At Boxworks 2014 yesterday, Box announced Box Workflow, underlining how share and sync technologies are evolving towards a new kind of knowledge management, one that may actually work for small and medium organizations.
Terms like knowledge management and collaboration often make us groan. They have been beautiful ideas murdered by gangs of brutal experiences. Knowledge management has focused too much on people’s attitudes and not enough on workable solutions. Knowledge management systems have been expensive and complex, and often have not been adopted by users. Online collaboration is great for sharing jokes and photos with your friends, but often not so successful at helping organizational efforts.
This is changing, although people may not yet realize that knowledge management and collaboration is what’s changing. File sharing and synchronization systems like Box are growing like crazy. While the consumerization of apps may lead us to focus on cross-device synchronization, a lot of the demand for these products in organizations is because they offer a better way to handle documents and workflows. You can improve productivity simply by allowing better remote access to documents and replacing email attachments with versions of the same document on a server.
Moving the File Server
Something that works hand-in-hand with this is IT’s desire to get the file server into the cloud, for cost-saving, business continuity or remote access reasons. In both cases, moving an organization’s files to a new location often raises this question: “Do we want to move all this disorganized stuff to the new location, or is this the time to face up to organizing it?” As a result, document management becomes an issue. In a similar way, some people also are asking whether this is the time to try to improve workflow automation, now that sharing is easier.
In the past, thinking has usually stopped at this point, because taking the next steps looked like too much work. For smaller organizations, any solution that depends on hiring an administrator or spending the equivalent on consulting is prohibitive. Also, the level of thinking required can be daunting. Tagging has been one of these choke points. First, there’s deciding what the tags will be, then there’s getting people to use them. Both of these are hard. Another roadblock is getting people to agree on new file-naming conventions.
What has really differentiated Box, Dropbox, FileShare, Google Drive, Hightail and others from SharePoint, and even more from the high-end document management systems has been their simplicity. True, all these products started out offering many fewer features. But that was their virtue! Organizations have been turning to them because they relieved real pain points and were simple enough to get adopted.
Beyond File Sharing
What has happened, however, is that the share and sync products are wondering what to do next. There are so many of them now that they are beginning to look like commodities. So what new features are they going to add to get ahead of the pack? At least one vendor, SpringCM, has already merged a strong document management system with file sharing and collaboration. Microsoft, which has had all of these features for some time in SharePoint, is moving to make its system simpler and more accessible, particularly in integrating its OneDrive for Business product with excellent search. We may also find their new Delve (Codename Oslo) and Office Graph products provide new, easier ways to search for and access documents. And now Box is adding metadata.
Box’s metadata project is in beta, with promises for it to go into production by next year. Box already has an easy-to-use tagging system, but the metadata system will go much further, allowing systems to be built with pairs of keys and values, so that templates with drop-down boxes can be created. As I understand it, values will be able to be pre-populated into these fields or selected from the drop-downs, and the templates will accompany the preview of documents, enabling easy entry of metadata values. Box is also expanding its task feature to include more sophisticated workflow capabilities, and its advanced search will include searching on metadata values as well as keys.Kn
Knowledge Management 2.0
An important value of these new systems is that they will hopefully keep the simplicity of their original products but add effective content management features. SpringCM is doing a pretty good job of this, although some of its file sharing features are clumsier than Box’. Once these systems mature, organizations should be able to implement effective content management a lot more simply and get it adopted.
The newer store and sync and collaboration vendors also seem to be better at offering clear training and documentation, and there is an emphasis on helping clients understand things like building effective file structures and naming folders without having to spend an arm and a leg on the effort.
Put all this together, and you’ve got Knowledge Management 2.0: effective content management, sharing and collaboration, only a lot more simple.