Business technology

Cloud technology: Ending the ‘track changes’ nightmare

- February 29, 2012 2 MIN READ

If you find the ‘track changes’ function in your word processing program frustrating, look to cloud technology for more user-friendly solutions.

Is this a familiar scenario? You create a document and send it off to three colleagues for feedback. Later in the week you start updating the document only to find that two of them have edited the original document, and you can’t get hold of the third person to see whether they’ve made any changes to their copy.

“Who’s got the latest version?” is a typical game played out in offices around the world, and can waste time and lead to frustration. It’s one of the reasons that storing and sharing documents in the cloud rather than by email makes so much sense.

Microsoft and Google have developed online platforms for storing documents such as spreadsheets, presentations and text documents. The crucial difference is that the document creator doesn’t send the document to colleagues. Instead he invites them to edit the single version that’s stored in the cloud.

The consequences of cloud technology are profound:

  • You never have more than one version of the document
  • Every collaborator can view the document at the same time, see the changes of others immediately and add their changes simultaneously
  • You always know where the latest version of your document is.

“I can’t tell you how enlightening that was, that I don’t have to ask for the latest version. If there’s something I’m unhappy about, like the format of the monthly board report, I can edit it myself knowing full well that it’s locked in, rather than passing the message on and hoping it gets to the person with the final version and gets included,” the CEO of a Sydney-based business told me recently.

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Documents shared online using cloud technology are less likely to be forgotten in a dusty folder on the network hard drive. Document search is a key function of cloud platforms and because there is only one version of a document you can be sure that it’s the right one you need to update or refer to.

But what if you want to look at a document at a certain point in its lifespan? Instead of thumbing through past versions you can look at the document history, which in Google’s case is saved directly within the document.

It’s like opening the history tab in your browser – you see the document as it was on a particular day or even time and the edits that were made then.

While Microsoft and Google’s cloud platforms let you share a single document, Microsoft has still retained the ability to keep versions. Corporate users may appreciate the paper trail and the ability to “check out” a document from SharePoint Online.

But for soloists and small businesses with more modest needs, saying goodbye to the ‘track changes’ vortex can be liberating and highly productive.

Have you ventured into cloud technology for your collaborative documents yet? What has the outcome been?