Who needs revision tracking? I do, and I love it. I want to be able to see the changes made to a document or spreadsheet and the comments added along with a date. As a programmer I have used some form of source control for ten years and without knowing it, I have come to rely on it to keep track of changes. Consequently, I was able to roll a piece of code back to a version before I broke it.
There are many terms for keeping track of versioning within a document. Over the years, our terms have changed and our ability to track changes has grown. DMS’s (Document Management Systems) became CMS’s (Content Management Systems) which then became ECMS’s (Electronic Content Management Systems). Why just let a document have all the fun? What about spreadsheets, images and executable?
There are hundreds of solutions to allow you to track versioning in your documents and all of them are better than searching through years of e-mails looking for the one sent by the colleague who had sent the version of the document that you want.
Right now I’m writing this article in Google Docs. If you have not used this solution to simplify your organization’s revision tracking, I suggest you take a look at it. I have found this to be the best solution for my personal documents because of the zero software footprint on my computers.
I can see the changes that were made between two different versions of this article. Should I need to compare the differences, Google Docs allows me to show that information, as well as tagging the changes with a comment. Most importantly, this tool scales well from one users to many.
To try and apply CMS concepts to the real world, think of this in terms of a sales proposal: a team of people working on a single document. We would have a technical group to gather requirements for the project, a sales group adding (and revising) the cost of products and services, and documentation group adding and tailoring verbiage to the specific client.
Over all of this activity, the account manager would be constantly reviewing the document. In our example, and probably more often than not- in practice, our account manager works externally, allowing very little physical contact with the team of people working on the proposal during the sales cycle.
In a world without Content Management, the sales manager gets separate e-mails from the technical staff, documentation team, and internal sales teams, each e-mail requires changes that will impact the other teams. However, each group is busy on many other internal projects and finding time to get the team together is difficult.
Now frustrated, the account manager edits each document from his hotel and replies to each team. Unwittingly, the sales manager has now just added more places to search for a document, by adding revisions and sending an e-mail, they now must search their ‘Sent Items’ each time they look for a copy of the document. Not to mention, each group not having access to the other’s changes until they are compiled into the draft version on the internal network.
Enter the concept of content management. Using some sort of CMS system, the team works with a single document that can be modified with revision tracking. Our account manager can now see the changes by each user on the team. Because everyone is now using the same document, each team member’s changes can be seen by all others.
Collaboration is now inherent to the system. The account manager can now make pricing changes owing to some lunchtime feedback from their prospect and the technical staff can adjust some of their hardware requirements. Rather than using a strikethrough font to tell a team member to remove a sentence, the sales manage can make the changes, and allow the CMS to show the differences in the versions.
From the very high level, a content management system is a package of services that allow users to store and track changes to a piece of information. That piece of information could be a spreadsheet, a web page, or a document.
Examples of ECMS:
To give credit where it is due: this post was written in response, and perhaps to elaborate on, a post by Brian Caldwell.