Document Management

Subject: Document Management
From: "Engstrom, Douglas D." <EngstromDD -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 25 Sep 1996 14:57:01 -0500


Due to some untimely mailbox-cleaning, I can't quote all the statements
I'm replying to. However, I'm coming coming up on my sixth month as an
administrator of a system using DOCS Open(tm) document control and
management software, I'd like to make a contribution to the thread.

First, allow me to agree strongly with everyone who noted that document
management is primarily an administrative, rather than a technical,
problem. Automating a poorly-thought-out system for handling documents
just makes the mess go faster; it doesn't fix much all by itself. Spend
-lots- of time in design and trial runs, conferring with users, and so
forth. Develop a very clear picture of how and why you will want to
access documents, and how much control you want to exercise over your
system. Also, there is a certain amount of inevitable pain in
implementing a document management system; it doesn't hurt to let the
problem develop before you try to solve it.

Second, to the extent possible, approach document management as an "all
or nothing" proposition. Give your users a place to park "personal"
documents within the system. That way, once they chain their
document-creation programs to the DCMS softward, they can work
constantly with the DCMS, and not have to worry about work-arounds to
get back to the hard disk. Because my system is used by a project with
many part-time team members, I can't do this. My unhappiest users are
those who have to constantly flip back and forth between the DCMS and
native file saves.

Third, don't underestimate what you are getting into. There is a
mentality on the part of some people who have never done it that a DCMS
is a nifty little utility you can put on a workstation and then walk
away from. What really happens is that the time cost that used to be a
hundred people or so spending 15-20 minutes per day trying to track down
documents or versions is now cut in half, but focused on the
administrator. With DOCS Open, at any rate, there is a lot of overhead,
on a continuing basis.

Finally, there are some things that a DCMS does for you that a
file-and-folder system does not.

A DCMS allows rapid searching of the entire document database on several
criteria, including the text of the document. This is important for
those fun jobs like: "Find all the places in fifteen five-volume doc
sets that we refer to the Umptyfritz device and change it to Farnel
Control Unit." Or "Find all the end-user documents and insert this
portion about our development partners." Or "Find all the documents used
by our medical industry users, and insert this disclaimer."

A DCMS also allows true version control. Using some sort of numbered
file names strategy can work, but inevitably, people mess it up. Also,
by "locking down" changes at a certain point, you can always reproduce
the document as it existed at some point in time, while continuing to
make revisions. Also, if you don't allow Joe Documentor to change old
versions, there is a limit to how much damage can be done in a single
session. While I agree that there is no defense against a truly inspired
act of stupidity or malice, a DCMS can contain the damage caused by
people working too late, or in too big a hurry to think through the
implications of what they're doing.

A DCMS like DOCS also makes your documents device-independent. This can
be particularly important when groups working in different areas have to
share material. DOCS allows you to (for example) treat documents stored
on multiple servers as if they were all stored together. If you need to
shuffle documents between servers for technical reasons, you can do so
easily. I can and have moved an entire DOCS library from one server to
another in the middle of the night, without the users even being aware
the change had occurred.

So, there are good reasons to take the plunge.

As for DOCS Open itself, it's got some problems. It's the quintessial
"fat" client; it's a bit on the glitchy side; and their support team,
while motivated, doesn't have quite the depth of technical knowledge one
might hope for. I'll be happy to discuss these and any other details
off-line, or post to the list if there's enough interest.


Doug Engstrom "Please God, or someone, make it easier."
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com -- The Indigo Girls

Similarity between my expressed opinions and those of Pioneer Hi-Bred
are completely coincidental.

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