Collaborative Portals

Managing documents electronically is a challenge to most businesses.  Version control, naming of files and being able to search for items is often impossible or at best time consuming.  This article explains how software can help.

Many businesses still use network drives containing folders within folders and so on.  If staff are diligent and conscientious then files may be stored in the correct place.  However, over time people delete files, paste them into the wrong folder, or leave them on their local ‘c drive’.  Simple spelling mistakes in file names and poor naming conventions mean that the documents are not easily searchable.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) or Content Management Systems (CMS) exist to help businesses organise, store and find their files.  More importantly, they enable people to collaborate with people, not necessarily in the same building or even the same country.  Many large corporations have an ‘intranet’ or ‘collaborative portal’, allowing staff to collaborate 24/7 globally.

Moving from network folders to a new system is a large project, but the short and long-term benefits are really worthwhile.

Many features will be available ‘out of the box’, and just need an expert IT partner to configure them to your requirements.  Features usually include Document Libraries, Lists, Task lists, What’s new feeds showing recent activity by users, project and files, as well as revision control, allowing meta-data in documents to be ‘searchable’ across the intranet.

So where to start?  First, look at the requirements for storage, grouping, security/access, and also look at existing paper forms, which could be converted into electronic forms.  What views do you and your staff need?  These are probably satisfied by sortable tables in Excel spreadsheets at present.

When you have a one-page list of your needs, compare these to products available on the market.

Microsoft SharePoint, Google Docs, Alfresco and Igloo are just some of the mainstream systems that are available.  Ask your peers what they use.  I’m sure they’ll collaborate with you.