Collaboration – what does that really mean?

When someone says that they have a great “collaboration” solution, what does that that really mean? Collaboration is a word that we all use and it’s probably one of those terms that would generate 10 different answers from 10 different people if you asked them what it meant.

Let’s step back to the basics. One of the best examples of effective collaboration is a face to face meeting. There is one presenter who owns the floor and is supposed to guide and control the discussion. The presenter normally has a slide deck that is being shown to all the attendees, so they all see the same document. The people in the meeting can all comment on the document and they all hear each other’s comments – it is a parallel review where everyone is involved and everyone knows everyone else’s comments. Every person in the meeting can comment on anyone else’s comments if they wish, ensuring that the presenter hears the views of everyone. Everyone is working synergistically to improve the presenter’s proposal.

What are the key components of collaboration in a face to face meeting?

1. Everyone sees the same document. It is easy to find the document since it is the one on the screen they are looking at – let’s call that “simplified document distribution and version control”.
2. The presenter is the person who normally created the document that is being presented. The presenter is the only person who can change the original document – let’s call that “document ownership”.
3. All the people in the meeting are reviewing the document in parallel and they all can hear and hopefully understand each other’s suggested changes to the document – let’s call that a “synergistic parallel review”.
4. All of the people in the meeting can comment on each other’s comments to clarify a point or disagree with a point – let’s call that “threaded comments”.

There are probably a few other subtle things to add, but those 4 key points outline the main process control that occurs in a face to face meeting and normally generates effective collaboration. If any one of those 4 key points are missed, the effectiveness of the collaboration process falls apart.

Theoretically, an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution or an Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) solution address point 1.

Why “theoretically”?

The User Interface on an ECM is normally complex and in many cases, 2-4 hour off-site training sessions are required for the users of an ECM. If the users don’t use the system on a regular basis, they forget how to use the complicated User Interface and they stop using the system. Once they stop using the system, they can no longer find the current version of a document.

The file and folder structure in either and ECM or EFSS is normally designed to meet the needs of the business and as a result, it is fairly complicated. However, to the normal user, it is a complex mess that is difficult to navigate. If it is difficult to navigate, how does the user find the current version of a document? What if different users use different file naming conventions when they save a document – how does the user searching for the most recent version know which one is the latest version?
Effective collaboration requires the management of the full 4 step process, not just “theoretically” addressing point 1. How do EFSS and ECM solutions that claim to support “collaboration” address points 2, 3 & 4? Normally, they rely on something like Word Track Changes and sharing Word documents back and forth. We all know and hate the impact of Track Changes when collaborating among several people over several document versions. The document becomes impossible to read with all the colors and strikeouts. Let’s not forget the impact on the formatting of a document when a large section of text is either added or deleted. How is the rest of the document read if the inserted change messes up the format of the remaining sections of the document? Does that sound familiar?

If the EFSS or ECM allows parallel reviews, how does it handle conflicting changes to documents so that the document owner can see everyone’s suggested change, not just the last person’s suggested change? How does it handle “User 2” saving a document on top of one just saved by “User 1” and wiping out all “User 1’s” changes? How does it ensure that the document owner has the final say on all content in the document they created?

Delivering a current document is only one component of document collaboration. Effective collaboration requires the management of the entire 4 step process, not just step 1!

SavvyDox is not an Enterprise File Sync and Share System nor is it an Enterprise Content Management System. Why duplicate all that functionality when it already exists? However, SavvyDox does provide incremental functionality that can be integrated with an EFSS or ECM to provide the full range of collaboration functionality for end users. SavvyDox can even be run standalone if the incremental ECM or EFSS functionality is not required.

Terri McClure, Senior Analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, in a post from Tech Target recently suggested that “It’s about managing content, streamlining collaboration and boosting productivity” when speaking about what needed to be added to EFSS (and it applies equally to ECM).

SavvyDox has been built from the ground up to support all 4 steps of the collaboration process in a mobile and/or desktop environment. It even provides the first viable alternative to Word Track Changes while still using Word and provides compliance based information that identifies who has read which pages of a document. In short, SavvyDox improves productivity and reduces business risk by simplifying the management of the full 4 step collaboration process.

Find out more at www.savvydox.com and see SavvyDox in action with these two videos