The latest buzzword in document creation is collaborative work.
While there exist various approaches to support collaborative work and varying definitions of what the term means, they all revolve around tools that allow knowledge workers to work together on documents.
Indeed, collaborating in the creation of a document can take different forms. With cloud-based solutions such as Google Docs or Zoho Writer, collaboration means sharing, i.e. the document is distributed via a link in an e-mail message as opposed to sending along an attachment. Since only one reviewer at a time can open the document, the annoying document version conflicts that plague workers in the information age are eliminated.
Working together on documents is nothing new, but the processes that are most prevalent are also very inefficient. Indeed, a majority of knowledge workers send documents as e-mail attachments to multiple reviewers, which then causes version confusion, difficulties in incorporating edits, and missed edits and comments. A remarkable 20% of knowledge workers say they print out hard copies to send to coworkers.
A different approach to solving this vexing problem is to allow knowledge workers to work on a document at the same time from different locations, be they in a real-time collaborative work session or simply working on the same document independently of one another.
In the forthcoming Office 2010 suite (currently in beta), Microsoft has added Co-authoring to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote. The new feature requires SharePoint Server 2010 to link the applications and store documents. Co-authoring allows people to work on a document concurrently, so that one person could be working on introductory text while a subject matter expert fills in details on charts. Areas that are being accessed for edits are locked to prevent conflicts; the locking is possible on multiple levels including sentences, paragraphs, objects, textboxes, fields, headers and footers.
When entering a document, the user is alerted to other authors who are working on the document via a notification box on the bottom of the screen. By hovering over the box, the authors who are working on the document at that time are displayed, with contact information so that communication by phone, instant message, or e-mail can be initiated with a click.
If an author is working on a section, it is locked to prevent simultaneous edits by others and changes and additions are only shown to other authors when the document is saved. If changes have been made to the document, bubble notifications appear to show other users what edits have been made and who made the changes.
People expect the knowledge economy to run on twenty-first century time, which means that knowledge workers need immediate feedback on documents from multiple collaborators at once. Microsoft’s Co-authoring functionality has the potential to support faster movement of information while improving what today is a grossly inefficient and error-prone process.
Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.