Google Drive as an Organizational Document Management System: an NTEN Case Study

While it’s no secret that most people love spending their extra time elbow deep in their Internal Document Management Systems, tweaking things until everything is just right, I still do hear of the occasional fringe case where an organization is just trying to figure out the best way forward, as old policies and methods no longer match up with new systems and technologies.

In all seriousness though, I see examples everyday where small issues with our own internal document management system can easily spiral into much larger issues of lost productivity, duplicated work, or conflicting messages, and I’m guessing NTEN is not alone in this.

So with that said, I wanted to share with the community the basics of NTEN’s own continually evolving Google Drive Policies and Document Management System. This isn’t because I think we’re doing everything right (we aren’t), but because I want to start/continue the conversation about how do we improve on this very important but often forgotten piece of our organization (so of course feedback or ideas on how to improve our own system is encouraged).

Without further ado:

NTEN’s Document Management System using Google Drive

Folder Structure:

  • Top Level Department folders with identifying code
    • i.e. “Communications (COM)”, “Membership (MEM)”
  • Within each of these folders are additional sub folders as needed, determined by department head. Each sub folder also has identifying code
    • i.e. “COM Branding (BRN)”, “MEM Community (CTY)”
  • This structure can go several levels deep where necessary
    • i.e. “MEM CTY Local Events (LE)”
  • We also have a Top Level “Confidential (CNF)” folder for storing documents and folders where there’s a need to restrict access, and within that a sub folder for use by each department head.
    • i.e. “CNF MEM”, “CNF COM”

File Naming Convention:

  • DepartmentCode SubCode(s) OtherIdentifyingCodes YYMMDD FYYY Descriptive Name
    • Deparment Code & SubCode(s): These codes define where in our folder structure the document is located
    • OtherIdentifyingCodes: For cross department or cross program documents, additional codes can be added to further identify the document and help bring it up in search results
    • YYMMDD: For dated documents like meeting notes
    • FYYY: For documents specific to a Fiscal Year: i.e. FY13
    • DescriptiveName: Describes what the document is

Sharing Policies:

  • The Top Level Department folders and all their sub folders and files are shared with all NTEN Staff. Then when new documents are created, as soon as they are added to the proper shared folder, all staff automatically have access.
  • The Confidential folder is shared with deparment heads only, and each sub folder is only shared with the head of that department
    • i.e. “CNF MEM” is only shared with our Membership Director
  • Then within those folders, the department heads can share specific files and folders with other staff as needed

Benefits of this System:

  • Files automatically shared with all staff (when placed in one correct, shared folder)
  • Simple to find documents using either folder structure or with search
  • Still allows for confidential files and folders where needed

Downsides of this System:

  • Difficult to administrate
    • Anyone can move folders and files around (sometimes on accident)
    • Staff can adjust sharing settings for docs and folders
    • No way to know if someone has files that they forgot to add to folder system
    • Owners of docs and folders (by default whoever created them) have full rights to delete or unshare

New Policies we’re still Investigating or in the Process of Implementing:

  • Using a paid Google Apps backup service for increased admin options and security
  • Use “Transfer Ownership” Process to make a new Admin account the owner of ALL docs and folders within Google Drive
    • This process would then be repeated on a monthly basis to transfer docs and folders created during the past month
    • Benefits:
      • No one could permanently delete any files or folders in Google Drive from their user accounts
      • Google Drive administration would be greatly improved with full, ownership access to ALL files and folders created by NTEN accounts through the new Admin account.
    • Risks:
      • Through new Admin account, admin user would have access to sensitive accounting, HR, and other docs not shared with their normal user account.
      • I assume this is also an issue for other document management systems, so am curious how this has been dealt with historically (i.e. having admin user sign a form stating they’ll only use their access for admin purposes or something like that).
Karl Hedstrom
IT Director
Karl believes strongly in the power of technology to make our world a better place. While serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger (’04-’06), he experienced first hand many of the positive impacts cell phones and other newly introduced technologies were starting to bring to his rural village and the entire development sector in West Africa. Following his service, he was inspired to find a career at the emerging intersection of technology and social good, and had the good fortune to join the NTEN team as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in late 2006. For over a decade now, Karl has been working behind the scenes to improve NTEN’s use of technology to effectively meet its mission, and in effect striving to support all nonprofits in doing the same. Karl earned a BA in physics from Pomona College, and now lives in Seattle with his wife, two sons, yellow lab, and a pair of ragdoll cats who can often be seen sleeping on cat shelves in the background of his video calls. Outside of work you’ll find him playing volleyball, disc golf, Pokemon Go, or hiking and exploring the amazing Pacific Northwest with his family.