Enhancing Document Management with Google Team Drive

Google team drives Document Management SystemGoogle Team Drive is a service which has been available by default to Business, Enterprise and Education G-Suite subscribers since January 2018. This feature  is intended to augment the existing file storage, management and team-working capabilities of Google Drive users in new and powerful ways.

Businesses who are looking for low cost or no cost solutions for their document management needs, often gravitate towards these Google solutions, thanks to the flexibility, simplicity and accessibility of its cloud-based, cross-platform approach. The basic Google Drive lets users share, edit and work on files from anywhere, using any device. But in recent years Google has become aware of its limitations as a long term, collaborative tool within growing enterprises. Team Drive was, therefore, created to facilitate, better, more secure team work and collaboration between internal teams and their external partners.

Why not just use Google Drive as a Document Management System

Google Team Drive shifts focus from ‘users’ to ‘teams’

 As Wesley Chan, a Developer Advocate from Google comments:

“If you use G-suite in your organisation, Google Drive is likely at the heart of everything you do. However, Google Drive was designed around users. Users are owners of files, users share documents with other users, users collaborate on documents and so on. But this model doesn’t work as well in larger organisations that are more team-oriented rather than user-centric. Employees changing teams or leaving the organisation altogether may result in files going missing. This is why team drive was created to solve these core problems for G-suite customers - no more confusion and mysteriously missing files.”

So how does Team Drive address these central concerns?

What does Team Drive actually do?

Team Drive folders are locations on a Google drive where members can create, view, share and work together on a wide variety of files on a range of devices.  

  • When a team drive folder is set up and documents added, specific team members can be granted access to them and each given different levels of editing or access rights.
  • These rights include content creation, content management, view and/or comment privileges.
  • Google Team Drive enables fine grained access to specific documents and folders to be granted by selected admin staff within a team.
  • Access and editing rights can be granted to users inside and outside your organisation.
  • Users can be members of as many teams as required.

Why not just use SharePoint as a Document Management System

Making G-suite easier to administer

Unlike folders created in the Basic Google Drive these folders are ‘owned’ by a whole team rather than just one individual. This is a significant improvement on the way shared files work in the basic Google Drive. In Google Drive, the person who created a folder or file owns that content. If they decide to delete or move them, the people with whom they were initially shared will automatically lose their access privileges. Likewise, if the creator of a folder or file leaves the company and their account is deleted any content they have created will be wiped from the system.

From a user and administration point of view, then, Team Drive certainly makes life easier. Setting up access rights and privileges is a much simpler and more intuitive process. Files can be much more easily protected from being accidentally changed, over written, or moved about by unauthorised people than within Google Drive.

A central benefit of Team Drive is that when a team member leaves, their accounts can be deleted immediately without having to transfer ownership of their files and folders to another individual first or suspending their account but still paying for their subscription. Admin is a much quicker and more efficient process with Team Drive.

But is Team Drive a Document Management System?

While Team Drive improves the control an organisation can have over files and documents stored in these locations, companies who are trying to use this product for more sophisticated document management tasks will still encounter some of the same problems inherent in Google Drive. If you are a business that needs to adhere to strict regulatory standards and build robust and auditable digital Quality Management Systems (QMS), it is worth considering whether Team Drive will help you achieve these aims.

Creating workflows

Workflows in Team Drives can be achieved by using third party plugins, but there are no built in interface options for creating sharing and approval sequences for formal documents. For quality documentation or anything that requires a watertight process around its creation, then, Team Drive is still inadequate on its own. Within Team Drive a company can’t require and gather formal ‘sign-offs’ from named individuals before a document is ‘published’ within the drive. Likewise, digital signatures, water-marking of protected files and numerous other enhanced approval features are absent.

File naming conventions and document protection

Documentation can be locked down for editing in a Team Drive. However, within a team folder there is no official distinction between ‘drafts’ and ‘issues’ of documents. Teams themselves must invent and police their own naming convention to show when a file is a draft or a final version of a document. This increases the risk of something going wrong and changes in drafts being missed or documents mislabelled. In a more formal Document Management System such naming systems are automated and come as standard, issues and draft versions of documents sit in ‘container’ files meaning it is always clear which is which. It also ensures there is a complete version history of vital documentation always available.

Auditing capabilities

Within Team Drive there is now no danger of documents going missing because a key individual’s account has been deleted. However, teams will still need to be extremely disciplined when it comes to file creation and naming to ensure a proper audit trail can be kept in place for quality documents or other files that might require oversight by regulators.

One feature, however, that will certainly make Team Drive attractive to a growing company is the ‘Quick Access’ feature that can help you locate required documents more rapidly. ‘Quick Access’ uses machine learning algorithms to identify documents using trending topics, team calendar, and other relevant data to suggest items to team members who are searching for specific files.


Those already using and paying for the ‘Basic’ Google Drive will need to upgrade their package to access the new features of Team Drive. It’s not free - but it will make your life easier if you want to create searchable, secure and easily managed collaborative work spaces for particular projects. But that shouldn’t be surprising. As a billion dollar global, tech Behemoth, Google can spend the kind of money on design and U/X that smaller companies can only dream about. Their massive size also means they can deliver storage solutions at the kind of scale that keep prices for small business accessibly low.

But the breadth of the business they need to support means they can’t always offer the specific functionality that companies might need to create Document Management Systems and development processes compliant with regimes such as ISO 13485 or ISO 9001.

Google may have improved its document management and sharing capabilities with this team focused offering, but is a long way off from delivering the kinds of rigorous document control required by the regulators of certain sectors.

The value of DMS for Product Development

Tags: Document Management and Control

Joe Byrne

Written by Joe Byrne

Joe Byrne is the CEO of Cognidox. With a career spanning medical device start-ups and fortune 500 companies, Joe has over 25 years of experience in the medical device and high-tech product development industries. With extensive experience in scaling businesses, process improvement, quality, medical devices and product development, Joe is a regular contributor to the Cognidox DMS Insights blog where he shares expertise on scaling and streamlining the entire product development cycle, empowering enterprises to achieve governance, compliance, and rigour.

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