Businesses have been a little slow on the uptake on file sharing, but with Web 2.0 in full swing, and the shift it’s bringing into business communication, file sharing must now move into its rightful place–as Inc. so rightly called it, it’s the mack daddy of collaboration. It’s also the linchpin of social media as business communication.
This differentiates organizational communication sharply from the Facebook-style social media, while utilizing the same tools. In online social media, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., the links people share, and the “likes” they add to their profiles, lead to other sites, other pages on the web. In organizational communication, the links lead to files, or to metaposts that aggregate files.
Most businesses are still struggling to get people not to send the monster 10mb, 20mb files through e-mail, and indeed most limit the size of the file you can send. If you haven’t already figured it out, even Excel files that are used over and over and never cleaned up get bigger and bigger. You end up with a two- or three-tab file that’s taking five to ten minutes to upload because every time someone copies and pastes, all the styles that Excel uses in the background simply aggregate without ever going away. We’ll leave the discussion of Bill Gates’ buggy programming for another discussion–it simply has to be dealt with. As files get bigger, the restrictions on sending files (and the implicit restriction in the fact that it takes too long and bogs down your system) are beginning to impact communication.
While server space is also getting larger, and you can get home computers with terabytes of storage now, the programs that are sending the files cannot cope with the load, and attaching the files to e-mail (especially when you send it to 45 separate people–“reply all” is a very mixed blessing) is hogging bandwidth like mad. When multiplied by thousands of employees, an entire company system sloooowwwws down due to the load. Thus the restrictions that IT departments have hedged around attaching large files to e-mail. Those restrictions are beginning to interfere with companies’ ability to share documents, especially when working in the virtual world, where you cannot print the document and walk it down the hall. This is where hyperlinked file sharing steps in to save the day.
If you as a business leader haven’t already taken steps to make file sharing easy through linking directly to documents, then you are behind the curve. Unfortunately, back to dissing Mr. Gates, hyperlinking directly to a server file has never been easy. We have to acknowledge that Windows is inescapable, and as they get even further down the road to intuitive crumbtrails (that series of names for the folders at the top of your window that gets longer as you descend down the folder structure), it gets even harder to link to folders directly on the server. It’s geek-friendly, but the rest of the world is left out in the cold.
So, to save the day, the cloud comes along… web-server-based storage, served up in a way that makes it easy-peasy to link to a specific document or a folder as necessary. Electronic document management (EDM) has been around for a long time, companies like Documentum have been around for more than 20 years. Not advertising Documentum, in particular, it just happens to be the one I’ve used most recently. Businesses on a well-developed EDM background are now able to interface with it in ways that make it easy for the less-geeky to share a 5-byte email link over e-mail, instead of a 10mb PowerPoint file. This frees up bandwidth, diminishes printing costs, and will end up paying for itself in the long run.
Time to step on this bandwagon if you haven’t already. And step on it now, before you implement a social media interaction at your organization. Social media without file sharing isn’t a work network, it’s just a time-wasting ghost of Facebook with your business frame around it. Social media with file sharing, and people who have a modicum of training in how to use it, can break down the silos within your business and stop recreating the wheel in every department because they don’t talk to each other. This frees up the creative souls who are building yet another PowerPoint deck to actually get creative and push your business into the boom that’s coming.