Collaboration: GoogleDocs for Proposal Writing

In an August 28th article, eWeek covers some of the recent changes and upcoming challenges facing Google Apps including Google Docs.

One of the most exciting statements from the lead product manager for collaboration states that: “…Google wants to make sure that Apps users can not only pull into Docs and Sites any document created in Office, but that they can also push those documents from Apps back to Office, all without losing formatting fidelity.”

One of my greatest frustrations with using GoogleDocs as a collaboration tool to write proposals has been the loss of formatting fidelity between Docs and Office. Proposals are large, heavy, unwieldy documents that combine a stock format with highly individualized responses to Requests For Proposals (RFPs). Proposals also require a high level of collaboration between technical authors who are providing key technical solution components, business authors who are providing key business-oriented solution information and editors who are smoothing out the entire document into a logical whole.

GoogleDocs would appear to be the ideal environment for creating this type of document, however because of the loss of formatting-fidelity, it’s nearly impossible to pull a proposal template into GoogleDocs for consistent use. What can be done, is writing small chunks of a proposal in a relatively format-agnostic way that can then be copied and pasted into the template ad-hoc as each pieces is completed.

Authors and editors can conduct the collaborative back and forth using the version control available in GoogleDocs or the automatically time-stamped and color-coded commenting system to highlight areas where changes are required. Then the edited pieces of text can be cobbled together ‘offline’ into the document template.

However, without strong fidelity between Office and GoogleDocs, an end-to-end final document can’t be fully loaded into the application for sharing and versioning, because the proposal template formatting with its complex headers and intricate interlinked styles won’t survive the upload into Docs.

If, as Google’s product manager is saying, full fidelity is a goal and this issue is ultimately resolved, GoogleDocs and other Apps could become a very strong contender for collaborative proposal-writing.

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