The Challenge:

Our client, First Steps For Kids, a community service organization that specializes in improving the lives of children diagnosed with Autism and related developmental and behavioral disorders, were in the process of expanding. With new offices planned in multiple cities, the traditional file system they had been using to share files between employees in their single office location was not capable of handling a geographically-distributed workforce. In addition, First Steps wanted to make it easy for multiple authors, no matter their location, to collaborate on writing a single document. Therefore, there was also the need of executives to be able to work with the rest of the team, even when they were away from their office and accessing the files from their iPad.

The Solution:

In order to successfully fulfill the growing needs of First Steps for Kids, it was essential that we determine the best solution by examining both their changing technical—and workflow—needs.

First, we looked at the technical requirements. Most companies residing in a single office space manage just fine with a local file server and the default assumption is that when the company expands, it will be handled through that same file server with the added step of using a VPN. However, when looking deeper at this possible solution, there are actually several ways that a file server begins to fail a growing organization. In the long term, the workflow of using a VPN becomes cumbersome and can be frustrating.  Furthermore, if you try to open files directly in an application, they become corrupt if the VPN fails during transfer. Sometimes this can even happen during saves without any indication of the failure. Typically, in a single office, if you need a file, you navigate to the shared drive, locate your file, and double-click to open it right from the server. For example, if Mary opens a file from the server and Bob wants the same file, he can’t open it because the server has locked it while Mary is using it. Following theses same steps via a VPN connection is not practical, and in some cases, simply isn’t possible because it takes too long to open the file across the Internet. This often leads staff to copy the file onto their local drive in order to edit it, and then copy it back to the server when they’re done. This, in turn, leads employees to unknowingly overwrite the work of other staff who have been editing the same document (e.g., Mary and Bob both copy the document to work on it; Mary finishes and puts her new copy back, then Bob does the same, accidentally overwriting Mary’s). The only alternative is a complex versioning process and later reintegration of the different documents, which is not only time consuming, but would most likely cause confusion and a headache along the way to boot.

Keeping all this in mind, we then investigated the workflow needs of First Steps for Kids. We reviewed the file-sharing system that had previously suited them and determined how they needed to share documents, all the while keeping in mind that when dealing with confidential information about children, issues of security and access are paramount. We spent considerable time with the staff to discuss imperative questions, such as: which files were available to everyone and which were private, who might need access to everything, and who will be collaborating on new files and what kind of files will they be?

Once we had a clear understanding of both their technical and workflow needs and desires, we began researching the optimal solution. In the end, the product best suited to their needs was Kerio Workspace, a document-management system that incorporates document check-in/check-out (e.g., Mary checks out a file to work on it on her laptop. Bob follows behind, but is alerted that Mary has already checked the file out. He is then given the option to either open a read-only copy or wait for Mary to check it back in, at which point he would be notified by email that she has done so), thus avoiding “version confusion.” Some of the other detailed features of Workspace that aligned this system so well with the needs of First Steps included: 1) versioned, collaborative editing of most standard business documents (e.g., DOCX, XSLX, PDF and others); 2) wiki-like information to accompany files; 3) “watching” of files so you know when a page or document has been updated by someone else; 4) strong user- and group-based permission structure; 5) remote access to files and information via the web-client; 6) simple mobile access from an iPhone, iPad or other mobile device .

After a comprehensive demonstration of the capabilities of Workspace, First Steps for Kids decided to give it a go. After installing the new software, we undertook training sessions with key personnel before it was implemented, allowing time for them to become more intimate with the new software as well as train the rest of their staff. We worked with them to explore the organization of their data and the new possibilities that Workspace offered for organizing, indexing, and searching through their data. In the end—and after only a few weeks—their current data was being migrated into Workspace and the organization had enthusiastically embraced the new software.

The End Result:

Due to the unique features of Kerio Workspace and our commitment to a comprehensive process in finding the best technological and business solutions for our clients, First Steps For Kids made a smooth transition—successfully expanding into their new offices without losing track of any of the organization’s data.

Additional Note for the Geekishly Inclined

Kerio Workspace is a SharePoint alternative that works well in mixed Mac and Windows environments. It offers file sharing, collaboration, mobile device access, and is available in both self-hosted (which we used for this client) and remotely-hosted versions. It is easy to administer, allowing clients to self-administer the system after initial set-up.