Document Collaboration Paradox

Document Collaboration.jpg

Finding consensus, 80%+, in today’s environment is virtually impossible, yet we have consensus with employees who have experienced difficulties with document collaboration. Harris Interactive Knowledge Worker Survey, Soonr 2014 Mobility in the Workplace Study and other recent studies have found :

  • 94% of workers have experienced individual challenges viewing, downloading, and editing documents

  • 83% of knowledge workers report their productivity is negatively affected due to daily document collaboration challenges

  • 91% of employees rate being able to share files with customers and coworkers as important to their job, yet nearly half of respondents 46% report having experienced trouble sharing files, especially large files

  • 24% have had trouble editing data away from the office on a laptop,  desktop or mobile device

  • 17% of employees report missing an important deadline due to not being able to access and edit a file

  • 15% of workers have lost a sales prospect due to being unable to collaborate on files

Studies on Privacy and Security concerns have found:

  • 83% of employees report concerns about the security and privacy of their files

  • 27% don’t feel comfortable that their files are securely shared via email

  • 25% of workers stated that they lost data while attempting to downloading files

  • 31% of employees aren't comfortable with current cloud-sharing solutions

69% of knowledge workers use a document, contract and policy management systems, Dropbox or other file sharing services, and yet, these respondents encountered document collaboration issues at the same rate, or even more frequently… and you want to be my latex salesman.

In all likelihood these knowledge workers have experience “the Dropbox problem”, a mass of files and don’t know which version is the latest.

There's no question that today's cloud-based file management services add value over the file server systems of old: multi-device access, commenting on files, update synchronization, merging multi-user edits.

Unfortunately, we're finding that these file share-and-sync applications, document, contract and other management system get caught in the same “Collaboration Paradox” that afflicts messaging and project management software. That is, the more our team members use collaboration tools, the more new challenges arise impeding our efforts to translate collaboration into productivity and good decision-making.

The Problems

Versions, Discussions, Tasks, Notes, Reviews & Approvals are Separated

The fundamental problem with Dropbox, or any other cloud file, document, contract and other management solutions, is that project-related discussions — typically embedded in email threads — are separated from content, or are attached to specific files and lost.

We've made it easier to get more hands on a file and track changes. Yet the why behind those changes remains cut off from the file content itself. As does the when, since most users create new file versions by creating a new physical file. Many content editing/creation tools support discussion and feedback, however they require creating a new file for each updated version, which loses feedback history. Perhaps there are naming conventions making it clear to the user group which one is the active version. But how often have you found multiple versions of the same file labeled "Final"?

These important conversations and meaning fall into the murky abyss, detaching context from our files. Here are our current conversation options for the voluminous files that widen the abyss:

  • Email threads may be with the document attached, but perhaps not. And is it the right version of the document? Are all the right people on the email thread?

  • Real-time messaging, which may or may not permit attaching the document being discussed. How are these conversations stored?

  • Company social platforms, which present conversations separated from a file.

  • Comment threads attached to specific file in a file share-and-sync application. But this conversation is attached to one discrete file. What happens to that conversation when a new discrete file, the newer version, is created? It's stuck on the old, obsolete file.

We can't avoid creating files. From the dawn of history we've needed to lock down our thoughts for future reference or use. Creating contracts, detailed blueprints, policies, a PowerPoint presentation, or a complicated analysis spreadsheet isn't going to end — it’s impossible to avoid files. So your collaboration solution must be capable of attaching the commentary to the latest versions of documents and making them readily accessible.

Work your way, seamlessly from Word, Powerpoint, etc

Organizations have come a long way technologically. They now rely heavily on digital documents that change at an ever-increasing pace. Tools from the PC to the tablet and smartphone make it easier and easier to add to this digital flow. Nevertheless, most knowledge workers manage documents, presentations, and spreadsheets the same way they did in the 1990s.

Most traditional document management systems are large-scale solutions for large-scale problems. Because these systems impose strict processes and workflows (meet needs for security, compliance, etc), people find them simply too onerous to use when they are trying to solve simple, everyday problems.

Translation… Things have to work the way we do, seamlessly from within the tools (e.g Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc.) and our collaboration solution managing those files & processes must be easy to use. The reality is that learning and doing this from within other onerous complex tools and solutions just won’t cut it… we can’t avoid using Word.

The Zero footprint, Offline & Secure Balancing Act

The other reality is that collaboration work now occurs outside of the office at remote locations, offline, on desktops or mobile devices that does not have Word (or other tools) installed or available. The privacy and security concerns of workers are well founded and as such collaboration solutions need to support working offline securely, that is ensuring collaboration syncing and yet preventing document leakage (others walking away with private and sensitive documents). The following features help reduce document leakage:

  • Prevent saving documents to the desktop in native format (e.g. Word)

  • Limit copying text or printing the document

  • Ability to revoke / expire document access

Solutions with these features are light years more secure than the document review and collaboration that frequently occurs via email.

Lacking Insights

Lastly… successful organizations manage their processes by measuring them. The old adage “what keeps measured gets managed” or conversely “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”.  Studies have consistently found (including with the vast majority of knowledge workers who use a document management system), that few have the following collaboration insights on any given document:

  • Who has reviewed what versions of the document

  • Who has completed reviews and approvals

  • What reviews and approvals are still outstanding

  • Who viewed what pages of the document

  • Which employees have not viewed the document

Image knowing that legal has not viewed the indemnification section, or that nuclear inspectors haven’t read the latest policy revisions. Clearly the risks and non-compliance is far greater without these insights.

The ideal solution captures all of this information non-intrusively and does not require workers to fill in or do something differently.

Solution Summary

As collaboration technology continues to move forward, file, document, contract, policy and other management solutions will improve their current functionality to provide easier, cleaner merging of multi-user changes and stronger version control, perhaps more akin to version control systems used to manage software development.

Even so, the real next step in the technology collaboration continuum is capturing the added value of your institutional knowledge that's sitting in all the conversations and processes surrounding your files. Files and processes don't exist for their own ends. That spreadsheet or presentation only has value as part of a larger goal and context, whether it's a specific project or running a smooth operation.

Keeping that context, secure and seamlessly integrated with the file, working with your tools and non-intrusively capturing statistics is where the productive collaboration happens. Otherwise, needing to work with a file is just the first step down another rabbit hole of isolated conversations and seemingly random file modifications.

About SavvyDox

SavvyDox is an elegant solution that provides powerful and comprehensive features resulting in invaluable document collaboration benefits of working faster, smarter & better without the usual frustrations & headaches. Accessed standalone or seamlessly integrated with your document, contract and policy management systems, Dropbox or other file sharing services to enhance your organizations document review, collaboration and approval needs.

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