Collaborative documents are applications that allow multiple users to edit documents in real time. Many organisations are not up to date with this method of working. Employees are still working on documents on their local PC’s, saving files locally and then emailing these documents as attachments to other team members. This is a tedious process and only works if there is one person at a time working on the document. As soon as multiple people need to work on a document, collaborating becomes tedious and slow with overlapping edits and mistakes being made. It can get messy. Collaborative documents solve this by having the document hosted in the Cloud allowing access for multiple users with edits made in real time. Edits are not overlapped, each user can work and see other users working in real time.
Commenting and Notifications
Commenting is another great feature of collaborative documents. Within the document one user can highlight and comment on an element such as a sentence or an image which anyone in the document can see. A member of the team can also be tagged and/or assigned to a comment, meaning they will be notified and assigned to take action on the comment. As you can see in the screenshot example below:
Collaborative Documents have come a long way, I can recall 10 years ago using Zoho Sheets. They were a frontrunner in this technology and while it worked, it was clunky and slow. The sheets would time out often and not load properly. Today it’s a different story all together and these tools work as smoothly as if you were working offline.
Microsoft Office vs Google Docs
There are a number of providers available today but Microsoft & Google are the two you should be looking at. It’s a hotly contested area as to which one is better. Microsoft was slower to move online, but now has full capabilities in browser based documents. They both offer word processing, spreadsheets, powerpoint/slides as well as other document types.
Google is our tool of choice mostly because we are heavily integrated into G Suite which integrates seamlessly between Google products. Also because Google offers very high quality products for free. Google Docs is heavily integrated with Google Drive which allows documents to be automatically saved to drive. Therefore if you are using Google Docs it makes the most sense to use Google Drive as well. At the end of the day your choice will most likely come down to which ecosystem you find yourself in.
Templates and Add-ons
Both Google and Microsoft offer a large range of templates and add-ons for their products. Add-ons are like apps that you can integrate into the documents. This is usually for more advanced users but every now and again you might need this for a certain project. You can do things like add font packages, new chart styles or new formulas for novel calculations. You can even import data like share prices from other sources. Because these documents are in the Cloud they can link to real time data and third party developers that are also Cloud hosted. Another great feature of online documents is the ability to link data between 2 documents. In the past you would have to save them in the same folder, but now you can just add a link in one to the other.
Google Doc’s has a huge 3rd party add-on marketplace.
Sharing and Privacy
Sharing and privacy is a central issue with online collaborative tools. Google has invested in features allowing you to maintain maximum control. Access to users can be restricted entirely, or users can be allowed to view, comment or edit along with you. Documents can be restricted to certain email addresses or anyone given access via a link. Every scenario has been considered, from a control perspective as long as you are on top of these settings your documents will be secure.
The below screenshot shows the sharing settings for a Google Doc. I’ve highlighted the areas which show you 1. Sharing the document via link, 2. Which users have access and what level of access they have and the ability to invite specific users via email, 3. Security features prevent users from copying, downloading or adding new users.
The other issue to be aware of (many are not) is that tech companies like Google may crawl your content like they crawl your Gmail account. This is a computer algorithm that reads and collects information in these documents for purposes like improving advertising. This is a broader discussion that we will not go into, but it’s important to be aware of this and why the product is given away for free. In some sense, the user becomes the product.