There are many options for online document storage. Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Box.com, Dropbox.com are the best known, but not by far the only options. In addition to global drive storage, many industry specialty products offer online data storage to enable remote access, and cloud backup services are sometimes configured to allow individual document access. Many factors go into the decision to store data in the cloud, many of which we discussed in “So What is this Cloud??” a few weeks ago, but document storage and collaboration have their own considerations.
Access: An online or “cloud-based” document storage service is a centralized location that you can access from anywhere. With no need for a VPN or other access to your home network, employees don’t need special software, or even their own computer, to reach the information they need. Nearly all services offer access via iPhone, Android, and web browsers, making them platform-independent. Any employee who can reach the internet and has the proper credentials, can access the documents they need, whenever and wherever they need to.
Data Syncing: When you need information in multiple places – whether that’s home and work, work and personal devices, or available to multiple offices or employees – online storage provides an easy, centralized hub, that keeps you up to date everywhere. A good online storage service will provide automatic real-time background synchronization anytime you are online. That is more than a convenience.
Synchronization means that copies of your documents are saved on your hard-drive as well as the internet. If they are changed in either location, the changes replicate to the synchronization folder. So if you find yourself working offline, without an internet connection, or just don’t have the time or inclination to log-in to a web portal, you have full live copies of your documents already on your computer. Updating the web service is as simple as dragging the document into your synchronization folder, like you would any other folder on your desktop.
Collaboration: A single, up-to-date, centralized document store also means that everybody who has access has exactly the same document. There aren’t multiple versions floating around in various inboxes, creating confusion about which is the most accurate and current. If someone is currently editing a document, an attempt to access it should tell you it is in use, and give you the option to create a copy or wait.
Most business-class document storage services provide optional or automatic versioning, saving the original version of the document as well as the changed one, for some period of time. That gives you a roll-back point, if you need to revert to the original document. How long that period is varies from service to service. They frequently also have online viewers or online versions of Office software to allow you to edit the most common file types without installed software.
File sharing: The single most common use of online storage systems is to facilitate file sharing, especially of very large documents, or documents that need to be accessed by more than one person. This is one area where business-class online storage is hands-down better than email, as well as most consumer-grade services.
When you email a document, you no longer have control over who reads it, whether they print or forward it. There is no way to revoke access if you accidentally send it to the wrong person, or want to cut off access for the original recipient.
The premier benefit to business-class file sharing is that it allows you to provide credentialed access to outside users, with the kinds of document-level controls that you can normally only provide internally. You should be able to set a document link to expire automatically, break the link and withdraw the document when necessary, and set permissions that govern whether a particular recipient can download, print or forward the document…or may only view it in their browser. (Even print screen is managed in some cases.); and you should be able to protect documents at the file, folder and directory level.
Linking to a document on a file sharing portal has the added benefit of sharing only a hyperlink. Eliminating attachments can substantially reduce the strain on email servers, storage and bandwidth, on both sides.
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Stay tuned for our next blog: "How To Choose Your Storage Provider?"