Teamwork challenges: Secure document collaboration
16 March 2021
From start to finish, a single document could pass through dozens of people, several teams and even a few time zones. A lot could go wrong on that journey if you do not have a secure document collaboration system. ‘Secure’ means that the quality and the confidentiality of your work is protected, as well as people’s access to it. It also means that the collaboration process itself is risk-free.
Is the document collaboration process in your company as secure as it could be?
5 questions you should be asking
1. Who needs to contribute to your documents?
How do you make sure everyone can play their part without interfering in each other’s contributions or making several versions of the document?
- Access impossible: If people cannot contribute to documents when and where they need to, it is impossible to keep projects on track.
- Unauthorised edits: The quality and accuracy of content drops when edits go unchecked.
- Invisible comments and changes: This can increase the workload if participants are going over the same things without realising it.
Make sure everyone’s role in the document collaboration is clear and controlled. This starts with the document owner assigning authors, contributors and reviewers. Ideally, their ability to see and do anything in the document should be limited to their specific role in the process.
Collaboration only truly works if you have a platform that can be accessed by the whole team. This includes any external parties that are involved with the document. A cloud-hosted tool is the easiest way to give people that access anywhere, anytime they need.
2. How does your team communicate during document collaboration?
Emails. Conversations. Hand-written notes. Collecting content and feedback can become a confusing mess when it is spread across a range of insecure places. This can have a huge effect on the speed, accuracy and efficiency of your document creation process.
- Lost comments and data: Errors are much more likely to make it through to the final edit when feedback slips through the net.
- Wasting time on managing feedback: There are more productive things to do!
- Projects put at risk: Your business could lose a competitive advantage if teams cannot collaborate quickly and easily.
Keep the entire workflow in one place. Document collaboration is not just about having access to the same documents, it is about tracking who does what and when. This is much easier to do if all feedback is communicated within the document, so nothing gets lost or missed.
Some document collaboration platforms also allow you to automate workflows. Project owners can assign tasks and deadlines so that people get automatic alerts when due dates approach or it is their turn to act. Everyone gets to focus on the quality of the content rather than the logistics.
3. What kind of data is contained in your documents?
All organisations hold personal and commercial data that is best kept under wraps. That does not just mean it could be unsuitable for publication: some people in the document collaboration process might be unauthorised to see it.
- Personal data breach fines: Your business must be able to audit all personally identifiable information that it handles - or face penalties.
- Commercially sensitive data leak: Your unique content could be the key to winning new business.
- Lost information: Overwriting each other’s work, duplicating documents and human error can all make data disappear.
Control and redact. If you are able to control which parts of the document people can see and the actions they can take, this may be enough to protect confidential information. It will also help people to focus on the sections that are relevant to them.
PDF redaction tools go further and may be essential if your final document is made publicly available. Some document collaboration platforms have built-in redaction tools, while others will need to be integrated with other software like the Adobe suite.
4. Where are your documents kept during the collaboration process?
The more versions of a document there are, the greater the risk of error. There is a good chance it is duplicating the workload too. Things get even more complicated if you have multiple documents in one review.
- Version control chaos: Merged changes, uncontrolled feedback and localised versions are all a recipe for disaster.
- Inappropriate access: Do you know who is doing what to your documents and why?
- Lost work: Live collaboration on a master document could create changes you cannot undo.
We have already looked at the benefits of collaborating within a single version of a document. But where should that document be kept? If you are all working from the master document on your company’s server, this could be risky – there could be no way back to the original if things go wrong.
Working on a ‘proxy’ version of the document gives you more security when it comes to content quality and access. This means you are working on a copy of the original document that sits in your online collaboration software. Changes can only be made if formally accepted and nothing gets lost.
5. Is your document collaboration software secure?
The shift to remote and flexible working means there is a greater demand for cloud-based collaboration tools. Common choices are SharePoint and Microsoft Teams, as many organisations have these in place anyway. But they are not designed for secure document collaboration.
- Lack of control: A collaboration free for all can only lead to a messy document and too much admin.
- Service disruption: Insecure, inflexible systems can cut off your access to documents at crucial times.
- Security breach: Can you stop people from seeing and sharing information they are not supposed to when collaborating?
Lock down your document collaborations. If you operate in a highly regulated industry and handle large amounts of technical and sensitive content, then control is also a security issue.
Software that is specific to document collaboration rather than general teamwork will give you a more secure environment. It will also come with more settings for controlling access and permissions. In terms of network security, third-party cloud hosting gives you security without the need to manage infrastructure.
Your next steps to improving your document collaboration
The level of security you need for document collaboration depends on your team’s workload and the nature of the content they are handling. But quality and efficiency are also an issue. Use the questions above to audit your current document collaboration tools – it could be more than security that has room for improvement.
Ready to give your team a better way to collaborate with secure document collaboration software? See how PleaseReview can give you more control over the co-authoring and reviewing process.