Box is a popular cloud-based, file sharing solution, designed for use by enterprises to store business documentation and collaborate on projects.
The Box solution features secure access to manage and share documents across a range of platforms and devices. It offers a number of different packages to suit different budgets, including plans for unlimited file storage. In addition it incorporates helpful workflow functionality, allowing companies to easily initiate and automate routine office processes such as contract renewals, multi-user document review and onboarding activity.
Robust and Rigorous?
But, how rigorous and robust are the document management and collaboration solutions that Box offers?
As some startups and SMEs increasingly look to use this and other lightweight file sharing offerings (like Dropbox) to manage quality and product development documentation, we ask if Box is really best suited to these kind of tasks?
Is Box a long term solution for a business with sophisticated DMS (Document Management System) needs or best used as a stepping stone as you attempt to better organise your business processes and pull your document management into shape?
Why not just use SharePoint as Document Management System
For example, could a Box solution really help you manage all the project documentation generated by a business from ideation to product launch? Ultimately, could it help you achieve the standards of document control and proactive quality management required by ISO, the FDA or the MHRA?
It’s worth taking a further look at the pros and cons of the Box functionality and see how it measures up against a more heavyweight set of business requirements.
The Pros and Cons of using Box as a Document Management System
1. Box promises secure file sharing
Box has all the security features that you would expect of an enterprise grade solution. It uses single sign-on (through either on-premises or cloud authentication), key storage, encryption standards, and mobile device security, and it provides different levels of access based on customers' different roles and needs.
2. Flexible file sharing options - with some limitations
Compared to sharing and collating documentation via email and storing it on a shared drive, Box is obviously a step up. With this tool users can upload documents, and invite others inside or outside an organisation to view and edit those files. Box has a full range of desk top and mobile apps, with good software integration options, that can make collaboration easy and seamless wherever you are in the world.
However, you should check carefully that the Box solution you’re choosing allows you to collaborate in real time in shared workspaces with the specialist software that is at the heart of your operations.
3. Simple workflow set up
Simple workflows are easy to set up within Box using Box Relay (available for purchase with Business Plus and Enterprise level accounts).
They are intended to help you streamline routine document approval and publication tasks. They are typically used to automate and simplify everyday business activities such as onboarding or contract release in a sales flow, where the review and distribution of standard documentation always follows the same sequence.
4. Limited Document Control features
But can and should this workflow functionality be co-opted to control Quality Management, and other business critical documentation? Can it help automate more sophisticated product development functions, like phase gating approval of design and specification files?
Setting Up Work Flows in Box
In Box you can create, name and edit any number of workflows, defining required sequences of sharing, notification and approval events for the documentation you create.
However, while you can associate any new or existing workflow with a document, a workflow cannot be automatically applied to documents that you upload to specific locations in the DMS. Instead, someone choosing a workflow for a document needs to decide the ultimate destination for that file when it has completed its approval sequence.
So, it is possible for a user with the right permissions to circumvent or reinvent mandatory approval and storage sequences for specific documentation types, omitting required approvers from a work flow if they wish and creating new directory structures for files that should be handled and stored in particular ways.
For a DMS that is being created to comply with ISO 9001 and other standards, you need to be able to prove you have clear and consistent procedures in place for issuing new iterations of quality documentation. You need to ensure they are stored in one easily accessible and unchanging location, so they can be referred to by your team and any future auditors.
In practice those who are using Box to build a QMS (Quality Management System) might need to manage the revision and approval process of a document via a Relay Workflow, then get a permissioned individual to label and upload a final, ‘locked for editing’ version of the document in the correct folder. Clearly, that is not a scalable solution for a busy and growing SME.
Likewise, within a product development process where you need to ensure documents are being grouped together and published in certain places to trigger new phases of work, it is likely that the Box workflow functionality will be inadequate to the task. It would need quite a lot of manual tinkering to achieve anything like this.
And this shouldn’t be surprising. Box Relay was never designed to support this kind of sophisticated Project Management function and therefore lacks the level of automation a good DMS can achieve in organising and controlling successive rounds of notification, feedback, approval and document release.
5. Limited Version Control features
The version control within Box is also not likely to help a company efficiently organise and manage the documentation crucial to a product development process.
While the collaboration tools within Box are highly flexible, the system does not automatically discriminate between ‘Drafts’ and ‘Issues’ of files that you create, meaning it is not ideal for managing critical quality, procedural or development files.
As with Google Drive and Dropbox, each time a document that is being worked on is changed, a new version is created within the system. In this way, a version history of the document is stored as the document goes through various iterations.
Why not just use Google Drive as a Document Management System
However, it is up to users to manage the labelling if they wish to retain a permanent record of each stage of a drafting process, as well as making the latest, ‘locked down’ approved version of the document available to view.
In a large and sprawling product development process generating numerous iterations of multiple documents, relying on staff to always remember and apply labelling conventions for various drafts and issues, may not be realistic and runs the risk of letting ‘document anarchy’ ensue.
Instead, a Document Management System that provides for automatic labelling of iterations, allowing for the proper and discrete storage of drafts and issues, will make your business more efficient.
It will improve your ability to track and audit your processes. It will help to ensure only the most recent and up-to-date versions of your plans and designs are used by those delivering a project.
6. The Cost
Of course, while many people think solutions like Box and Dropbox are ‘low cost or no cost’ answer to their Document Management needs, this is not the case. You might get some free storage or low cost starter packages, but if you want to use its features to manage your business in any meaningful way you are going to have to pay. For example Box Relay, which offers workflow functionality is only available for purchase with Business Plus and Enterprise level accounts. This means your annual cost per user can potentially creep up to $500.
If you are attracted to Box and similar software packages because they seem to offer quick and relatively cheap solutions to specific problems with your approach to document management, it may be worth while taking a step back and doing a full audit of all your requirements first. After all, you don’t want to commit to a solution, migrate all your documents and then discover it is missing a vital piece of functionality.
It will be no good introducing workflows that turn out to be unfit for purpose or require so much manual intervention to operate that the workaround is more complex and time consuming than the procedures you undertake now.
There is no doubt that Box is a popular and useful file sharing and collaboration tool. However, businesses who attempt to use it as a Document Management System to support a sophisticated product development process will quickly butt up against its shortcomings.