Workshare Mobile is like Dropbox and Track Changes on iOS steroids

Credit:Adam Grabek via Flickr

Workshare, which released its first mobile app for iOS this week, is a company that focuses on the intersections of many today's consumerization trends. Its goal is to make it easy and seamless for users to share documents, compare revisions, review changes, and ultimately collaborate in real time. Another way of putting that is that the Workshare helps businesses solve what CTO Barrie Hadfield calls the "Dropbox problem."

It's a common concern for CIOs, IT leaders, and security professionals at businesses all over the world: as consumer cloud storage providers like Dropbox become increasingly common, many knowledge workers are finding it easier to share files and collaborate using them rather than traditional document and file sharing systems. Although Dropbox is the most iconic of these services, it is really just one out of many services that employees use instead of solutions provided or vetted by their IT departments.

The biggest reason employees turn to these services is that they offer a better experience than traditional corporate file sharing. That can mean freedom from restrictive permissions, the ability to access documents outside of the corporate network, and the ability to share information with colleagues in other departments or outside the company altogether. It can also mean features like revision histories that make it easy to compare and roll back changes to a single file or to a large set of documents, as well as the ability to collaborate using social tools instead of traditional desktop applications and email.

While these tools offer users many benefits in terms of efficiency, general productivity, and ease of access, they introduce a number of important concerns. The biggest concern is security. Once the files leave the corporate network, there are often no security safeguards to them. Often there is no audit trail to determine if documents have been put into personal cloud storage or to determine who can access them or what changes are made to them. Beyond the obvious security issues, that can lead to files being stored in many different private data silos. Different versions may be floating around and some people that might be able to contribute to projects or documentation may never see the documents and thus be shut out of the process -- either intentionally or unintentionally.

The old IT wisdom of simply banning or blocking these sites is an exercise in futility. With the sheer number of cloud services out there and the number of mobile devices in the workplace today, employees can easily find other options or work around IT restrictions. The only real solution is to give employees a better option, one that addresses their needs and that provides security and enterprise features like granular permissions and file auditing.

Providing an easy to use and enterprise-grade alternative to Dropbox is important, but there are a number solutions that provide that. What makes Workshare special and interesting is that it goes beyond that basic need.

Workshare stands out with its document comparison and collaboration tools. While document comparison is built into a range of consumer and business solutions, the most obvious being the Track Changes feature in Office, they can be cumbersome to use, particularly when documents are being updated by several authors. If you've ever tried to review or edit a Word document with heavy edits by ten different contributors, making sense of the overlapping changes and comments, you know that it can give you eye strain and make you feel like you're staring at a technicolor spiderweb rather than a business document. In that situation, even determining the order in which changes were made and comments were added can be both a challenge and a drain on productivity.

Workshare is designed to make comparing different revisions of a document much simpler and, because it supports file auditing, it can easily show which changes were made since you last looked at the document. That makes comparing different revisions of the document much more straightforward. Auditing also allows you to know who looked at or reviewed the document, even if they didn't make any changes or comments. The service integrates with Office and enterprise document management solutions -- including SharePoint.

These features -- Dropbox-like ease, enterprise security, document comparison -- play heavily in the company's first mobile initiative. The WorkShare Mobile app for iPhone and iPad (an Android version is also in the works) has a distinctly Dropbox-like interface and experience. It actively syncs available content between an iOS device and the corporate network for offline use. The app includes support for user authentication, secure data transmission and storage, and focuses on the company's expertise as a collaboration and comparison tool. The result is a solution that not only meets security enterprise needs, but also delivers functionality than Dropbox while still feeling familiar to Dropbox users.

One interesting choice that the company made in Workshare Mobile was the decision to not try to be everything for everybody. Although it allows users to review, share, and comment on documents, it doesn't try to act as an Office replacement. If you need to edit documents on the go, it allows you to do so via existing iOS apps like QuickOffice, Office2, Documents 2 Go, or Apple's iWork. It augments these existing tools instead of trying to mimic or replace them. That's a great approach because it lets Workshare do what it does best and because it allows users to edit documents using their preferred apps.

Workshare also offers a social collaboration suite called Workshare Social that can integrate with its collaboration and document management products. As of this point, that social service isn't a major focus of the company's mobile app, though Hadfield noted that the company is planning to expand the app in a number of ways including its social integration.

All in all, Workshare is a solution that touches on multiple consumer trends in the workplace and manages to offer a unique set of integrated products as a result. It also seems like a company that has been destined to provide a powerful mobile solution for business users. I, for one, am excited to see where the company goes with its mobile efforts over the next six to eighteen months.

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