Improving Collaboration and Integration with Google Drive

In 2011, the University of Alberta welcomed Google. Over these past eight years users have saved time, made decisions faster with more collaboration, more flexibility and control. But one G-Suite app in particular has innovated the way we work.

In 2011, the University of Alberta welcomed Google. Over these past eight years, those who have chosen to embrace the platform have saved time through easier workflow(s), made decisions faster with more collaboration, more flexibility and control. Before Google, work was more difficult — plain and simple. Booking a meeting was an arduous task; sharing files and then remembering you sent the wrong copy, a nightmare; maintaining version control, forget it. But with Google, these tasks are integrated, efficient and take a simple mouse click or two. Google has helped us break out of traditional, locked-down, and inflexible digital workspaces. And as we migrated email and calendaring platforms, file data storage and organization came soon after thanks to Google Drive.

Google Drive is a cloud file storage and synchronization service that’s comprised of two parts, My Drive and Shared Drives. My Drive is for your own personal work, whereas Shared Drives is a shared space where all team members can upload, share, contribute to, and collaborate on documents. With the University’s adoption of the latter in 2017, setting up network drives to share files is a thing of the past. In a complex and widespread school environment, the ability to easily share files, set up folders and access information across various departments is crucial. Since IST enabled the Shared Drives feature nearly two years ago, users have uploaded 114 terabytes of data — and that’s continuing to increase daily. Nuno Luzio, Lead of Productivity Applications at IST, adds that “not only are people using it, but every year storage usage is going up by 30 percent.” 

Using Shared Drives (and Google in general) expedites work processes, and in this fast-paced, digital world, efficiency and time savings are always appreciated. Luzio says that it also puts the power back in the hands of the individual. Now it only takes a few minutes to create a Shared Drives and start adding files, sharing data and collaborating on projects compared  to  the longer turnaround time it would usually take to set up traditional network folders. The quick turnaround is appealing and accomplishes one of Google’s goals which Luzio says is to take IT out of the equation and make tasks simple for the end user. “I think it’s a real lifesaver for people, and it’s a real productivity boost when the end user can do 90 percent of the things that they would typically have to contact IT for.”

This was fortunate for the Faculty of Education’s Master of Education Studies (MES) group, who learned about the benefits of Google Drive and how the service could alleviate two major hurdles they were facing. With all of their data stored on a near-end-of-life server, and their participation in a Records Management Office (RMO) initiative, the group became the pilot project to test drive the storage alternative. “When we started off, we certainly didn’t know that Shared Drives was going to be the solution,” says Kathy Cocchio, Program Coordinator of the MES program. But it didn’t take long to discover the obvious benefits it would bring their unit. Not only does Shared Drives provide unlimited storage to educational institutions at no cost, it’s remarkably easy to share information. Above all though, Cocchio considers its time saving capabilities to be the biggest win. For a unit with 12 years of amassed files and multiple administrators, Cocchio would often find the same document in three different places, or on the contrary, the only copy would be near impossible to find amongst a mass of folders on the network. Once the team got over the initial hurdle of where to start, Cocchio says “it was quite fun to be able to have this blank canvas and build a structure that works for who we are today, and who we might be tomorrow.” 

But the big “a-ha moment,” as Cocchio describes it, came when she and her team needed to consolidate 18 different Shared drives structures that MES created during its initial foray into the tool. The unit quickly realized it could further enhance accessibility and unit efficiencies by collapsing their 18 structures into 9.  And the best part, it took only 30 minutes, and they could do it all themselves — no need to call in IT support. They were so pleased in fact, that they created the Shared Drives Jive. Cocchio’s team also recognized the service’s flexibility when another unit joined theirs and they seamlessly merged that group’s content into their Shared Drives structure. “It demonstrates that the program can grow and change,” Cocchio says. “Shared Drives is really adaptable to changing organizational structures.”

From an operations perspective, adopting a user-centric, cloud-based service is becoming more attractive. Jim Boyes, Associate Director of Relationship Management with IST, acted as a liaison between the Faculty and RMO to help find a holistic solution that worked for everyone. He says that faculties and business units are always interested in adopting centrally supported services at little to no cost. “It hits a lot of checkmarks because it’s acceptable for most of the University information that we work with,” Boyes says. And considering that the ownership of Shared Drives files is controlled by the team and organization, means that no single person has sole control of a document. So when someone leaves a team, there’s less risk of documents leaving with them — making transitions much easier. “It’s a better way to manage institutional information,” Boyes says. Based on the success of the MES pilot project, Boyes says IST is now talking to the Faculty of Native Studies around a similar kind of approach to meet their file storage needs.

Shared Drives, and Google Drive in general, propels us towards the future. Putting us in the Cloud moves us away from traditional hardware-based systems that require major investment, while simultaneously reducing our storage footprint. Employing more intuitive and convenient services lets us focus on strategic initiatives, preparing the University for subsequent changes in technology. Luzio insists that there’s no need to fear or be resistant to Google or other cloud- based systems. In fact, the University conducted due diligence with respect to information management, privacy, and security, and ultimately determined that Google Drive is a reliable and appropriate  storage option. “Google is not IT,” Luzio says. “It’s a tool for you to use and be empowered. I want you to know you’re empowered, and IST will provide you the awareness that you need, but now you’re in control.”