Share. Collaborate. Profit. It sounds so simple doesn’t it? The file sharing phenomenon is a major trend across both consumer and enterprise, with a deluge of collaborative platforms both large and small. After watching all the shiny demos from Office 365 / SkyDrive to Salesforce Chatter it’s easy to believe that we are at the dawn of a new era: where mankind shall break the bonds of earthly file systems and ascend into the glory of the cloud. Make business social! Stand back mortals, we’re creating value. But, there’s a wee problem, as a species we have a certain trait that even the most meticulously designed system has difficulty overcoming: we can make data landfills like no one else’s business.
It’s a problem as old as the pillars of the universe: trying to create order from chaos. Left to our own devices, we humans tend to leave things around in piles, with varying levels of disorganization ranging from pseudo-alphabetical to “Holy Crap, when was the earthquake?”. Some of us prefer to be organized and spend considerable time tidying up our piles, under the crucible of pressing schedules we often devolve into piles bereft of meaning. “We’ll sort it later”, we tell ourselves. The more organized half of us also tends to see a certain ownership in the piles, which can be difficult for the rest of us who consider this pile just as good as that pile. Despite all the revolution in technology and tools, we’ve been stacking piles haphazardly for some time, and continue to do so.
In order to understand what bearing all of this has on today’s enterprise collaboration, let’s step through the history of digital landfills:
Digital Landfill 1.0: Well before there were any digital landfills, the data landfills were quite physical, existing on desks, in file cabinets, on the floor, by the window, in the shrubbery, you name it. We lost much data this way – because if no one could find it again – it was gone forever. The data might as well have never existed. Thankfully computers came along. However, it was still possible to lose data. Finding lost data again became a simpler process, though not always that simple. You could also copy the data easily. In our collective desire to avoid losing any more data we each started to copy things into our own little piles manifested as folders and subfolders. Pretty soon there were twenty versions of everything and Digital Landfill 1.0 was born, broken across individual machines and media.
Digital Landfill 2.0: Digital landfill 1.0 reached a breaking point when engineering CAD files were componentized, and our collective copying habit had to come to a bitter and reluctant end. PDM was invented for precisely this problem. Over time, some really smart people began to postulate that a PDM level of control would be useful for all the other piles outside of engineering CAD. Organizing and assigning ownership/relationships to all the piles allowed for end-to-end processes that would see PDM slowly expand into PLM. And with PDM and PLM came another benefit: centralization. But not all was right in the world… PLM essentially says: make your pile perfect. Right now, or I’ll beat you with this sternly worded dialog box. This was OK with the engineers who generally liked perfect piles, but the others they resisted. And so things like Sharepoint came along, that promised centralization, but a little more room to maneuver (and copy again), and before long we were all happily making a wondrous centralized labyrinth of piles that would defy description. That would be Digital Landfill 2.0
Digital Landfill 3.0: Now as the enterprise endures the social invasion, sharing trends have birthed one “repository” after another. The phenomenon is so prolific that it’s starting to unravel the centralization that was a particular highlight during the Digital Landfill 2.0 era. That’s because the tools that have arrived are easy, attractive, and user centric. How else would they be so popular? And that invariably means piles like you’ve never seen before. Everywhere. Instead of piles on the server we have piles across the cloud, which in itself is a pile of servers. Mind blown, welcome to Digital Landfill 3.0.
Let’s observe Digital Landfill 3.0 in action by observing the natives. Imagine a meeting today… chances are it’s a teleconference:
Manager: OK, let’s start the meeting. Slides are available on Sharepoint.
Supplier: I don’t have access to Sharepoint. I have the latest inspection reports on Chatterb….er, I mean Salesforce Files.
Engineer: I don’t know how to get to Salesforce whatever, but the latest CAD model is on GrabCAD
Contracts: What’s GrabCAD? I’ve got comments in Box.
Manager: You mean Dropbox?
Engineer #2: I have Dropbox!
Contracts: No Box…Notes.
Manager: Notes box?
Engineer: Lotus Notes?
Engineer #2: I like Dropbox better.
Manager: Maybe we need to reschedule.
Test Engineer: Sorry I’m late – I just sent you an email with a link to Google Drive. No wait… I think it’s Sky Drive.
Manager: Can’t you bind Salesforce to Google Drive?
Test Engineer: Yeah, well I used Sky Drive. Sorry. I guess I’ll just forward it with YouSendit… I mean Hightail
Manager: What tail?
Engineer: Lotus Notes?
Contracts: No Box…Notes.
Test Engineer: Third base.
Engineer #2: I still like Dropbox better.
Manager: That’s enough collaboration for today.
So the example is a bit ridiculous, but not all that far-fetched. Thanks to the proliferation of social technologies, we can make a mess of piles previously unimaginable. And we are. Despite efforts like Saleforce Files which aims to bridge multiple sharing repositories, what’s been lost are the relationships that made centralization particularly effective. Maintaining a cohesive lifecycle understanding is now more challenging than ever and it’s going to take some fresh thinking going forward.
Where are your piles?