The Cost and Confusion of Having More than One Version of the Truth
Imagine a scenario where your annual budget is being saved on each of the separate computers of the three people working on it – the CEO’s laptop, the Controller’s desktop PC, and by the outside financial analyst working from his home office. Which of those three documents is the current one? All of them. Which version is the most complete? Again, every one of them. A classic case of multiple versions of the truth. Confusing to say the least.
Or imagine another scenario where one of your sales executives is on the road in another city closing the company’s biggest deals. But their proposal is based on out-dated pricing information that had changed from the time their laptop was last synchronized before they left the office. A very costly disconnect if those changed numbers happen to be working against you.
Traditional but Expensive Collaboration Tools
Setting up remote access to the company’s office server can address these challenges, letting remote users create, open, and save documents just as if they were at their desks, always working with the most recent versions of documents saved to the server. But what if your small firm or start-up doesn’t yet have a server? But even if you do have one, you may still need expensive internet connection or VPN upgrades to make it work.
Even then, you still could end up with multiple “true” versions of the same document. And what if you want to roll back to a previous version of a document? For that you need to install additional software on your server like Microsoft SharePoint. All users could then see the most recent changes, even making simultaneous edits at the same time. But that power comes with a cost – SharePoint is notoriously difficult and expensive to set up, maintain and administer.
Cloud-Based Document Management
You may have heard of cloud-based file sharing and document management solutions like Dropbox and Box.com. But they can also serve as very powerful, easy to use and inexpensive team collaboration tools, acting like a virtual server in the cloud.
Dropbox stands out from the pack for its being able to ensure everyone is seeing and working on the same single version of the truth.
Why Dropbox is a Better Document Management Solution
Like similar cloud-based solutions, Dropbox gives users a secure dedicated amount of storage space on its servers accessed via an internet connection (a free account offers 2GB, while 50GB is just $9.99/user per month). To this space you can upload via an SSL connection any kind of file up to your limit. DropBox can be installed as a desktop application on Windows, Mac and Linux and also has an app for the iPad, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices. And like other similar solutions, no specialized technical expertise is needed.
But what sets Dropbox apart is the small lightweight application you install on all the PCs you want to have be included in a Dropbox group. On each of these PCs, laptops or smart phones a special Dropbox folder is created. Anytime anyone in a Dropbox group copies or saves a file to this folder, it automatically appears in the Dropbox folder on every other user’s machine in the group. This means everyone is always seeing the exact same synchronized document.
It also means when you do not have an internet connection (say when you’re on a plane) you can still be working on documents in your Dropbox folder. Your changes will be pushed back up to your Dropbox space in the cloud the next time you are connected.
But what if someone else in the group has also been making changes while you were offline? Dropbox keeps track of all of the separate versions that have been saved and synced that anyone in the group can re-visit anytime.
The only things Dropbox is not capable of for collaboration is calendar and address book sharing. And, even though it’s making copies of your documents, it is not intended as a proper backup solution. We’ll be discussing those two topics in future posts.
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