Why not just use Google Drive as a document management system?

Google Drive as DMS

Google Drive is a cloud-based program which allows you to create, edit, store, and share documents with other people. Many businesses use it as a file management system. Documents sit in the Cloud as well as synchronising with users’ local versions of the system. With Google Drive users can access and collaborate on files from anywhere and any device. It supports mobility and agility.

But while it offers benefits in those areas, it falls short in other ways that make the use of a comprehensive document management system (DMS) so invaluable to organisations, especially growing ones with increasing levels of complexity. Google Drive doesn’t replace the need for a proper DMS. Here are seven reasons why.

1. Limited document control

With Google Drive, you can share files and folders with other users. When a document is placed in a folder that is shared with you, you have access to that document too.

While you can control some access rights to documents (view, comment, edit), if a user can edit a document, they can delete it, move it around, and share access to it without restriction. This loose control can cause problems for historical accuracy as well as for users trying to find a file or folder that has been moved.

2. No version and approval control

Google Drive doesn’t provide a way to control naming conventions and document versions, leaving everything up to the individual user. Without a structured, enforced naming and versioning system, the chance for people to work on an out of date or incorrect version of a document rises significantly.

And similarly, Google Drive lacks a process for document approval. That is, a good DMS allows the owner of a document to approve and lock down the final or appropriate version of that document. This reduces the risk of work being done based on the wrong information, which can be a costly mistake.

For example, if the next stage in product development advances on a previous version of a design document that is missing a key element, a significant amount of work could have to be redone. Or, if a salesperson shares an old version of a technical specification with a customer, the customer could have problems using the product properly.

3. Cannot support multiple media types

What about documents that Google Drive cannot preview? File types such as executables also require control. In Google Drive there is no function to collect comments that are associated with documents like that. A good DMS should handle multiple media types.

4. Poor compliance support

Having a centralised controlled document repository makes data discovery and auditing easy for compliance programmes like ISO 9001. But with something like Google Drive, the control element is insufficient for the straightforward auditing of processes and procedures.

If documents don’t have structured and transparent history, review and approval controls, auditors will have a harder time recognising that you have sufficient mechanisms in place to ensure quality delivery. Google Drive lacks the necessary audit trail and visibility to help make the compliance process smooth.

Regulatory control is further limited in the fact that your data is distributed across Google’s network. While this does offer resilience, it may be impossible to say exactly where your data is held.

In addition to the necessary controls, some DMS offer a business management system interface that can provide an overview of all your processes with links to the supporting documents. This helps with compliance by giving the auditor clear oversight of all the key processes your organisation follows with easy links to proof that those processes are followed.

Why not just use SharePoint as a document management system?

5. Limited workflow options

Google Drive does offer a simple workflow option as a third-party add-on but is limited to obtaining approval for certain documents. A good DMS will allow you to develop workflows that help you control your projects. For example, documents can be routed to users for action. You can set up flexible routing rules based on type of request, document type and security profile. Users can be sent reminders if they haven’t completed their assigned action.

By establishing a series of workflows in conjunction with gate controls (often document holders that can’t be approved and progressed until every document within it is approved), a programme manager can control an entire product development process.

6. No reporting tools

Reporting tools make it easy for project leaders to identify which documents are awaiting review, to get metrics on which users still need to review things, and to understand how long reviews are taking. A full DMS should help you easily find documents at various stages. Google Drive doesn’t have this functionality.

7. Cannot create custom metadata

Google Drive doesn’t allow you to create custom metadata for your documents. This data, which is not stored in the document itself, is useful for capturing additional information about documents. What’s more, sensitive and personal information can be tagged for easy searches and accessibility, helping organisations stay GDPR compliant.

Custom metadata and the ability to search it is a key feature of a full document management system.


Google Drive does have its place within the market. At last count it has over 800 million active users and over two trillion files stored. It’s an excellent tool for cloud-based collaboration and file storage. It just doesn’t have the control and functionality required to be a serious DMS.

Value of a DMS for product development

Tags: Document Control