include compliance applications for SOX, HIPAA, PII, etc. and this may become an issue for you if you are working with this type of documentation.
The next level of cloud collaboration sites offer such things as version control, checkin/checkout, metadata tagging, search, simple workflows, independent folder/document security levels, and documents comment capability (Hey Bud, I changed the pricing model to reflect our new rates.). Many of the more advanced sites also offer project management tools, calendaring tools, meeting/scheduling tools, and other tools that can enhance your project. These types of tools are also available separately from independent sites allowing you to mix and match applications as the case may be.
This type of functionality can be a real productivity enhancement for many workers who are stuck within the confines of a shared drive and may be limited by the internal tools and IT capabilities within their company. Think of a typical user who has to team with four outside people (like members of an association) to create, edit, and publish an article. If limited to emailing the file back and forth (which many still do and is their only way of “collaborating”), these cloud-based collaboration tools offer tremendous benefits and simplicity.
Going even further, some of the more advanced cloud-collaboration sites include their own office suite of applications for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. This means that you get all of the features reviewed above plus you don’t need to have Microsoft Office. These sites also typically offer a mobile or tablet version of the site which means that a basic smartphone can be fully functional – you would not want to create a big spreadsheet but you would make a minor change to spreadsheet or document and you could see all the activity on the site and your documents from your smartphone. Most of us today only dream of such capabilities and realize that funding for this type of in-house application is somewhere between a wish and a hope.
These sites offer for free, or a reasonable price, capabilities that would have cost thousands of dollars just five years ago, and five years from now I expect even more capability at an even lower price. I encourage you to try these sites out and if you have a small project even do a test run – especially if you work with people outside of your company and typically have problems sending/receiving/collaborating on documents. Sites are generally very easy to use and some sites include a complete set of YouTube videos that review how to build and use a site.
After a successful collaboration project, consider sharing what you did with your management, if you haven’t already, and then sharing the project with IT. Many companies have already realized that they simply cannot compete (from an IT point of view) with these sites and that the time may be ripe to make the transition from in-house IT and applications to a cloud-based service approach. Be the first on your block to have a successful project and it will go viral – guaranteed.
Bud Porter-Roth#cloudcomputing #cloudapplications #cloudcollaboration #cloud-baseddocumentmanagement #SharePoint #ScanningandCapture #ElectronicRecordsManagement