There’s an unsubstantiated story about IBM in the early days of computing and making computers easy to use. It was said that all IBM needed to do was first to build a computer and then print a manual saying it was easy to use. Sorted!

It is interesting to examine the market drivers that come to create new paradigms in computing. It is equally interesting to review the software solutions to problems that you didn’t know existed let alone the solutions to them.

Why have cloud computing? Well really there’s nothing completely new. Company file servers have been around for years. All that really changed is the Internet and the mobile device. Well mobility in general. That means we all want to connect to the servers when we are out and about. Accordingly, the only real change that happened was to change the access methodology to those servers to use same mechanism that the peripatetic users had adopted, i.e. the Internet. A complete paradigm shift? Well on the server-side perhaps not entirely, but certainly in the end-user devices that are now used. Ultrabooks, smartphones, tablets. They are certainly all new.

What has changed significantly is the technology needed to ensure that the whole approach can cope with new issues. Three issues and their solutions that are worth reviewing are 1) lack of connectivity 2) conflicts 3) ease of use.

  1. Fractional connectivity. Sure we have Wi-Fi everywhere, even on planes, but it’s not 100% seamless yet. We want to have our data when we want it and even if it’s just once in a day we don’t want to go to the ‘data cupboard’ and find a message saying, “You are not connected to the Internet – Have a nice day”. I invented the rider there. Your day may have already just taken a bad turn. Sure, you might say “What the hell. I didn’t want to look at that file really. I didn’t want to show my boss the work I had been doing. I didn’t want to share my document concepts with my colleague over lunch, I didn’t want to show the customer the new brochure and prices” …..but I doubt it. You well know by now that you only lose data access each day for the few minutes during which you really, really needed it.   This random failure, that happens just when you need something isn’t limited just to Internet availability. Have you noticed in StarTrek that the transporter room only malfunctions when the Klingons are attacking? You never hear them say, “The Transporter Room is down for maintenance Captain. Perhaps you can have another croissant and coffee and we’ll have you back in five minutes.”

So what can Digilink do to address that? Well simple really. Digilink Revelation keeps your key files synchronised on your laptop. When you suddenly want or need that data. You’ve got it. It’s not rocket science (or warp engines either). Just common sense to ensure that you always work on mirrored copies so as to take the nuisance of no Internet connection out of the equation.

  1. Conflicts.  Here’s the problem. Microsoft Word is pretty smart these days. It will default to using the cloud for all your data and this allows you to save and share documents with your colleagues with barely having to raise a finger. Word will also auto detect when two different devices have each updated a document separately and warn you of a conflict. Here’s the problem. How the hell do you instantly recognise what changes were made by the other person. Come to that, perhaps the changes were made by you, inadvertently. An extra space. A correction to somebody’s name. A question mark you added an hour ago but suddenly for the moment you can’t recall. Your colleague was typing up the new price list, you had better keep that. You just hope you can recall what changes you yourself made. Worse still, you might have tinkered with a dozen or more documents while you or your colleague were offline. Or online by simultaneously working. There’s more. It doesn’t even have to be a colleague working on the document. It might be you. Have you got a desk computer and a laptop? Perhaps you have a tablet and no doubt a smartphone too? Any of these devices will open up the Word documents on-line and once you go anywhere near a document it’s recording that as a change. Better hope you closed the document on the desktop. Yikes, you don’t want to make an instant decision on what to keep just when you needed to open a document and look at something. That’s when you loose data!

What are Digilink doing? Well it’s an absolutely simple concept really. While we are mirroring all your documents not only do you capture all these conflict notifications but we also have both sides of the story covered. Whether it’s one or a thousand changes, you can review them at your leisure when you have the time and inclination to decide what you want or need to do.

  1. Ease of Use. It’s a little more difficult issue to describe really. It’s probably easier to define something as being difficult to use when it has various complications, which highlight the difficulties. ‘Easy’ is something that either comes out of the comfort of years of usage or rarely, is so intuitive to use that it becomes lauded as ‘easy’ right out of the box.

Let me risk a deeper dive into my concept here. Most users describe their computer’s File System as easy to use. When we see our Word and Excel documents, and other work files, in nice neat folders inside My Documents, we regard that as a kind of baseline for intuitive operation. However, those files we see in Windows Explorer on the PC and in Finder on the Apple Mac are not really the data. They are just the graphical representation of our data running in a program. The one’s and zero’s on the disc drive don’t make for easy reading so we have been lulled by years of experience of using the operating systems interface as the baseline for understandability and ease of use. When we see a folder marked “Project Files” full of icons marked “Proposal.doc” and “Pricing.doc” we don’t need to make any intellectual leaps to know how to manage our data.

So when a software manufacturer releases an interface that takes us away from our comfort zone, we immediately describe it as difficult to use. In some cases it’s just a case of our being slow to adapt to a new paradigm for managing our data. If Steve Jobs had released Evernote’s managed data environment instead of the graphical icons on the first Mac, I wonder if we would scratch our heads at seeing all our files in hierarchical folders.

“No” I hear you say, as I do myself, but stay with me here because it might get interesting from here on in. Why are we so comfortable with the hierarchy of the folder approach? I think it’s because we kind of float above it. We can go up and down to our heart’s content, but more importantly we can go sideways. No only that, but we can drag and drop our files and folders anywhere we want and rename them at will. Where am I going with this? Have a look at SharePoint through a browser. It’s copied the hierarchical file system and we are comfortable with that except it displays the complete contents of a folder in a page. Although you can jump up and down from folder to folder it’s much slower as we have to wait for a page refresh each time. Also, have you tried moving data between folders lately? It’s very tricky indeed.

So it’s a hybrid really. We’re very comfortable with seeing where our data is, but it’s now very hard to just adopt the same way of working but this time with SharePoint.

What are we trying to address at Digilink? Well it’s everything and nothing really. Because we are mirroring, you’ll see your files in the Windows Explorer interface. If that’s where you are comfortable, well that’s it. You’re at home, comfy slippers and all. Doesn’t OneDrive for Business do that too? Well yes and no. You’ll see that Revelation also has an application interface as well and that will give you a very easy click anywhere view of all your SharePoint data, but you can choose just what you want to mirror locally. With OneDrive it is all or nothing. With Revelation you can click on a just one file or perhaps a couple of key folders or maybe a whole library. It’s your call.

So does that constitute ease of use?

  • You can browse with Internet Explorer
  • You can browse with File Explorer
  • You can browse with the Revelation Interface.

We think that’s easy, but best of all, it also means you can easily browse your SharePoint data offline as you have that extra coffee while they fix the Transporter Room. Wi-Fi coverage in star sector YB Delta 2 is unfortunately still very patchy.

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