Friday, March 05, 2010

Collaboration, Enterprise Content Mangement, Computing in the Cloud. . .

The internet is offering a great way for us (the end user) to connect with people locally and around the world.  Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Linkedin have allowed people with similar interests and family and or business relationships to connect, communicate and share ideas, music, documents, etc.  If it's digital, it can be shared. Sharing and collaborating on the internet is commonly referred to as, "Computing in the Cloud".

Beyond sharing, there is a need to collaborate on business and social projects that would be nearly impossible without the internet.  For example, a small business owner hires a book keeper part time to update his accounting software, such as Quickbooks, with receipts, invoices, bills, etc.  In "the old days", the book keeper would have to be onsite or stop by the office and pick up all of the hard copy documentation so that they could update Quickbooks back at their own office.  Now, the receipts, invoices, bills, etc. can be scanned and posted on a content sharing and collaboration site such as SharePoint or Box.net (as a side note, SharePoint is a server based product offered by Micorsoft and Box.net is a Web 2.0 cloud computing site).  The book keeper can be granted access to these files and they can continue their work with no time commuting back and forth to the office to pick up the documents.  It gets even better.  Let's say two businesses, separated by a thousand miles, are partnering together to bid on a large government project.  They both need to work on the bid proposal which happens to be a MS Word document.  The Word file can be placed in a shared content management folder.  Comments and corrections to the bid can be added and revisions to the bid can be tracked.  Access to the document can be controlled thus ensuring the document is secure from non-designated employees viewing the document.  You are now in control of your documents.  You can manage your time more effectively and efficiently.  Manage your documents, don’t let them manage you!

"But what if I have "tons" of digital documents (word docs, spread sheets, PDFs, mp3, etc.) and I want to find them easily and only allow access to certain employees?"  That's refereed to Enterprise Content Management (ECM).  "Doesn't that require some highly trained IT personnel to implement and maintain a system like that?"  Yes and No.  More NO than YES.  As I mentioned previously, there are server and cloud computing products out there that can fit most all needs.  From a family member wanting to privately share photos with other family members, to the small business owner who needs to partner with other businesses and part time contractors, to the large company with literally millions of documents, there are solutions.  For most of us, there are free to competitively priced solutions out there that will meet most personal and small business needs.  Here are a few examples. . .

1)  Google Apps (free/fee):  Google Apps provides the small business their own domain, e-mail hosting, Google docs, Google Calendar, Google Contacts and other selected features.  Sharing and collaboration with permissions is a strong point and it is simple to use with a short learning curve.  Your documents are stored on Google's servers so disaster recovery is assured.  The only drawback, as with any Cloud Computing product, there are storage size limitations.  If you have gigabytes of data, you'll need to look to a server based option.

2)  Microsoft SharePoint (free/fee):  As I mentioned previously, SharePoint is a server based product offered by Microsoft.  If you are running Windows Server 2003 or higher, you have SharePoint services for free.  IT support will be required to implement SharePoint Services or the Portal version (fee).  Hosted SharePoint solutions are also offered by providers such as 1and1.com and GoDaddy.com  The learning curve for SharePoint is a little more steep and longer.  But, if you have gigabytes of data and your own server, you can store as much content as your server will allow.

3)  Box.net (fee):  Box.net is a very powerful, yet easy to use cloud computing ECM solution.  Box's strong points are integration with 3rd party software vendors and its universal document viewer.  Like Google Apps, access to documents can be controlled by the end user.  Again, integration with 3rd party software vendors helps the end user to be able to easily modify and revise documents from within the Box.net environment.  

4)  Documentum (fee):  If you are a director or VP of a large company, then you'll want to consider this very powerful server based enterprise solution.  There are a number of modules that can be added and customized as needed such as; Document Control, Business Process Management, etc.  Implementing any larger server based ECM solution will require specialized IT support and a training program for end users will be needed.  The implementation will require time training and budget but the benefits will be worth it.  

At Twin Imaging, we can help you determine the best ECM and/or collaboration tools that will help your organization to share, collaborate and manage content. . . Manage your documents, don’t let them manage you.

Sean Martin, Vice President

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