Business today is different. Employees work from multiple locations. Unfortunately, current forms of sharing information securely are often inadequate or overly complicated. Typically, business users send documents around as email attachments, which is sometimes convenient but also often clumsy as a way to manage files. Some workgroups have access to a shared file server or an Internet-based content sharing site. These both can represent an improvement over email, but aren’t ideal.

Email makes it infuriatingly difficult to keep track of file versions. Instead of pushing documents out to others via email, wouldn’t it be great if users could simply invite colleagues or clients to the only instance of the document, online, where they can contribute content or just add comments? With everyone working on the same document, rather than multiple, disparate copies of the document, collaboration is smoother and users can keep track of everyone’s involvement. Uploading content and giving it immediate access to multiple users adds a new level of richness to corporate communication.

Working in real time with collaborators has its major advantages. Often in the course of creating and revising a document, employees need to work directly with each other to explain comments, discuss various approaches related to a document, or just solicit immediate feedback. Email just can’t cope—it’s not designed to bring everyone together at the same time.

A Web-accessible environment that is always available to team members means users always have access to the latest file versions. If you are collaborating online, version control makes it so much simpler to keep everyone up to date. It allows everybody to work from the latest version of a document and avoids having multiple versions scattered across multiple computers and email addresses.

Collaboration can simply involve providing document access to colleagues. Users share files as reference material that contributes to reports or other deliverables. Sometimes the shared document is the end product of a group’s effort. The shared document can be uploaded in any file format, because document collaboration software goes further than email in making the documents accessible by convenient previewing—right in a Web browser, without having to load the original application.

Secure Sharing

Securing files is very important. However, it can be time consuming and confusing for small firms who are concerned about file security, but have no IT support staff. Even larger firms need to instruct their IT departments to secure their servers, disk drives and folders so that only authorised people in the firm can read and save files. The IT department, for instance, may provide access to folders for specific staff or clients.

Email isn’t suitable for organisations that need to share documents amongst workgroups securely. Neither is email practical for firms that need to share large files quickly or easily. In situations where project teams need the ability to sign files in and out, and to maintain a history of document versions for record keeping, email is also inappropriate. Accessing shared files remotely and securely does not have to be the costly procedure that it often is for many organisations. Document collaboration software allows staff and clients to easily share files, set permissions on files and folders, and maintain a version history of each document—all with the added protection of SSL encryption.

Even though an IT department is responsible for controlling the security of an organisation’s server, folders, and files, the security of individual files is the responsibility of each and every member of a team. Relying on the security policy enforced by an IT department isn’t good enough for assuring that files are secure, especially when they are sent outside an organisation’s network.

Conclusion

The Internet makes it easier for businesses of all sizes to communicate and share documents more effectively. But outdated document collaboration processes waste time and pose risks. Document management systems have helped organisations improve internal efficiency, but extending these systems to part-time employees and clients has proved much more difficult. Internet connectivity now provides the information worker with incredible reach, but productivity is still constrained by the collaborative range of office productivity tools and ingrained working practices.

In order to make significant progress in document collaboration, companies should cast off the restrictions and limitations imposed by paper documents. Integrating document collaboration with business processes, projects, and workflow management brings together the otherwise separate worlds of process and content. Internal and external compliance rules increasingly require the full auditing of every aspect of a document’s lifecycle. In collaborative environments, it can be tricky to know who edited what, and when. A document collaboration system is the only way to offer comprehensive and secure tracking.