Andrew Barnes, independent marketing consultant
My first experience of cloud based file sharing was as a personal user of Dropbox several years ago. As the owner of a shiny new iPad I needed to be able to transfer content between the device and my main laptop. Dropbox proved ideal.
My second encounter with cloud file sharing was not so successful. I was doing some work for a company that used a third-party cloud service as a file-sharing mechanism. I needed access to this repository, so they gave me login credentials.
I just downloaded the software to my laptop, logged in and started to access the content I needed. No training was required and everything was going well until my Macbook Air ran out of local disk space, and I wasn’t connected to the internet.
No problem I thought, I could delete the several GB of shared files that had been synched to my computer and all would be well.
As someone who has been in and around enterprise computing for the last 30 years I was astonished at what happened next. I got back on line and was blissfully unaware anything was wrong until various users started complaining that the “shared disk” was empty. It seemed my action of freeing disk space locally had synched to the cloud. No real harm was done but it was a lesson for the system administrator to think about the security and risk implications of cloud file sharing.
Fast forward a couple of years and I’m reminded again of risk, the importance of an audit trail, and the opportunity that can be gained by knowing who did what to documents.
There is no doubt that the facility for real-time editing of documents using applications like Google Docs can be very useful when used in small measure. There is equally no doubt that it can be a nightmare.
Allowing multiple people to “real-time collaborate” on a document will get very confusing. Keeping track of who did what, and having considered discussion of, and input into, the merits of a change can make for interesting conversations; especially if all the collaborators can’t be on-line at once.
To me such editing quickly has the same effect as many people talking at once. The dominant people (not necessarily the subject experts) take over, changes are made that may not be well considered and there may be little or no audit trail available. What’s worse is that if you are off-line you are out of it.
For some, document collaboration is a regulatory requirement. For others it is a productivity and consistency cornerstone of business and sales processes. In either case a structured approach is the only way to be confident in what is produced.
And the structured approach can provide unexpected value. With the right platform tracking who has worked on which documents can help build the profile of subject matter experts. Identifying who made the most contribution to sales proposals can pin-point deal champions. Investigating the effectiveness of partners in the review process can cement relationships, or identify room for improvement.
So yes, cloud file sharing has its place, but before diving in on a large scale, think about your needs from the document collaboration process, what outputs you expect and how well you can demonstrate adherence to regulation.