We recently worked with a client to provide them with a cloud based solution to help them store, control and share their key corporate documents...

The issues they were dealing with regarding document management and collaboration within their organisation are fairly typical of those faced by many businesses, so I thought it would be worth while exploring their situation in more detail.

Our client is a medium sized organisation, operating from multiple jurisdictions around the world, and needed to provide, not only their own direct employees but also sub-contractors, partners and sometimes customers, with secure access to the latest version of their key documents. Like many organisations, their staff often stored key documents in multiple locations, for example on central file servers, as well as their own laptops; this led to people often accessing incorrect and outdated versions of documents. Some documents were also stored on their corporate intranet and although this dealt with some of the versioning issues, it didn't allow staff to access these documents when they were out in the field without access to their corporate network. Our client's workforce is located all over the world and their employees spend a great deal of time travelling, often visiting places where establishing an internet connection isn't possible. So, although they were looking for an online solution, they also had to consider offline access to documents too.

Most companies have important information that they want to share, not only within the business but also with their partners and customers, and our client, with no other easy way to share documents, was aware of the potential security implications of e-mailing sensitive documentation back and forth. It is far too easy to accidentally send an important or sensitive document to the wrong person, inadvertently causing a security breach. In addition, not being able to quickly and easily locate key documents was increasing administration overheads and was becoming ever more frustrating for their staff. They had no fast way to search for documents or content, which ranged from a word or excel file to a pdf or jpeg. Problems, including frequent use of incorrect versions of documents, and having no document audit trail, also threatened to undermine their efforts to obtain the ISO9001 quality accreditation.

Having identified their key problems around corporate documentation, the negative impact it was having on their business and the resulting benefits they could obtain from implementing more control, our client then set out to evaluate their options. Very quickly they identified the need for a solution that was delivered as a "cloud" based service as it would reduce the burden on their internal infrastructure, reduce storage costs and could be easily and cost effectively scaled as their business grew. In addition, a completely managed service would reduce internal IT resource demands and provide additional benefits such as full disaster recovery. During initial research into the market they reviewed a number of possible options, one of which was Dropbox. Dropbox is a really useful application that allows individuals to access files across multiple devices (e.g. PC, iPad or Android Smart Phone), however, it didn't provide our client with the level of control or security they needed over their own documents at an enterprise level. They then went on to evaluate more complex solutions based on enterprise platforms, such as SharePoint, but they didn't quite fit the bill either. They also identified a multitude of different "off the shelf" cloud based document management solutions, but none of these ticked all the boxes when it came to security and flexible permission models and importantly, providing a solution that could be used offline.

This is where PDMS came in. We provided our client with an online portal that allows them to store all of their documents (no matter what the format) in one central repository with all the features you would expect including version control, audit history and permissions management. Importantly, our solution also provides the facility to download frequently used documents in a secure database which can also be accessed when offline and comes with added extras, such as the ability to publish selected "public" documents to a chosen website as well as e-mail notifications, to let people (only those who want to) know when an important document has been updated.

We are pleased to report that our client has been successfully using our "Controlled Document Portal" (CDP) for over 12 months and is already reaping the benefits - one of which has been their successful ISO 9001 accreditation. Our CDP has also recently been awarded a place in the UK Government's new G-Cloud store which means that anybody in the UK public sector can purchase the CDP without going out to tender. In the next few months, we also hope to receive IL2 information assurance accreditation which is one of the UK Government's key data security standards.

Although electronic and online document management has been around for years we are now seeing a renewed interest in "document control". Part of the reason for this is that, according to a recent report by the Aberdeen Group, in the absence of a well-defined document management system, end-users will overlook security and compliance in favour of getting the job done by taking advantage of free and readily available alternatives. This means that many organisations could find some of their key and sensitive documentation stored inappropriately and without their knowledge in cloud-based solutions such as Dropbox. The experience of our client has shown that providing staff with flexible but controlled access to key documents through an enterprise class, cloud-based, document management tool, with the right levels of security, not only helps ensure compliance but also helps to improve productivity, convenience and collaboration.