In your profession, do you collaborate on the contents of files or on the process of exchanging files? Maybe you do both. Maybe you don’t yet understand the distinction I’m trying to make. Keep reading and it will become crystal clear.
Collaborating on the contents of files is what you might do if you and a colleague are making a presentation to your boss next week and you and your colleague need to work on the same PowerPoint file. Collaborating on the process of exchanging files is what you might do if you’re a banker and you need to collect documents from a customer. The latter use-case is what lacks a modern file sharing solution despite being a really painful process - just think back to the last time you got a mortgage. It’s also a pain felt by many different types of professionals (examples provided later).
Most file sharing services today (e.g., Box, Dropbox, Google Drive) provide collaboration on the contents of files. And they do that very well. Take Dropbox as an example. I installed Dropbox on my laptop and can access all my Dropbox files within the File Explorer. But they’re not only on my hard drive, and as soon as I save changes to a file I can open the same file on my smartphone and see the latest version. My colleague can open the file on his laptop. Everything syncs within seconds. It’s really cool technology, especially when you’re working on the same file with a colleague at the same time - my changes are immediately reflected in the version my colleague has open!
Collaborating on the process of exchanging files is very different and there aren’t any modern solutions that address this use-case. I mentioned that bankers have this need but so do auditors, attorneys, private equity firms, venture capitalists, tax professionals, and all other professional service providers whose jobs require data and documents from their clients/customers. What all of these professionals have in common is that before they start their work, they first send an information request list to their client. Some may have a different name for the information request list (e.g., “due diligence request list,” “provided by client list,” “punch list”), but they all refer to the same thing: a list of documents that the professional needs from their client. Commonly requested documents include: articles of incorporation, monthly income statements, monthly balance sheets, bank statements, business licenses, and vendor contracts. In some cases, there could be hundreds of requested items.
Professional service providers need a way to track which requests are open or complete for each client. Dropbox and other file sharing services don’t provide this. In order to provide tracking, a file sharing service must start with the information request list. Whenever a client uploads a file, it must be associated with a request. Then collaborators need to be able to add comments and questions to requests (not within files, which is something Dropbox provides). A question from a client could be: “I don’t understand what you’re asking for. Will you please elaborate?” Or a comment from a professional: “You sent me tax returns for 2012 and 2013. Please send 2014 as well.” Right now, this type of back and forth is scattered in emails and separated from the requests and documents, making the process difficult to follow.
I guarantee once you use a properly designed solution for collaborating on the process, you’ll be amazed at the value that it provides.