This is the first of eight articles on the core capabilities of IBM’s cognitive collaboration platform which includes products such as IBM Connections and Watson Workspace.
Sharing documents is a basic function of most organisations. Someone creates something and needs to give it to someone else perhaps to work on further. That other person might then edit the document some more and send it back to the first person.
The problem with this approach is that this basic transaction has already resulted in two copies of the same file. There is now one copy of the original file with the originator, probably one copy of the original with the recipient, one copy of the updated file with the recipient and now another copy of the updated file with the originator.
Which version is up to date? Which version should we be using? Why are there now four copies of the same document in circulation?
This is the problem encountered by virtually everyone who needs to create and share files. Sending files around by email is inherently inefficient, and can be dangerous given the results of someone taking action on an out of date copy of a file.
So we fixed this problem with file servers. You remember those shared drives that were all the rage back in the 1990’s? Anyone who used these will also remember how complicated it became to work with a shared folder structure of documents. Often these folder structures were enormous and overly hierarchical in an attempt to make finding the file you want at least logical.
If you worked in this scenario you probably also had a personal drive where you were encouraged to save your files. More often than not you relied upon putting your files in that drive because at least you could find them again. When you had to share a file with your colleagues on the file server you probably also copied your file to the right place but in case someone needed the existing file you would give yours a slightly different name. Someone coming along later looking for the latest version of the file was forced to try to deduce from modified dates and the likes which one might be the current.
If any of this sounds familiar, you are in good company. The problem has not gone away, however, it has just moved to even bigger file stores – this time in the “cloud”.
IBM’s approach to file sharing (and secure file sharing) is a little different to what we’ve just described.
Firstly IBM Connections provides access to the files you are working on in exactly the same ways as you would access them on your computer – though Windows Explorer or through the Mac Finder. On mobile devices the Connections mobile applications give you access to the entire library of files and, like their desktop counterparts, let you synchronise the ones you are working on to have them available when you are offline.
OK, so no change there then. So what does IBM offer to make the experience better? Well, firstly, when you share a file in IBM Connections you are actually creating an entry in a database and Connections stores lots of additional information about where the file is, what version it is, who downloaded it, who can edit it, tags, descriptions and a bunch of other information.
When you click on a file in Connections you are actually asking it to give you the current file that’s stored. Changes made to the file result in a new one being stored (behind the scenes) and the entry in the database being updated.
Any time someone sends you a link to a file (which we recommend instead of sending the actual file) you always get the database’s response which is of course the current version. If you want to see earlier versions they are still there, but the point is there is only one version of the truth. If we share the file, and update it, then we are always up to date.
One easy way to get started with Secure File Sharing is to arrange for you and your immediate colleagues to upload the files that you can share in to Connections and making them available to each other. That very task alone is enough in many respects to allow others to know what documents you have and, if they need them, to simply go and get them rather than having to ask you and wait for you to send it. They are always looking at the current version, so they can be sure what they are looking at is the most recent work.
In your team, department, workgroup or organisation, what effect would openly uploading and sharing these file have in your business. Can you quantify the time you might save by not raking through emails or waiting for a response?
When you combine this core function with others what possibilities do you have for organising and streamlining the work you do?
It’s very common in IBM for people to upload their files and share them like this. Before even asking someone if they have a file I could use, I do a search and more often than not find exactly what I am looking for with a couple of clicks. I might not have known where the file I was looking for was, but with Connections treating all content including files as one big repository of information I can easily cut right across any structure that has been put in place (like nested folders) and locate what I am looking for. How cool is that?
I can even edit my documents directly in a browser and involve multiple simultaneous editors all working together. This makes it very easy and productive to get work done co-operatively and to finalize a document ready for sharing.
I don’t need to install any software on my computer to do this – it all happens in my web browser or in the app on my mobile device. Why spend money on legacy desktop productivity platforms when all the power you need is right there in the browser, part of the cloud subscription and is fully compatible with your less enlightened colleague’s desktop products?
Welcome to a new way of working.