IBM Connections Folders #3: working with folders

This blog is follow up in a series of blogs on Folders in IBM Connections. For full understanding I would recommend reviewing the previous blogs: #1: Community Folders and #2: Ownership of files and folders first.
 

When I was starting this series of blogs on the different options of sharing files & folders within IBM Connections it was mostly influenced by my own interest in how it all worked. As a Business Consultant specializing in both Document Management as well as Social Business anything having to do with structuring file management interests me. So after our test environment was upgraded to IBM Connections 4.5 CR4 I set out to test how the new Community Folders option fitted in with the two existing Folder options in IBM Connections: Shared Folders and CCM Folders.

Truth is that I find certain things kind of confusing...

A big part of this is that IBM Connections is a Social Platform, concentrated on offering users ways of sharing large quantities of information that is mostly unstructured. This, in contrast to ERP and document management systems that deal mostly in structured information. But the lines between structured and unstructured information is not as clear cut as most people would like it to be. Certain documents could fall in both categories depending on the user or situation and because of this you see that more and more solutions are trying to straddle the fence between structured & unstructured information management. With overlaps in functionality and requirements and often confusion as a result. It’s a common problem for most systems trying to manage diverse flows of information.

The place where this is most visible within IBM Connections is the way it handles Files & Folders.

Tagging

‘Social die-hards’ will tell you that in situations where unstructured information is stored and a need for organizing or categorizing arises, folders fall short. They advocate “tagging”, another feature IBM Connections has.

I agree! Tagging, a more fluid and user driven way of categorizing and linking files, can greatly help in making unstructured information more findable. Tagging, by being flat instead of hierarchically structured, allows a file to have numerous tags by numerous people. Often even giving weight to the number of people who tag something and how often it is tagged with the same tag. A file can have dozens of tags but in general can only be in one folder so when a file is not as unilaterally recognizable as belonging to one category folders often fall short as you have to choose, whereas tagging will simply allow you to have multiple completely unrelated tags.

The problem is though that users like folders. It gives them a sense of structure, and frankly…, they are used to it. Plus they sometimes offer additional options like limiting what users can do (CCM folders for instance that allow for approval cycles on documents added to their folders) and offering options to link folders to communities.

So IBM implemented folders. At first only as in Shared folders. And as it figured restricting files to only one folder wasn’t ‘social’ they gave files the option of being shared with more than one shared folder. That was actually quite inventive but users wanted more. They wanted nested folders. So then, with the advent of CCM, users got CCM Folders with security options and the much asked for option to nest folders (subfolders). That was a major change that a lot of users liked as it was something they were used to while using file shares. Unfortunately CCM did require additional licenses which, for a lot of organizations, proofed to be a big deterrent in implementing it. And lastly, with CR4, we now have Community folders.

Great! So enough choice for our users! What is the problem?

Confusion. That is the problem. When offering users features and functionalities you hope to offer them solutions that help them do their work. To do that they need to be aware of how it works and it needs to be logical. How can folders not be logical? You ask. Well, because folders in IBM Connections, as stated before, do not work the same as folders in for instance Windows. Regardless of what we think is logical in a social system, the users will always compare it to what they know, which in the case of ‘folders’ is windows. In a way, the first thing you need to teach your user therefore is that an IBM Connections folder is not a Windows Folder and once you’ve done that, you need to teach them that within IBM Connections a Folder is not a Folder either as CCM folders work differently from Community Folders and completely different from Shared Folders

Take for instance the fact that you can place (share) a file in more than one Shared Folder but only in one CCM or Community folder and there is your first confusion….

Functionality

Even I, after several days of testing all the ins and outs of the Folders functionality in IBM Connections find myself wondering how certain things work so what I did was to create a simple list of some key features and actions and how each of the folder types responded to it. Keep in mind that as Community Folders is still quite new, certain things might still be in the pipeline (like mobile support) and that overall, IBM is constantly updating and improving IBM Connections. Things might change over time. Another factor to keep in mind is that this is list is far from complete. There are so many more features I didn’t even touch on yet but I still wanted to at least share what I have. I might blog more on some other features in the future:

 

Adding files to folders:

An important thing to know when working with folders is how you get your files into the folders. Can you for instance select multiple files at once by having a file picker option or do you need to go into each file independently to add it to a folder?…

Getting files into the folder:

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community Folder
Does the folder have an option to upload files directly from the the pc? Yes, multiple at the same time Yes, multiple at the same time Yes, multiple at the same time
Does the folder have an option to add files to the folder that were uploaded into the community files first? No No Yes, multiple at the same time
Does the folder have an option to add files that were uploaded into your personal files first? Yes No No
Does the folder have an option to add files that were uploaded into a CCM Library (both the one in which the folder is located as well as others located in the same Community) first? No Not easily. You can’t select files within the same library to add to a folder in the “Add Files” interface but you can go into individual files and use the “Move to folder” option to get them there. But only for files in the same library. Yes, as long as that CCM Library is in the same community
Does the folder allow nested folders? (e.g. subfolders) No Yes No


Folder_13

Adding files is one thing, moving them around between folders another!

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community Folder
Can files uploaded as personal files be moved between folders? Yes No No
Can community files be moved between folders? No No Yes
Can CCM files be moved between folders? No Yes, but only within the library they are in. If a community has more then one CCM library (this is very well possible) then files cannot be moved between libraries No

 

Where do my Folders show up?

A big thing in working with any feature is that it’s behaviour is recognisable to the users. So I set out to test how folders and files in them are depicted to the users. Would they for instance be shown on the homepage of a community and how do you know in which folder a document is located?

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community Folder
Are the folders visible on the Homepage of the community? Yes, through a special “Folders” tab in the Files section No, you do see the most recently added files that are in it though in an overall list of files without indication in which folder they are stored Yes, through a special “Folders” tab in the Files section
Can you see files recently added to folders on the community Homepage? No, only in the Shared Folder itself. To see the files the user will have to open the Shared Folder On the Community Homepage all recent CCM files will be shown in the Files section including any added to a CCM folder. There are no folders visible on the Homepage so from the homepage it is impossible to see whether that file is in the Library or within a folder within the library. On the Community Homepage all recent files will be shown in the Files section including any added to a community folder.
Can you see on the details page of the file itself in which folder it is placed? Yes, on the Sharing tab you can see with which folders a file is shared No No
Are the folders available in the mobile app? (iOS tested) Yes Yes ? (I couldn’t test this with my setup)
Is the folder (and files within it) visible in the IBM Connections plugin for Windows Explorer? Yes Not yet, but it is accessible through the Quickr Dektop enabler plugin and inclusion into the standard Windows IBM Connections plugin is said to be planned for a later release this year No

 

Additional features:

Apart from the default options IBM Connections has some additional features you would normally not find in for instance a File system folder. These can help the user keep track of things changing and help them download document sets and are therefore great features!

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community Folder
Does the folder allow for subscribing to updates on the folder? (updates show up in the activity stream) No No Yes
Does the folder offer an RSS feed? Yes Yes Yes
Does the folder allow for bulk download of folder contents (e.g. all files in one ZIP file?) Yes No Yes

Folder_12

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It all works and all does what it needs to do but it doesn’t always work together or work together well. Moving files around, how you can share information in folders, where you see your information and what options you get… Each of these folder structures seems to have its own logic and implementation. That is what I find confusing and I’m sure a lot of users will find confusing too.

Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why certain things work differently and I can also understand that certain things are simply still under development (like the fact I can’t view community folders in my Windows Explorer plug-in) but the problem is most users might not understand if you don’t tell them. So there is a definite need, when implementing these features to explain them to your users. Better yet, come up with a content strategy.

In my next blog, the last of this series, I will talk a bit about the things you have to consider while deciding on how to use folders in IBM Connections.

IBM Connections Folders #2: Ownership of files and folders

This blog is follow up in a series of blogs on Folders in IBM Connections. For full understanding I would recommend reviewing #1: Community Folders first

Ownership is quite important in IBM Connection when it comes to data. Why? Well because ownership isn’t always straight forward and sometimes data shouldn’t be public.

Obvious! Why would you even need to say that?

Well… The premises of any social platform like IBM Connections is to share. That means that in theory the thinking is that every file you put into your social platform should be ‘public’ (e.g. findable and accessible to all). Reality of course is that this is not always the case. Even in a very ‘open’ organization certain files will still require protection and limited access. This is one of the reasons why users in IBM Connections can specify “Sharing” settings on files they upload as well as folders and communities they create, restricting access to only specific groups or users. The basic idea is though, and this is something you feel very clearly when working with IBM Connections, that everything is open, unless.

Storage

How you can limit access is partly determined by where the files are stored. Looking specifically at files you can say that IBM Connections allows for two* main storage points:

  1. By uploading it into a users personal Files section
  2. By uploading it into a community

In the first case, uploading a file into personal files, the file will always remain in the ownership of the user. The standard security level setting for personal files is ‘Private’, meaning no one can access apart from the owner. The owner can however decide to make a file ‘Public’ (accessible to all)  or grant specific Editor or Reader access to specific users, groups or communities. Ownership and full control will always remain with the original user though.

A file stored directly into the community however is different. Ownership of these files lies not with the user that uploaded it into the community but with the community. All users of that community from then on have equal rights to that document. This means that if the user uploads a file into a restricted community and is subsequently removed as a member of that community, the file remains in the community and is no longer accessible to the user that originally uploaded it.

A similar structure applies to folders. Folders created in a users personal files section will always remain in the ownership of that user. Folders created as Community folders and/or CCM folders however will always be property of the community, not the creating user. This also implies the biggest restriction which is that a folder created within a community or CCM Library can never be shared across communities while Folders created as personal folders can be shared with more then one community, group or user.

CCM folders have one added element to keep in mind which is that they allow for imposing additional access restrictions on folders by limiting edit access to specific subgroups of community users. You can for instance use this to restrict that only a few of the community users are allowed to edit the information in a CCM folder. Read access however will always be there to all community members though and the user creating the folder as well as the community owners cannot be revoked as owner of that folder unless they are removed from the community.

Shared folders versus Tags?

Which brings me to another peculiarity of shared folders…. A folder in the traditional sense as people know them from for instance their file drive is a place, a physical location to store a file. Meaning a file can only reside in one folder at the time. Shared folders however are different as a file can be added to more then one Shared folder. So in a way shared folders aren’t really ‘folders’ at all, they are collection sets and almost act the same as tags. After all a tag is nothing else then a categorization and several files having the same tag can be seen as a collection as well. The difference between a shared folder and a tag in IBM Connections is though, that you can control access and Share a shared folder and you can’t do that with a tag.

Folder_11So keep in mind that a Shared folder is significantly different from a community or CCM folder as those are more aligned to the standard concept of folders while Shared Folders in a way hold the middle between a Tag and a folder.

Shared folders & security

So… why would you create folders within communities if personal (Shared) folders give you more options to share across communities & user groups and allow you to have information in them that is also shared in other folders? Well because there are some risks with having shared folders. For one, users don’t always realize the implications of putting a file in a folder shared by someone else.

No problem if the community (and therefore the data in it) is public anyway but what if you have a Restricted community that has a shared folder which is also shared with another Community? A user might think that because he is adding a file to a folder within the Restricted community that therefore the file itself is also only shared within that community. Unknowingly though he might be sharing that file with other users & communities. Only if he actively opens the sharing tab will he see that it is also shared with other communities and therefore visible to not only the users of the (restricted) community he thought he was adding it to, but any other communities/users that folder was shared with as well.

Example of a folder with the ‘Sharing’ tab opened to show this folder was shared with two communities

In theory the user who originally created the folder and shared it with the community could even be removed from that community while his shared folder would remain shared and visible within the community. Which means that any files added to that folder by any other community member after the user was removed from the community would effectively still be accessible to the user (creator of the folder). Using Shared folders in Restricted communities is therefore something I would strongly discourage to prevent confusion. In these situations Community folders and/or CCM folders should definitely be the first line of choice. Shared folders should only be used to share public info where it is no problem that it is visible across several public communities

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Next up I will go into how you can work with the different types of folders and what differences and similarities are between them. I hope to publish this tomorrow.

 * Files can also be uploaded in other places like Activities and blogs but from a standpoint of file management I am leaving these out for now

 

IBM Connections Folders #1: Community Folders

Last week CR4 for IBM Connections 4.5 came out. An intermediate update that had a few new options for file management in IBM Connections. One of which was the ability to add Communities folders. Until now the standard option to get a folder in a community Files section was to create one in your personal files and share that with the community. Control and ownership would however remain with the user, not the community. This has now been extended with the option to create a folder specifically in a Community itself. It does however pose some questions as now there are two (or three – depending on if your organization has implemented CCM) types of folders a user can use within a community. And all have their own specific features and quirks so time to do a little comparison!

Ok, first of all… Folders in a social environment like IBM Connections don’t necessarily work the same as folders we are used to in for instance a file system. I’m not comparing them to that and I think neither should you. However…. as they are called folders and look like folders and in many ways act like those folders in an ordinary file system, users will think they are…  So it is important to understand what these folders in IBM Connections do exactly and how they function and to explain that to the user. It could make a big difference in keeping vital information safe and secure.

Folders in Communities

What type of folders do we have in IBM Connections Communities?

1). Shared Folders: In the personal files section of IBM Connections users have always had the option to create (Shared) folders. These can be used to organize files and can also be shared with either everyone (public) or with selective people/communities. If shared with a community the folder will show up in the folders tab of the Files section for that community. Files placed in the folder are visible to all users in the community as well as any other user or community that folder was shared with. Depending on the access given to the community by the original folder owner community members can also edit and even delete files in that folder.

2). CCM is a add-on feature that can be installed with IBM Connections to allow for (limited) document management features within Communities – including folders. The big difference to Shared & Community folders is that folders within CCM allow for nesting (subfolders, e.g. folders within folders) and for selectively limiting access to files for community members within folders and even the sub folder levels. In contrast: Community & Shared folders only have one access level which applies to the whole community they are shared with. Meaning that all community members are either reader, contributor or owner whereas a CCM Folder allows you to specify that for instance only a subset of community members can edit files in that folder and all others can only read. There is one restriction: Community members can never be denied access to a CCM folder. They will always have at least Reader access.

3). Community folders is the new kid on the block. This feature came out with version 4.5 CR4 and allows users to create folders directly in the Community Files. Why is this important? Well because ownership of that folder now solely lies with the community. A community folder can never be shared outside the community and someone who leaves the community (if it is a restricted community) will no longer have access to the folder or community files in it. Community folders also allow you to selectively “Follow” a folder. A great option if you want to be informed of updates to a specific folder but not to other community events.

Example of a folders section in the community files showing both a community as well as shared folder:
 shared and community folders
Example of a CCM folder containing both several files as well as a subfolder:
CCM folder

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So… Now we know what we have it is time to look at some important things to keep in mind while using folders. In the next few days I will go into this in a few follow up blogs. First up is how Ownership is arranged in the different types of folders, so keep tuned

 

Shared folders – potential security issue

IBM Connections allows users to share personal folders with groups, communities and users. An ideal option to share sets of documents/files with multiple target audiences at the same time. There are however some caveats. Especially in situations where Shared Folders are used to share potentially sensitive information with Restricted (secured) communities. If your organization uses Shared Folders I would strongly advise looking at the below example to get an idea of the potential risks so you can assess if this is something that could cause problems in your organization:

An example:

User A creates a Shared Folder in his personal IBM Connections Files and places some files in it.

Folder_1

He then shares this folder with a community called “Demo Community” of which he is a member and which has restricted access. The folder is now visible and accessible in the Demo community to all community members:

folder_2

Both User A as well as the community members can see the folder is shared with the community in the “Sharing” tab of the folder itself:

Folder_3

The Community admin then decides that User A should no longer be allowed access to the information in the community and revokes his access. User A cannot longer open the community.

As the Test folder was a personal folder that he shared with the Demo community though, User A is still able to access the folder from his personal Files&Folders section. If he looks at the  “Sharing” tab of the folder there is no mention of the Demo Community anymore, it looks as if it is a private folder:

Folder_5

In reality though, the folder is still shared with the Demo Community and both visible and accessible to the members of that community. If they look at the “Sharing” tab of the Test Folder, “Demo Community” ís shown:

Folder_10Effectively this means that they can still access, edit, delete and add files in the folder from within the community:

Folder_9

When they do, User A can see and access these newly added files in his folder but it must be very confusing for him to see users that are not listed in his Sharing settings perform actions on files in his folder:

Folder_8

So what’s the problem?

a). User A doesn’t see the name of the “Demo Community” as an entity with which this folder is shared after he was taken out of the community, so he has no way of knowing it is still accessible to the community members.

b). Because he can’t see that it is still shared with the restricted community, he can’t remove the sharing option either. Effectively this means he has no control over the folder access anymore apart from deleting the whole folder.

c). Even though he is no longer part of the Demo Community, his folder is. Users in that community (which is restricted) would have a reasonable expectation that the  information they share within that community is limited only to members of that community. In reality though any files they place in this folder will be visible to User A (no longer a member of the community) and any other communities, groups or users he chooses to share the folder with.

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I understand that the above situation is extreme and not likely to happen very often but it is important to be aware of this.  There are other options that can be used instead of Shared Folders like CCM folders and the new Community folders (released in CR4 of IBM Connections 4.5). These are not owned by a user but by the community and would therefore not impose the same security flaw. I will be publishing another blog on the differences between Shared, Community and CCM folders over the next few days for those interested.

IBM Connections 4.5 and Connections Content Manager available

As announced the IBM Connections 4.5 release and the Connections Content Manager add-on were made available for download today through the appropriate channels. The following sites give information on features, links to relevant content and pricing:

Enjoy!

slides: Social Document Management and CCM (BLUG 2013)

BLUG 2013 Leuven (delivered March 22nd 2013)

PDF version for those who prefer that over slideshare: blug2013-Social document mgt

IBM Connections 4.5 and Connections Content Manager release dates announced

IBMCNXLogoIBM outdid itself this time by announcing the release of IBM Connections 4.5 and the new Connections Content Manager for March 29th 2013. Only 2 months after first presenting it at IBM Connect.

On top of the great new features IBM Connections 4.5 offers, Connections Content Manager will additionally offer document management functionality like checkin-checkout, nested folders, versioning & draft control as well as integrated access security to organize and control content within the IBM Connections communities. A great addition to an already great platform! To see why this could be important to you check out a blog about the new functionalities I did a few weeks back based on the announcements at IBM Connect. It should give you an indication of what to expect.

For those interested in seeing what all this will entail there will be a webcast about IBM’s social business platform hosted by IBM tomorrow (March 13th) where both IBM Notes Social 9 Edition as well as IBM Connections 4.5 & Connections Content Manager will take center stage. Don’t wait too long and register now, this is one you don’t want to miss!

  • Announcements letter for IBM Connections & Connections Content Manager (available March 29th): link
  • Announcement letter for IBM Notes 9 Social Edition (available March 21st): link

Connections Content Manager: Social document management in IBM Connections

One of the more exciting announcements at IBM Connect 2013 to me was, without doubt, the announcement of the enhanced CCM (IBM Connections Content Manager) edition. “Exciting?” you ask? Yes exciting but apparently not to all as I was amazed to find it got quite a lukewarm response from a lot of others around me. Ok, yes, I know, Document Management is my main area of interest so of course it would get me excited but I think a lot of people really didn’t grasp what it meant and what impact it can have and I can’t blame them as it is a difficult topic.

To be honest even I am still struggling to get all the details so to clarify it a bit I made a list of the things I got from all the announcements, sessions and discussions I had in the labs. Hopefully this will help others to better grasp why this is exciting and why it’s worth taking a good look at.

CCM, what is it?

  • CCM integrates Libraries with document management capabilities (Filenet) right into IBM Connections Communities by provisioning them directly from IBM Connections itself;
  • Provisioned libraries don’t have to be pre-created in a separate system but are in fact created right from the community itself when the Community manager (not necessarily an admin!) adds a Library widget, making it as simple as adding a wiki or blog to the community;
  • Security on the library is taken from the community (and updated on change!);
  • Community managers can create not just one but multiple libraries per community;
  • Community managers can set a name and document type to be used for that library (either one specific document type or all available) from the settings section within Connections;
  • Community managers can also set a parallel approval cycle on documents and determine whether users can add approvers to individual documents or not and determine if all or only one needs to approve;
  • Options to edit/add documents on the libraries/folders within the libraries can be restricted (community members will however always have at least read access to released documents);
  • There will be a special licensing model for Connections Content Manager edition (exact numbers haven’t been mentioned yet but indications are that pricing would be comparable to the current IBM Connections + Quickr model)

But what does this mean to the users?

  • Created libraries can hold nested folder structures which means we get actual and functional folders (and sub-folders!) with folder security in communities;
  • Meta data on the documents (determined by the document type) is visible and editable through the connections environment;
  • Check-in and Check-out & robust versioning guarantee single point of truth;
  • Better life-cycle management as authors can limit access to draft documents to themselves and any other editors they would like to include while released documents become available to all;
  • Automatic approval cycles on documents with the option of adding more approvers to individual documents on top of the ones set by the community owner;
  • Full social capabilities on the library documents (e.g. Likes, comments, following, download count, etc);
  • Full activity stream integration so updates and approval actions become visible in the streams as well;
  • Full and integrated Text & Meta-data search from within IBM Connections with the option to refine on Document types and meta-data fields across the community.

Ok. Nice… “but what is the difference between this and what was already there with the linked Library option we had for Filenet?

  • The Library components can now be installed right from the Connections Installer (it’s literally an option in the installer app). They can be added to the existing Connections Websphere Cell or to a separate one. Alternatively an existing Filenet environment can be used to provision the new libraries (teamspaces) but in general you don’t need full Filenet knowledge anymore to set it up;
  • Previously used Linked libraries had to be created and set up in Filenet first and required administrative involvement, the new Libraries don’t. Community managers can set them up and manage them independently. the only administration needed is to initially set up the document types to be used;
  • Multiple libraries can now be added to a single community to address different types of documents;
  • Administration of the new library (name, library/folder/document security, approval workflow settings, etc) are all set and managed from a settings configuration within IBM Connections, limiting the administrative load on the library depository side and allowing Community managers to manage their libraries themselves;
  • The documents in the libraries are fully indexed for searching from IBM Connections, including filtering on document types and meta data, making it a seamless integration instead of a separate container;
  • The library documents get the full social components from IBM Connections;
  • Out-of-the-box and seamless activity stream integration is included so reviews and updates appear in the users activity stream.

But what about….

  • IBM Docs, will it work with that? Well they are looking at that;
  • Document types?: You will still have to set them up through the library repository but once you’ve done that you are free to go and reuse those for any community. It’s just a question of really thinking through your file management requirements and setting it up and you’re all set to go;
  • Windows desktop client / browser plug-in / Microsoft Office plugins? Development of these are in a separate track but already underway. No ETA yet on when though;
  • Offline files like the new option for the personal files? ………. (silence there, still waiting for an answer);
  • Quickr? IBM will provide a migration agent to get documents from Quickr into the new libraries, but keep in mind there are some restrictions on this. I’ll try to write another blog on that;
  • Mobile?? Definitely being worked on and expected not too long after the release of IBM Connections 4.5

So all in all I think there is some neat things in there that are going to help a lot of customers who are currently hitting the limitations of file management in IBM Connections and don’t necessarily require full blown and complex workflow and document management. It brings together both the social as well as basic document management requirements a lot of companies have and in that respect is very exciting news.

It will be intriguing to see how additional requirements like complex workflow or specific meta-data requirements will be met in the future. For now those would still require a separate  license and use of for instance Filenet and the Content Navigator interface but as I understand the open social and CMIS standards that are used throughout Filenet and IBM Connections do mean more integration on these areas could be possible too.

So I’m excited! I can’t wait to get my hands on this and love that this is not something that is far away on some road map but will be released with the IBM Connections 4.5 code stream end of Q1. I think it will be a definite enrichment to IBM Connections and would encourage any customer with file management issues to take a good look at this.

 

Session Slides: BP303 Taxonomy versus Folksonomy, Document Management in a Social Age

The below slides belong to my session for IBM Connect 2013 on Document Management in a Social Age.

 BP303 Taxonomy versus Folksonomy: Document Management in a Social Age
With the rise of social business and platforms like IBM Connections, many companies are re-evaluating their document strategies. Ideals of employee-driven sharing, tagging and folksonomies are desired, but is all documentation really suited for the freedom of ?social?? Do some types require more structure, process and control? If so, how do you determine this and integrate it with your social ambitions? This session will cover the principles of document management and social file-sharing. You’ll learn how concepts like versioning, meta-data, retention, record and lifecycle management are important to you. We’ll show you how to identify key requirements for document management within your organization and teach you how to strategically plan your way forward.