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Striking a Balance Between Collaboration and Control

Striking a Balance Between Collaboration and Control

By Jeremy Thake

Adoption of enterprise collaboration management (ECM) software has been steadily on the rise over the last several years, as organizations worldwide hope to increase business productivity on a global scale.

This is evidenced by Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Content Management, which reports that the ECM market grew 7.2 percent in 2012 to reach a worldwide market size of $4.7 billion. 

But what do those numbers really mean?

They mean enterprise collaboration platforms aren’t going away, and your organization is likely going to employ one in the near future, if it isn’t already.

They mean that your organization will be able to collaborate on a global scale, with employees able to work together more efficiently than ever before.

And they mean that your organization will have to put some sort of standards and processes in place to control some of the content that will now be available to all in your highly collaborative environment.

Collaboration vs. Control

So how do you implement these processes to control content, without infringing on your employees’ ability to collaborate freely with one another?

You must strike a balance between collaboration and control.

This can be a delicate task, but doing so will result in the ideal collaborative state for your organization.

Let’s go over some of the arguments that can be made for either side.



Every organization is going to have employees who push for more collaboration, while others argue for increased control. Each side is going to lay out arguments and reasons why the balance should skew in their favor, but it’s important to find a middle ground.

Adoption – In order to achieve optimal collaboration throughout your workforce, your adoption rate among employees must be high. If you implement so many rules and controls that your ECM platform becomes cumbersome and hard to use, it’s unlikely that your employees will enthusiastically adopt the platform and all of the benefits that come along with it.

Keeping platform use “easy” and “free flowing” makes it more likely people will actually use your ECM to its full potential.

Single source of truth – One of the best things about an ECM platform is it allows your documents and data to live in one place that is available to everyone in the organization, creating a single source of truth. There’s no longer a need to save to your local drive and then email a document around for edits, which you’ll have to spend time patching together from numerous copies you receive in return.

Your document lives in once place and everyone can access it the same way.

Organizational control of data – Yes, we’re using the word “control” in the collaboration argument, but only because it makes sense. When your documents and data are in your ECM platform, your organization is in charge of maintaining it, not you. This is especially important when talking about your backup story. If you have something saved on your computer and your hard drive fails, you’re in trouble.

If your document is saved in your ECM platform and it gets corrupted, your organization can restore it for you. This element of control takes the onus off of the employee, which can make the experience less stressful and drive adoption. Everything comes full circle.


The obvious argument for implementing stringent controls into your ECM system is to ensure your sensitive data remains secure from people who shouldn’t be able to access it.

Organizations will also implement controls for purposes relating to document management and record management – after all, this data belongs to the organization, so it reserves the right to decide how it is managed.

An example is an organization enforcing the use of metadata for records management and legal reasons.

Organizations may require its employees to identify their content with metadata so it is easier to identify and find the content later on.

Even though this can be a cumbersome process for some and slow, or even block adoption, it is an important part of implementing a security model for ECM content.

Finding Your Balance

Not all content in your ECM platform needs control requirements, while some content may require stricter control than other content.

For example, data logged by your human resources team (addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, and payroll information), legal team (contracts and patents), or accounting department (audits and company revenue information) will need to be locked down to a specific group of users to avoid any sort of unintentional (or intentional) leak.

Those parts of your company could differ from another like your sales team, which might be spread out globally and has a large inventory of documents that they use when pitching products or services.

Perhaps the data in those documents isn’t as sensitive since it’s already public in nature, so there is less control needed, allowing for more freeform collaboration.

Also remember that you don’t want to lock content down just for the sake of locking it down.

Once you start putting controls in place to secure certain data, it creates a friction that makes it more difficult to collaborate and actually be able to accomplish tasks. Be vigilant and realistic when implementing your controls.

It would be much simpler if there was a standard method for each organization to balance collaboration and control, but unfortunately there is not.

It’s going to differ from organization to organization depending on factors like industry, sensitivity of data, or government standards. Striking the right balance may even take some trial and error, but if you stay vigilant and work at it, you’ll find the happy medium that your organization requires.

Jeremy Thake is AvePoint’s Vice President of Global Product Innovation. Jeremy utilizes his software consulting, development, and architect experience as well as his deep expertise in Microsoft technologies – recognized as a Microsoft SharePoint MVP since 2009 – to educate the global SharePoint community. Jeremy also works directly with enterprise customers and AvePoint’s research & development team to develop solutions that will set the standard for the next generation of collaboration platforms, including SharePoint 2013.

TAGS: Conferencing
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