Curing document management complexity

The old adage “keep it simple” is sometimes lost with enterprise document management products. Instead, vendors layer on non-core functions such as multimedia cataloging, making the products pricey and difficult to implement and use.

There are exceptions, however: Xerox DocuShare 4.0.1 and Xythos Enterprise Document Management Suite 5.0 embrace simplicity and still deliver solid document and file management.

DocuShare is among the more cost-effective enterprise content managers. Its easily implemented document management, collaboration tools and electronic distribution are a fine fit for document-intensive businesses. Xythos Enterprise Document Management Suite 5.0 forgoes DocuShare’s more formal team tools, such as threaded discussions, but covers all the document management essentials with little compromise. With either product, enterprises should see quick startup, little need for IT support, lower costs and more efficient business processes.

Xerox DocuShare 4.0.1

Xerox DocuShare emphasizes ease-of-use, yet it doesn’t withhold features. Out of the box, enterprises get document collaboration and personalization, workflow, Verity’s K2D search engine, an embedded database, imaging tools and plenty of scalability.

Contributing to a low TCO, DocuShare runs on Windows Server 2000 or 2003, Solaris or Linux, and (optionally) works with Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server databases. For special needs, such as high-volume paper document scanning, the solution grows through add-on modules and integrators for third-party applications.

DocuShare’s multiple personalities make it appropriate for several broad areas. It works well as a basic document manager, while collaboration tools help workgroups update and track items such as research documents or marketing plans. DocuShare also handles electronic content distribution; recipients are notified when content is ready and download it from a secure location.

I installed DocuShare, a J2EE Servlet engine, on my Windows server in about an hour. No client software is necessary beyond a Web browser, although several possible end-user interfaces are possible. For Windows and Mac OS X users, WebDAV Web Folders let you access DocuShare from desktop applications; there’s also a Windows client that adds DocuShare access to Windows Explorer.

Version 4.0.1 introduces a Web portal view (My DocuShare) that I quickly customized with favourite objects, personal document collections, calendar, list of routing tasks to complete and my browsing history. Navigation is straightforward; Collections (folders) show content in your organization’s desired hierarchy, and you simply click through to locate files you need. Alternately, improvements in the embedded Verity K2D search include new menus for quick word searches and a redesigned advanced search page.

When a document is located, associated edit icons let me view properties, check out the file, or route it for approval. I liked the new wizard-based Routing Slip because it let me create multi-step workflows without any programming. I was also able to route specific document versions and direct approvals to groups.

The main interface’s tabbed management pages offer quick access to other functions, including version history and permissions. To contribute content to Collections, I navigated to the desired folder and, using the Add menu, uploaded documents, created a discussion forum and specified links to external Web pages.

The only one of these tasks that may take some experience is creating a “team space,” which is based on a module called DocuShare Interact. Customizing templates for a functional team meeting room requires some HTML and scripting skills.

Collections appear within Outlook as regular mail folders, so I didn’t have to switch to another application. Moreover, the DocuShare Outlook Client supports Outlook mail rules, so files you receive as e-mail attachments can automatically be routed to DocuShare according to criteria you establish. You can also submit content via the optional DocuShare Email Agent. Much like a wiki, users can e-mail documents directly to the DocuShare server.

Those using paper documents can scan content directly to DocuShare with the bundled ScanSoft PaperPort software (PaperPort also works with any TWAIN-compliant scanning device). Drag a PaperPort document to the DocuShare desktop icon and an upload dialogue appears; then, fill in the required metadata and you’re done.

Administration isn’t complicated, either. DocuShare delivers a strong mix of collaboration, personalization and ease of use, yet you don’t get painted into a corner. For instance, add-on records management turns the system into a compliance solution, and an archive server scales the system from workgroups to the whole enterprise, while providing disaster recovery.

Going further, Version 4.0.1’s portal view gives a unified picture of documents and action items. There’s granular security on documents down to specific versions, which are easily routed using multi-step workflows. Collaboration tools help workgroups update and track items such as research documents or marketing plans. With this scaling and interoperability, Xerox fields a very competitive ECM (enterprise content management) system.

Xythos Enterprise Document Management

Xythos doesn’t pretend to be a do-it-all document manager. You won’t find Web content management or digital asset management. What Enterprise Document Management Suite 5.0 delivers, however, is simple, affordable, essential document and file management.

To do so, Xythos is built around a complete set of library services, including version control, audit history, and subscriptions. The system addresses compliance regulations with retention rules and logs that track file changes, while document routing and workflow is integrated into the product’s single browser interface.

Anchoring all this is safe file sharing (with secure URLs) and strong remote access based on DeltaV, a network protocol designed for remote versioning and management of documents stored on a Web server. Xythos doesn’t kid about easy setup and use. In less than 30 minutes, I set up the underlying WebFile Server (written in Java) on a Windows 2000 server and configured Xythos’ Document Manager application.

For end users, the system is equally straightforward. I found the suite works very well with the kind of workflow processes enterprises likely have in place, which should boost adoption rates and not burden support staff.

At the most basic level, users load the Xythos Drive desktop application, which instantly turns any desktop applications into a WebDAV-compatible publisher. Using this add-in, I easily edited Word and Excel documents stored on my Xythos server. Publishers control access rights, file locking and versioning, and Xythos Drive provides offline synchronization.

Most users will want to take full advantage of the Enterprise Document Manager application, controlled via the Xythos Web UI. Version 5.0 improves this experience with a more manageable menu structure: You can expand and collapse logical sections such as bookmarks (links to shared folders), searches, workflow and document classification.

In practice, Enterprise Document Manager operated true to form. The File Manager let me quickly create shared folders and upload documents using the top toolbar. Action Icons offer a simple way to manage an item’s access permissions and change collaboration properties, including versioning, locks and subscrip- tions (automatic notifications of content changes).

Version 5.0 improved Xythos’ built-in seek tool as well. You may now save searches and organize them under the left-hand navigation, making it easier to locate files you use every day. Also, the system automatically loads your most recent search and lets you quickly edit the parameters; settings include advanced options to hone in on files by creation date and other criteria.

I found several benefits to the classification tools, which let me specify that specific file types were saved to particular folders and add custom metadata to documents. Classification will apply retention rules to uploads, ensuring that certain documents are saved for a designated time period.

Building workflows takes just a few clicks to designate which users need to review and approve document changes. Xythos provides e-mail notification of required actions, encouraging users to perform their assigned tasks, thus keeping projects on schedule. JSR-168 portlets let you display folder content, perform file searches and upload documents from compatible portal applications, such as BEA WebLogic Portal.

For IT staff, Xythos Developer Studio’s graphical Workflow Designer helps coders quickly create complex workflows, such as those for capital expenditures. WebFile Server APIs permit developers to integrate Xythos library services into other apps.

On the security front, Xythos replaces inherently insecure e-mail attachments with secure file links to content that resides on the central server; the links can be password-protected for added security. Using the Tickets function, you can permit non-Xythos contributors (such as a contractor) access to your directories. E-mail sharing is more usable in this version because you have the choice to send the URL in several formats, such as a short redirect.

Although it wasn’t provided for testing, Xythos does have a Scan Client module that should allow organizations to scan and index paper documents into the Enterprise Document Manager for further management and classification.

Xythos Enterprise Document Management Suite 5.0 is a fine step up from legacy ECM systems. If you haven’t yet adopted a document management solution, Xythos will bring significant improvements over e-mail because it gives users access to essential document collaboration with no extended learning. The solution is also a good complement to higher-end ECM systems that can be reserved for more complex needs.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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