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Google Drive as a Company Network File System

With Google Apps for Business, the Google Drive product can be used as a file system to share files with some or all people in your company.  This article explains some best practices for setting this up.

In this past article we explained the basics for setting up a shared drive to manage documents in your company.  If you have more than a few people in your company, the following best practices will help ensure your file system does not degrade into chaos.

Create a top level company share folder

Having a single, top level folder that contains all the shared folders and files underneath it will greatly simplify the management and maintenance of your shared folders.  Here is an example of a structure you could set up, with “Company Share” at the top level.  This structure would be setup in a trusted account, as described in the prior article on document sharing.

My Drive
         Client Projects

The top level folder is shared to everyone in the company, but view-only

  1. Everyone has to be able to see the Company-Share folder.
  2. To prevent file-management chaos, you don’t want anyone to create sub-folders directly under the Company-Share (except the trusted account).  Sharing the Company-Share as “Can View”, with everyone, will accomplish this.
My Drive
    Company-Share    < shared as view only to everyone
         Client Projects

Staff must add “Company-Share” to My Drive in their account

Company File Share
The people you share the “Company-Share” with will see this folder under “Shared with Me” or “All Items” (I’ve seen both cases).  Instruct everyone to move this folder into “My Drive” in their account – either by dragging it into My Drive, or by pushing the button that says “Add to My Drive” when they view that folder.



Share the second level folders appropriately

The folders under the Company-Share should be shared with the people in your organization according to their role.  For example: the Management folder here would be shared as “Edit” with everyone in your management team, “View” to the management protege, and would not be shared at all (including View) with anyone else.

My Drive
         Management    < share as no access, view, or edit
         Client Projects

Note 1: When sharing the second level folders do NOT check the box “Notify People via Email”.  They already can see the Company-Share folder from the prior step, so you do not need to spam them with information about the sub-folders.

Note 2: People who have Edit privilege on a folder can put both files and folders inside that folder.  If you have a large company with hundreds of files at each level, then you may consider sharing this second level as View (rather than edit) to control the folder structure to one additional level.

Share with Groups, not with People

If you have (or will have) more than 10 people in your organization, then create Groups in your Google App account that are specifically for file sharing.  Then share the folders to Groups, and not to individual people.  This strategy will make life way easier when you add or remove staff from your company.

In our example we would likely have at least four groups for file sharing that mirror the top level folder structure: management, finance, operations, and project-teams.  In reality you may have one or two more Groups to control access to folders.

Note: When Jane starts with your company you would add her account to the appropriate Groups.  However, this doesn’t cause any communication to go to Jane.  You must email her the link to the Company-Share folder, and instruct her to move the Company-Share into “My Drive” in her account.

A Final Word of Caution

When you make a change to the share settings of a folder, this change ripples immediately to all the sub-folder and files under that folder.  This can cause some problems if you are not careful.  For example, you share the Company-Share folder to a new Group “Interns” that you decided to set up, but forget to remove that Group from the “Management” sub folder.  So be very careful when changing permissions after you complete the initial setup.

Managing Google Docs in your Company

We frequently receive questions about how to properly manage documents inside a company using Google Docs. Questions usually come from managers & business owners and take one of these forms: “What is the best way to share the growing number of Google documents in our organization?”, or “How can I prevent a malicious employee from deleting important documents?”

This post answers those two questions. We have found that even for people with a strong background in traditional file sharing, the document sharing in Google can be a bit confusing. The three steps below will establish a secure environment in Google documents for sharing corporate documents with team and sub-teams within your organization.

1. Identify a trusted account for document ownership

This is the Google App account that will own all the important corporate documents inside Google Docs. Normally it is the business owner’s account, but it could be a separate account setup in Google Docs for this purpose that only trusted persons have access to.

2. Setup Shared Folders

Documents that you place inside the folder will inherit the share settings of that folder. So within the trusted account, setup folders and share these folders with the various teams in your company. For example you can share documents with 3 different groups in this way:

  • Folder ‘Leaders’ shared with Jonathan and Kazmeen
  • Folder ‘Operations’ shared with Jonathan, Kazmeen, and operations team members Ellen, Maria, and Don
  • Folder ‘Sales’ shared with Jonathan, Kazmeen, and sales team members Frank and Alisa

Google Doc Share Settings

The settings shown above illustrate the Leaders folder. With these settings Jonathan or Kazmeen can now place a document he created into this shared folder, and all 3 people will be able to view and edit it.

You’ll notice that I’m not recommending to share this with a Group, that I’ve shared the folder with individual accounts. This approach has the important benefit that Jonathan and Kazmeen will see this folder in their Google document view under “Shared with Me”.

Unfortunately, when you share with a Group, group members to do see the folders or documents you have shared in their Google Doc view until after they have opened them.  That might be a good idea, but people who are familiar with network file systems find it really confusing which is why I am recommending sharing with individual user accounts. Google also has this article published on folder sharing, which provides additional details.

3. Transfer document ownership to the trusted account

Finally, it is important to retain ownership of important corporate documents inside this trusted account from step 1. This should save you from two events: a) an employee maliciously or accidentally deletes a document or b) a document is a deleted when the employee moves on and their account is removed.

If the trusted account owner does not own an important doc, the ownership is easily transferred: from the Share setting on any document, the current owner simply needs to change the document to be owned by the trusted account as pictured below.

Google Doc Transfer Ownership

These three steps will allow you to safely and efficiently share and manage a large set of documents in your organization.

Solve360 gets some more great press

Our partners at Norada are getting a lot of great press lately. I am not surprised, they continue to put a lot of love into Solve360. Here is a recent video where Erica Ramus, a real estate agent from Pennsylvania, talks about how they are benefiting from taking their business “into the cloud” using Google Apps and Solve360. It’s a great testimonial about how using these tools can streamline your business, the type of thing we help businesses do every day.

Here she is…

Cloud Clarity

I empathize with the business owner today who is trying to understand the ever changing Cloud Computing??information technology (IT) world. Particularly right now when the growing use of the words ‘cloud’ and ‘cloud computing’ are creating confusion even inside IT departments, never mind with the business owner who is trying to improve her business. Personally I find that confusion disappointing, because the words ‘cloud computing’ underscore a mini revolution that is going on in the geek world. The revolution is changing the value proposition of many computing hardware and software solutions that small and mid size businesses (SMBs) need in the modern business world. If you were looking at your IT options last year and said, “that is too bloody expensive, let’s think about it next year”, then you owe it to yourself and your company to understand cloud computing. The cost of required tools, from servers to email infrastructure to invoicing, have become a whole lot cheaper.

We need a bit of clarity

The biggest barrier to understanding this cloud world is that the word ‘cloud’ is being used so broadly that it really has lost all meaning.

That problem is analogous with the problem around the word ‘engineer’. My friend James is a petro-chemical engineer who wears a ring provided to him from APEGGA . My brother-in-law Allan works for a Canadian railway company and drives a train. Both legally call themselves engineers, but if Allan were to tell you he is an engineer, without saying anything else, you would most likely have the wrong impression. The exact same problem plagues the word ‘cloud’ at the moment in the context of the internet.

Most marketers or service companies using the word ‘cloud’ are providing a service to you from somewhere on the internet, as opposed to selling you software or hardware to install and use inside your own building. There are many examples of this method of service delivery that pre-date the use of the use of the word ‘cloud’ in this context. Google’s search service and Hotmail’s email service are two examples. But today companies are selling (or giving away) everything from disk space to hotel space, and calling it x-cloud-x, and this is creating a lot of confusion for consumers.

Bye Bye ServerIn case that all sounds very underwhelming I need to reinforce that there really is a revolution going on in the computing industry, a revolution that is delivering positive financial benefits for consumers. In his book The Big Switch, Nicholas Carr draws a great analogy to the electrical industry. Before the ubiquitous power grid, if you wanted power in your house you needed a generator in your back yard. This was of course costly and maintenance heavy. When Edison came knocking with power from the grid, it was not only cheaper for the home owner, but it enabled industry in ways no one could have dreamed of at the time. In your mind now switch the terms ‘electrical grid’ with ‘computing cloud’. Those services you have been running in your back yard – you can now buy a lot cheaper from the computing cloud. Need email and collaboration services: Google Apps can do that. Need 500 gigabytes of disk space: Amazon S3 has it. Need another server: Rackspace will deliver. Want to get rid of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software from your sales team’s desktops: Solve360 does it. And like the power grid, all of these services come with a ‘pay for what you use’ model, you are no longer need to install or pay for long term infrastructure.

Ok, we need more clarity than that

We’re still left with this nagging problem that every marketer on the web these days is using the word ‘cloud’ to market their stuff, so that term isn’t bringing much clarity to what people are selling. In general it is accurate to say that cloud computing is a computing service delivered to consumers over the internet. To be a bit more concise many people have adopted these 3 classifications of cloud computing service:

With Apple’s© iCloud, I feel obliged to mention how that service fits into this classification scheme. iCloud for the end user is providing storage and backup services. So from that perspective is a cloud infrastructure service (IaaS). For developers, iCloud offers services that make developing better and easier, so it has platform characteristics (PaaS) as well.

Infrastructure (aka Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS) for computing infrastructure like servers and disk storage. Amazon EC2 is a server on demand service that fits this category.

Platform (aka Platform as a Service, or PaaS) for the combinations of infrastructure and special software like databases and development tools that are needed to build and host applications. Unless you plan on developing software, your business probably doesn’t care about this category. A good example of PaaS is Heroku, which is a stack of tools for software development tools that make it relatively easy to build and scale a software application.

Software (aka Software as a Service, or SaaS) for applications being delivered via the internet. Some well known examples here are Salesforce for CRM, Freshbooks for invoicing and Mailchimp for newsletter mailout.

Is this something I should use in my business?

If you run an SMB or its IT group, the answer is very likely yes. The value proposition is simply too good to ignore, and your competitors are probably getting an edge in operating costs and operational efficiencies if you keep your eyes closed. Maybe you are already running some of your stuff in the cloud (like mass emails on Mailchimp or advertising on Google) and just never thought about how this type of technology could be used in other parts of your business.

Most cloud computing services simply cost less than rolling out something inside your office walls. But the value comes in other ways too: you can get at your software from anywhere, usually stuff is backed up for you, and software updates just happen in the background as part of the base cost.
If you’re launching a start-up and don’t have any decent IT infrastructure yet, then you have an opportunity to get world class infrastructure in place in days, rather than weeks, for a fraction of what it would have cost in 2001.

I’ll leave you with a list of cloud computing providers that many companies have trusted to provide the basic IT tools that almost every business needs. You can check them out to see how this stacks up against traditional inside-your-office type of infrastructure.

Business Need Some Cloud based IT services that are addressing this need
Office Collaboration (email, calendaring, task management) Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365
File Sharing Dropbox, SpiderOak, Amazon S3, Google Docs, Microsoft SkyDrive
Newsletter Mailout Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact,
Invoicing Freshbooks, Quickbooks Online
Data Backup and Restore Cloudberry Online Backup, SpikerOak, Dropbox
Servers (for those who still need them) Rackspace, Amazon EC2