by Amy Weiss | 5/5/13
Workflow, according to some of the articles you’ll find on this website and other places, is the motion of content – from creation to management, delivery and storage. While it’s something we often talk about on an enterprise level, it’s something that any of us who work with content on a regular basis incorporate. And after reading a number of these articles, I began thinking about my own personal workflow.

The origin of my current workflow lies in a lightning strike. I live in the lightning capital of the world, so you’d think I’d be protected against such things. I certainly thought I was. At the time of the strike, my data was stored on a 1 TB backup drive with RAID and protected by surge protectors. “Protected” is too strong a word, however, since none of it held up against one of Florida’s particularly severe summer storms. Lightning hit the house and traveled through the cable line, knocking out the Ethernet ports on two separate computers, the HDMI input on my brand-new TV, my husband’s PS3 (no great loss) and the entire RAID drive containing most of my files.

It was then that remote backup and the cloud became part of my workflow.

I started with Mozy to back up my files. It’s a great service to keep things backed up securely and served my purposes well when I was working from only one computer. I was able to restore lost files (lost by lightning or end-user error – I won’t say) and felt secure. But at the time, file synchronization wasn’t part of the services offered, so if I left that computer I didn’t have access to my files. USB drives were my answer for a while, but since I can pretty much guarantee that anyone who has ever used a USB drive has either forgotten, lost or misplaced a USB drive, they were obviously not an ideal solution.

I ventured into the world of cloud-based file sync and discovered Dropbox, as did many people. It was a fantastic solution for accessing files from any location, and the initial 2 GB of free storage suited my needs for my most-used smaller documents. But I needed access to larger files as well, so began using Windows Live Mesh, a now-defunct service that allowed selected files of any size to sync between actual hard drives. The problem, again, was an end-user issue: I’m a computer-hopper. This morning, for instance, I typed this blog on a laptop on my back porch. Later I might give it another read on my iPad, and then post it from a desktop computer in my office. Syncing files from one computer to another got confusing. (It eventually became unnecessary as well, as Internet connection speeds got faster, cloud storage got larger, and tablets and smartphones became ubiquitous.)

So back to cloud storage, which I began collecting like I used to collect USB drives. In addition to Dropbox and SkyDrive (the cloud-based component of Live Mesh that eventually replaced it entirely), I had free accounts on SugarSync, Google Drive and Box. I became a master of the ways to get free storage; connecting my iPad with Box, for instance, gave me 50 GB for free. I got another 50 GB free on Dropbox purely by accident when I connected my Samsung phone to my account; I didn't even know the deal was going on. And I scored a great (paid) deal on SugarSync storage – another 50 GB.

It’s great to have all that storage, but the next trick was keeping track of it, since, as we know, workflow requires organization. I had to designate a function for each of my plans. Box, for instance, became the primary backup for my photos. Dropbox is used for current working files, and SugarSync for archives. This not only serves as a functional workflow for my home office, but it also worked when I began traveling with only an iPad instead of a laptop, since all have both Android and iOS apps. The final piece of the puzzle (for documents that can’t be opened in Quickoffice, recently acquired by Google) was Splashtop, a remote desktop app that allows me access to my home computer.

What about security? It's always going to be an issue, and while each service has its own assurances and levels of encryption, as anyone who follows tech news knows, there have been problems, and ultimately I believe in caveat emptor. I use TrueCrypt within my cloud storage for sensitive information. I have a firewall on my home network and a VPN to access it when on the road (thanks to my husband, who is a network engineer). And yes, some things are still in filing cabinets, but only those I haven’t gotten around to scanning and filing electronically – because in Florida, we not only have lightning but hurricanes, and flood insurance can't recover lost documents. My goal is the paperless office and, I have to say, I’m pretty close. Next time lightning strikes, I'll be ready.