How many of us have done any of the following:

  1. Spent hours working on the wrong version of a document.
  2. Edited and save an image then realised that the program overwrote the original and now you cannot go back and start over.
  3. Sent the wrong copy of a document to a client or the wrong specification to a supplier.
  4. Opened up a PowerPoint in a meeting and discovered that you forgot to copy the updated version off of your desktop.
  5. Wasted hours trying to work out who in your team has the latest copy of the document that management are screaming for.

These are all common problems that impact workers today and which could be solved by something as simple as versioning. If you think versioning is a developer thing or something that people with no life do, think again.

Versioning protects against law suits

In 2011, UK scriptwriter Jake Mandeville-Antony sued Disney, alleging that Pixar stole his story about a car. In court, he produced letters, scripts and countless drawings of his cars to prove his case. What he didn’t expect, and neither did anyone outside of Disney, was that Pixar used version management to protect itself against such claims.

From the first concept drawing, through every iteration and alteration until the final image is created, Disney/Pixar track every change. As a result, they were able to put a timeline to each drawing and prove that they did not use any of the work that Mandeville-Anthony had sent them. The result was that Disney/Pixar won their court case.

This is not the only example where versioning has moved away from software development. The legal profession now sees it as a vital tool to show changes to documents and evidence  in complex cases. Since Piper Alpha, the oil and gas industry has been required to hold every document, every change and every drawing relating to their onshore and offshore platforms. The only effective way to do this is through versioning the entire range of content.

Unfortunately, at the moment these are rare cases. So how does this apply to those of us not in these organisations?

Real world problem

Whether you work alone or as a team, it is rare that anything is started, edited and finished in a single session. Even on the rare occasions that this does happen, the ability of computers to crash and burn, taking all your work with them, means that making copies as you go along is good practice and common sense.

The problem with making copies is knowing which one is the latest. If you are working on one computer and storing your work in a single location, you could create your own versioning process. But how many of us really work on a single machine? In this age of mobility, not many it seems.

For mobile workers, having multiple machines on which they work means that they have to manually maintain strict control of where they store files. Unfortunately, we live in a world where moving files between devices is still not a simple issue. For over two decades, companies have been selling synchronisation software and for that same period of time, users have struggled with making it work for them.

As if all of this were not enough of a challenge, when you are working as part of a team, the problem of which version can become unmanageable. This is because anyone can be working on any document, often simultaneously, unless you have strict controls.

Versioning is the solution

Resolving this problem is what versioning was designed for. It is possible to know which file was last edited and by whom. If the file is being simultaneously working upon, then the file is copied or branched. When the changes have been made, they can be merged together to create a new master file.

Versioning is not new. Software developers have been using it for decades to keep control of software development, especially for complex development and large teams. But it is not just developers who have seen its value. Other groups in the software process have also seen the benefits of versioning. Requirements teams, test teams, architects, UX designers, artists and technical documentation teams are all regular users of versioning.

Outside of the development environment, versioning is part of several different classes of software such as document management, cloud storage and collaboration suites. Yet it is still not as well used as it needs to be nor is it something that users do by default.

Why is versioning not endemic

So why does versioning work in the software development world but not in the general office space? The reason is simple; versioning is a separate operation, not part of what people do when they create, open or save a file. In the software development world, every time you work on a file you check it out and when you’ve finished, you check it back in. The process is built into the IDE and other tools that users work with.

New entrants into the generic versioning market

That is beginning to change. We are seeing software development tools vendors looking to move into the wider content arena. These are vendors that understands that versioning needs to be ubiquitous. It needs to be the default action not something that is done for special cases. They are not alone. Cloud storage providers such as Box are also making versioning a core capability for their customers.

Of course, versioning requires a repository that manages the files. So how will this work for mobile users who use a range of devices?

Tool vendors such as Perforce are already delivering the solution. For some users, it will be a local client that uses a cloud based approach to talk to the repository. For others, they may have their own versioning installed on their pc or laptop. This will enable them to version locally and when they are ready to push it to the enterprise repository, it will do the synchronisation for them.

Versioning protects against Government intervention

As well as protecting content and making versioning an integral part of the users life, there is another benefit to be gained. Governments are increasing the amount of compliance related legislation that businesses of all sizes need to comply with.

Central to any compliance regime is the issue of accountability. When did something change? Who changed it? Who authorised it? What processes were followed? These are issues that the software tools vendors, in particular, are well versed in and have decades of experience in delivering.

Conclusion

It’s taken a long time but we are finally moving to a place where it is possible for everyone to version by default and not by exception.