PleaseTech blog

We aim to provide useful, pertinent and sometimes fun insights into the world of document collaboration and the workings of a technology company

Not another email attachment to review (the options)

Posted by Sarah Holden on 19. August 2013 12:00

Half of the PleaseTech marketing team.


How much effort does it take to produce all the documents that you work with? It’s a question I had rarely considered before joining PleaseTech. But faced with the mass of documentation businesses produce: policies, procedures, manuals, reports, product specs, proposals, marketing collateral (you get the drift)… and then understanding that creating these usually requires significant editing and review before final publication - usually with the input of multiple people – I now ’get’ the need for PleaseReview. 

Previously, as an independent marketing consultant, I used the ‘traditional’ manual review methods. Whilst tradition is a wonderful thing in some circumstances, in this case it is inefficient and costly. Email and tracked changes is fine if it's a ‘one-to-one’ situation. But, as soon as there are more than two people involved it becomes ‘tricky’, if not downright challenging.

Here I consider some of the alternatives available for the collaborative editing and reviewing of business documents and put forward the case that you should use the right tools if you want the job done properly - and as a result, get a better return in terms of money and time saved.

The typical document production process is a workflow that involves a few individuals or at times teams of participants. It goes something like this:

After the document has been drafted, it’s made available to one or more persons for editing (co-authoring) and review. The more extensive the document, the more people that typically become involved. This collaborative process may be repeated several times before a document is considered final. 

Organizations will typically use one of the following methods to carry this out:

Manual – Our research confirms most organizations use manual processes for document review. They muddle through by managing email attachments, copying and pasting edits into original documents, undergoing multiple review cycles, working with several document versions and may even attend several review meetings. 

Time consuming. Frustrating. Unproductive.

Generic online approaches  These are readily available and a step beyond email attachments. Examples include: Adobe Acrobat's shared PDF review and Google Drive. People can access the document online, at the same time which means time saved and fewer review cycles required.

However, solutions such as these have multiple drawbacks.  Things to look out for: do changes still have to be manually incorporated into the original document? Are users able to overwrite others' changes? Are metrics and other review activity captured in a report? Is there any review management? Does it support Word formatting and styles (the most popular document type) and are there any document confidentiality issues (as the document is hosted in the cloud)?

PDF is very popular, but annotations are extremely visual and could overwhelm the document owner:

Business collaboration platforms  These include systems such as Microsoft SharePoint (read our whitepaper), Open Text Content Server and EMC Documentum. Whilst providing a broad range of business collaboration tools, they cannot be expected to meet all the criteria required for a fully functioning, controlled collaborative editing and review solution. Co-authoring is an ‘after you ….. no, after you, I insist’ situation based on 'check-in, check-out', whilst review is typically PDF based. In our experience, document authors and reviewers quickly develop manual workarounds which take us full circle back to email attachments!  

Then there is PleaseReview. After three years at PleaseTech I understand why PleaseReview flourishes. It takes a specialist approach to the issue. Recognizing that many organizations have to meet strict regulatory, compliance or corporate standards it is designed specifically to control and manage the entire review process. It does this by:

  • making the document available in a secure, controlled and collaborative environment 
  • providing owner management and control
  • delivering specialist functionality including automatic change consolidation, easy reconciliation of comments and comprehensive reporting
  • catering for various document types such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF 
  • offering offline and tablet review. 

The associated benefits can be summarized by improved performance – such as reduced review costs, increased time savings, greater employee efficiency and accountability, better quality documents and high user satisfaction. 


For more information on PleaseTech's collaborative review and co-authoring solution, visit: www.pleasetech.com

Will online word processors ever become mainstream?

Posted by Tim Robinson on 17. June 2013 12:54

CTO at PleaseTech


You have to hand it to Google. In the early days at least, they achieved success by unleashing a product on the market that was so far ahead, not just of current offerings, but of people’s expectations, that they changed the game. First this happened with search, then with webmail and then again with online maps. In each case they went into an already-busy marketplace and blew it away purely with the superiority of their product.

Of course you can argue that Google and Microsoft are now head-to-head on all 3 applications (and on online word processing which we’ll come to in a second), but there’s no doubt that Google defined the genre and MS have been playing catch-up. And I’m not naïve enough to think that these offering (either MS or Google) were developed from scratch in house, but it’s the Google machine that has rolled them out and made them ubiquitous. The point I’m making is simply that if anyone can make a web application work, Google can.

Not long after maps and Gmail, they turned their attention to Google Docs and the fields of online word processing and spreadsheets. They’ve certainly made their mark here but in terms of overall adoption to this type of application, it’s still relatively a minority activity. The obvious corollary to my previous conclusion is: If Google can’t make it work, maybe nobody can.

I think there are several reasons for this: firstly the fact that Google Docs by a massive margin falls short of the usability and functionality of Microsoft Word (even the 10% that most users use) and, judging by the lack of improvements in the last couple of years, Google isn’t that fussed about catching up. Even the idea of writing a word processor inside a web browser using JavaScript is a really difficult (some might say crazy) thing to attempt. Secondly the “always connected world” isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as those living in Southern California would like us to believe (I regularly find myself in locations without even cell phone access, and I don’t exactly live in the middle of nowhere); and thirdly there’s the fact that if you have a document saved somewhere you control (whether that’s on your hard drive or EDMS), you can at least have a strategy for security, backup and Disaster Recovery whereas with the online world you’ll never really know where your data is or who has access.

But lastly I think there’s a more philosophical angle: writing a document is a very personal activity, even when that document, as a piece of intellectual property, is owned by your employer. Of course there is a need for collaboration – that’s what PleaseTech is all about – but for the creative business of writing, I want to work on my own, and I don’t want people messing with my content until I’ve decided I’ve finished with it and am ready to hand it over.

We use both Google Docs and spreadsheets in PleaseTech but only where the need for real-time multi-user access overrides all other considerations, and in 95% of cases (maybe 99 – I never counted) that doesn’t apply. So, for all those reasons above, I’m writing this blog post where I write all my documents: on my PC in Microsoft Word, and while I’m actually posting it, if the network connection drops or gets timed out, I can just paste it in again.

Disclaimer: other non-JavaScript Word processors are available. I am most definitely not a Microsoft shill – I hate the ribbon, I hate Windows 8, and I hate SharePoint, I’m not specifically attached to MS Word other than familiarity, and apart from WYSIWYG, I don’t really think the state-of-the-art in word processing has advanced that much since Word Perfect 5.1

 

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