Guest Column | December 27, 2016

Document Collaboration — It Isn't Really A Problem, Is It?

Old Document Conversion

By Hans Downer, President & CEO, SavvyDox

In the grand scheme of things, document collaboration is a mundane, time-consuming process that normally doesn’t get much attention since executives normally don’t get heavily involved in the process, nor do they understand the magnitude of the impact on their organization. However, taking the approach of ignoring a mundane, time-consuming process could have a big negative impact on your career.

Document collaboration goes well beyond just sharing a file and letting everyone modify the file in real time. Think of one of the most effective methods of collaboration today — a face to face meeting or video conference. There are a few key points that make those reviews more effective than the way document collaboration is managed today.

First, everyone is looking at the same version of the document — the slides being shown by the presenter. Second, it is a true parallel review in which everyone can hear everyone else’s comments and understand their point of view. Third, the format supports threaded comments since, if someone objects to someone else’s comments, they can state their opinion which everyone else can then interpret in their own manner. Fourth, the presenter hears everyone’s comments and understands the group viewpoint, and only the presenter can change the slide contents.

Let’s Compare That Process To Some Of The Options Available Today
The most common method of collaboration on a document uses an attachment to an email. Almost everyone receives at least a hundred emails every day — what if your email gets lost in someone’s inbox? What if someone shares the content of your email with the press or a competitor?

Email review is a serial review process in which none of the reviewers see anyone else’s comments until the author puts them all together in a modified document — there is really no opportunity for discussion. If you happen to be the author of the original document, you receive multiple emails in response, and you have to figure out how to cut and paste from those documents into your source document which is time consuming and painful. As the author, you inevitably receive a change from someone based on the incorrect version of the document under review — how do you handle that? What happens if two people have opposing views on a change — how do you sort it out?

After two or three rounds of revisions, the document tends to resemble a Christmas tree with multiple colored changes and cross outs compliments of Word Track Changes. How do you read the document with all those multi-colors? After two or three rounds of reviews, one of the reviewers suggests a change in fairly complex wording that is a different style of wording than used by the original author. Since no one can easily read the document anymore, it is very difficult to determine if the change is appropriate. What if a simple change in writing style introduces a loophole in a contract that isn’t picked up? In short, email reviews are a frustrating and time consuming process — there has to be a better way.

Enter method two of collaboration. A file is shared among multiple reviewers and everyone in parallel can modify the document. If four or five people change the same word or phrase, the underlying system will normally only keep the last change. If you are the author or owner of the document, you will probably only see the last change — what if it is wrong and you didn’t even know there were other options to consider? What if one of the reviewers inserts a change and has the ability to accept that change in the document? The author or owner of the document may not even know that a change was inserted — is that acceptable? While this is not intuitively obvious, everyone is normally reviewing a Word document and they can save it on their device. Once it is on their device, it can easily be sent to the press or a competitor without the author even knowing until it is too late.

To date, those were the two primary methods of collaborating on documents. Numerous problems exist with each option and when an error does occur in a contract, it can be enormous. When a document leak is discovered, it is normally too late. There are numerous examples of problems with document collaboration resulting in multi-million dollar errors and everyone has seen the impact of leaked documents. Do you want to risk your career on something that can be easily and inexpensively addressed in a matter of days?

New tools are now available (including SavvyDox) that provide the equivalent benefits to a face to face meeting and prevent document leaks. Why not take a few minutes and check them out? It could save your career.