Think of the last exploratory proposal or engineering contract your company sent out the door. Did one single employee create it? Nope. It probably involved multiple contributors, perhaps from different departments within your organization, and maybe even across regions and time zones.
You were collaboratively writing the document, i.e., person X wrote jointly and in collaboration with person Y and Z, and so on. It might have been a bumpy ride toward the deadline, depending on what collaboration tool your team is using, but you worked together to produce a common document.
Was this teamwork really co-authoring, though? I mean, was it true collaboration, or was it merely group writing, with two or more persons working together to produce a document? Those are different animals.
In the business document production game, the difference between the two can mean winning or losing a multi-million contract.
Four Steps to Getting Co-Authoring Right
When you have 20 people working on a 500-page high-stakes, highly complex document, you need a process and a solution that truly supports your desired outcome. Surprisingly many companies do not have these two crucial factors in place, and they end up bleeding revenue.
Is your current document creation process frequently forcing your team members to go on a caffeine spree into the wee hours before the deadline hits? If so, you need to get co-authoring right.
Let’s look at four best practices for efficient co-authoring in 2021.
1. Explore Software Solutions Tailor-Made for Co-Authoring
Too many companies are still creating their business-critical documents using standard, file-based document management and desktop publishing tools. Consequently, they end up with a serial production process that undermines their ultimate goal with the document.
Why? Because file-based solutions are not built for co-authoring. The workarounds lack the document control tools necessary to manage content effectively through each step in the co-authoring process.
With a software solution that enables co-authoring, the whole team works on the same document in real time – regardless of where they are located at any given time. This means that the content review and approval process can start in parallel with the content creation.
File sharing, on the other hand, is a check-in and check-out process where you need to break down your document into multiple files, and co-authors don’t really work on the same document at the same time. This can cause confusion and difficulties battling version control, and hassling with formatting layers and numbering.
It all adds up to frustrated workers, wasted time, and undue risk.
So the first, crucial step toward succeeding with co-authoring is: Invest in software purpose-built for enterprise co-authoring. This is what you need to look for.
2. Move to a Content-Centric Co-Authoring Solution
Unlike document collaboration tools designed for file sharing, true co-authoring solutions enable knowledge workers to truly focus on what matters most in business document production – namely content.
Choose co-authoring software that is content-centric, i.e., a solution built on a central content repository in a database. This means your content is stored in an enterprise-wide database. In this way, your team utilizes centralized content that is reflected over the entire organization. The same section can be used in multiple documents, and when updated, those changes are reflected across the full spectrum of enterprise content. Once updated, those changes go ‘live.’
A content-driven approach to document creation and management will provide your team with content that is open and transparent, allowing contributors to easily get access to the content they need. If someone is away sick or busy with other tasks, co-writers can easily continue writing and complete the document.
When something needs to be communicated, you simply add a comment in the document and explain what changes need to be done. The writer will then be notified, so he or she can make the change.
Moreover, databases eliminate version control issues, making file-management problems and their respective costs a thing of the past. The best co-authoring solutions even eliminate the dreaded time vacuum of manually editing, formatting, and numbering.
This is how you can collaborate seamlessly across departments and create large and complex documents faster, with higher quality. In other words, genuine co-authoring ensures a whole new level of controlled, parallel team collaboration around your company’s most important documents.
Read more: Take file sharing to the next level with proposal co-authoring
3. Understand the Current Need for Access
Co-authoring is a collaborative process, but not every contributor needs to see every part of the document as it is being constructed. It is important to allow collaboration to continue with agility and efficiency without compromising data security and privacy.
Establish the ability to restrict access dynamically, as needed, to the whole document or only parts and pieces. A high-quality co-authoring solution allows you to implement security measures to ensure only the right team members have access to certain content.
4. Break Down Information Silos
Collaboration in many organizations is hindered by the fact that information is not reflected consistently across the enterprise. The ability to collaborate seamlessly on the same document with external data sources integrated into the document can give massive efficiency gains while increasing quality.
Break down the silos between departments and data, while keeping control of the process and access.
The benefits of adopting a more strategic approach to co-authoring are compelling, especially if you’re an enterprise organization regularly working with highly complex, high-value documents.
Look for providers and partners with the right mix of expertise, capabilities, and vision that will allow you to make the most of co-authoring and take your document creation process to the next level.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in July 2020 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.