Box and other Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) tools have been very successful filling the next generation document collaboration needs. Like SharePoint before it, Box and other tools, while being great at sharing files, being successful in collaboration doesn’t necessarily lead to success in ECM. Back in December of 2016, we wrote an article on 9 market reasons Box would never be a serious ECM alternative
For this post, rather than market thoughts, we will share our experience with some of the ECM deficiencies of Box
Below are typical problems enterprises experience when they with Box when it comes to serious ECM requirements:
I Cannot find document “X” – the need for meta-data search and governance
Box, like shared drives and SharePoint, has limited search options. As the amount of content stored in Box grows, so does the ability to easily find documents. Searching quickly becomes an important feature since navigating through an exponentially growing folder structure will quickly become unrealistic. However, the search capability within Box are very primitive. Full-text search is the primary option, and this type of search brings back too much noise/documents to sift through. We have discussed it here before – too often users might want a “Google” search but – given ECM needs is that really realistic. See related post on What to do if you users ask for just a good search. Setting of property/attribute values (Department = “Accounts Payable”) is not an option in Box. Box does provide a Keyword property field. However, the user is not required to complete this field, the user can enter any term they wish creating little added benefit (Box does not have a concept of required drop down metadata fields). Too often, when users cannot locate the document, they upload another version creating duplicate content and more issues down the line (See below for “What version is Final?”)
The Box Sprawl will eventually happen. When content becomes “important” (Final, Approved, > 1 department needing access) it is time to think about a more robust content management system for storage of these documents. True ECM tools can enforce the users to enter in specific property or metadata for a document (Department Name, Product, etc.). These small, but important steps, have significant positive downstream impact when users want to locate content.
I Need Better Security - Governance on document and folder security
Box has limited security options available. Box only supports security at the top folder level. Companies typically require many different security models creating a very flat folder structure, with numerous folders at the first level. As an example, for an HR scenario, if HR creates an “Employee” folder that would contain a subfolder on each employee, any user with access to the “Employee” folder can see all content and subfolders in that Employee folder. To limit access so each employee can only can see their HR content, Box users would have to create one folder for each employee.
This flat folder structure quickly becomes difficult to navigate and increases user frustration when looking for documents. The other issue with security is that when a company starts to secure the folders on a per user basis, new users do not realize these “hidden” folders exist and start to recreate the content in a new area causing content duplication.
Files that need to be secured should not be stored in Box. These files should be stored and managed in a true ECM tool where document security is much more flexible, and multiple permutations of security are available (browse, view, annotate, edit, delete, etc.). Robust ECM tools offer document-level security to meet a variety of different security requirements.
Which Version is Final – Governance on Document LifeCycle
Because the Box interface is a simple Internet Explorer-like interface, users almost always create a new document instance each time a document is modified. As a result, it is common that numerous instances of the same document are stored in Box with file names of “Title-ER comments”, “Title-Final”, “Title-Final Final”, etc. The added potential that copies of the same document may be stored in multiple locations (See notes above – when a user cannot find a document, they create another instance), which version is final quickly becomes a really big problem.
When documents move past the collaboration stage, they need to be stored in an electronic content management system that contains the tools the enforce versioning and prevent document duplication. Having a single place for Final/Approved documents is an important governance principal that will significantly reduce end user frustration as well as time and money spent searching for the final document.
I need to route a Document for Review/Approval – Workflow Governance
While Box has basic workflow, Box does not have the ability to route a document for review or approval or the ability to gather electronic signatures. Electronic workflow functionality is very complex, so while some EFSS software providers may be looking to add this feature, make sure you understand exactly what can and can’t be done with Workflow. Most workflow tools do not provide ability to gather approvals both concurrently and sequentially or a combination (Route to QA first, followed by all other approvers concurrently). Other key features of a workflow tool would be the ability to easily see who has/has not completed their approval task, the ability to proxy an inbox, or reassign a workflow task when a user is unexpectedly out. Workflow solutions with limited features will provide a bigger headache than a manual approval process.
Workflow is a core feature in any ECM tool. ECM tools come standard with the functionality mentioned above and have been doing it well for many years. Box and EFSS tools are just at the beginning stages and will most likely go through years of growing pains before getting it right.
Integration with other applications
When documents need to be accessed by other applications (SAP, Learning Management Systems, etc.), it is well past the time to move it out of Box and into a controlled ECM solution where the secondary application can either link to the content or integrate with your ECM tool. The Box/EFSS interface, where users make changes as if they were on a local/network drive, is not secure or controlled enough.
Box and other collaboration tools are not setup to manage final documents; rather, their strength lies in document collaboration simple (think many draft versions). When sharing content with other systems it is best to make sure that content being stored is final, controlled, and secure.
While Box and other EFSS software store documents, they typically lack robust document capabilities (search, workflow, properties per document type, etc.) to manage a document throughout its entire lifecycle. Users looking to have better control and management of documents will eventually be disappointed with what Box or other EFSS tool can readily provide. When Box/EFSS reaches this point, we would recommend looking at a more robust ECM solution.
For additional background information on two leading ECM solutions, download our Documentum Alfresco Comparison Paper.