Hosted Document Management Can Be Attractive Option for SMBs

 
 
By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2007-05-10
 
 
 

Hosted Document Management Can Be Attractive Option for SMBs


Whether it is called on demand, software as a service or application service provider, the ability for businesses to purchase and deploy complex enterprise applications through hosted services has greatly eased the burden of managing and running these often complex systems.

And just as on-demand services have taken over the world of CRM (customer relationship management), they are now becoming more common in another area of technology management: content and document management.

Document management, in particular, can be a tough nut to crack when it comes to offering a hosted service. In general, businesses can be a little squeamish about putting all of their vital company documents on an outside server that is completely out of their control. Also, from a strict efficiency perspective, constantly sending documents that would otherwise never need to be outside of the company network to external servers doesnt seem to be the best use of network resources.

The move away from the traditional packaged software model toward software as a service is a permanent one, according to industry pundits. Click here to read more.

But for small and midsize businesses, a full-scale, enterprise-class document management system can be an expensive and time-consuming platform to implement, and many of the high-end products, such as EMCs Documentum, focus on high-end storage and workflow features that many smaller businesses dont need. For these companies, a document management solution that is easy to deploy and that meets most of their basic needs can be an attractive option.

For this review eWEEK Labs looked at two SAAS (software as a service) offerings in the field of document management: SpringCM and Xythos on Demand. Both of these products are easy to get up and running, and each of them meets the core document management needs of many businesses when it comes to transferring, managing and tracking documents

Both also have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, with SpringCM providing more robust workflow and customization options but lacking features such as RSS integration, while Xythos on Demand offers good notification options and a simplified user interface but has no workflow capabilities.

Both SpringCM and Xythos on Demand offer free 30-day trial accounts, and we recommend taking advantage of them to discover which of these products will best meet your companys unique document management needs.

Pricing for hosted offerings such as these are often based on a variety of factors, from number of users to type of users to amount of storage to additional features required. Both products are in the same ballpark, with initial small-scale deployments likely to start in the hundreds per month, though Xythos on Demand comes in a bit lower than SpringCM. Details on the pricing for these products can be found at www.xythosondemand.com/home/xythos/get_started/service_plans.html and www.springcm.com/v2/index.php?method=Products⊂=Pricing.

Next Page: SpringCM.

SpringCM


Among the core attributes of SpringCM 3.7 (the version we tested for this review) are an attractive, very customizable and intuitive user interface, and several unique features for both submitting and sending content to and from the service.

Probably the most useful of these was the ability to set up a unique mailing address on the service (using the format yourmailingaddress@inbound.springcm.com) to which any user could send attached documents that would automatically be added to the document repository. Given how common it is to receive and exchange documents through e-mail, we found this to be an excellent option for sending documents into a document management system, especially for documents that come from outside workers and partners.

SpringCM also offers a plug-in to Microsoft Office so that users can automatically save and read documents within SpringCM directly from their Office applications. Also, a public folder option (for an additional fee per folder) makes it possible to set up essentially an external folder for public document downloads and access.

Standard upload options such as browser-based fields and a Java-based multifile uploader are also included, and the service does support WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) folders for simple drag-and drop document access.

However, with this last option we quickly found one of the weaknesses in this version of SpringCM, namely its integrated help system. SpringCM didnt have in-context help, always defaulting to a main search page when we accessed its help system. We found that the user guide for this version was not yet available. When we searched for help information on how to access the products WebDav interface, no information was returned. It was only after speaking to SpringCM representatives that we learned the WebDAV address information we needed to access our SpringCM folders from our Windows Explorer.

Once we uploaded documents into the SpringCM system, the service provided us with all of the standard document management and routing features that most businesses will require, such as check-in/check-out, unique keywords and attributes, and versioning. One nice little feature in the check-in/check-out capabilities, called Nudge User, made it possible for us to send a notice to another used who had checked out a document to which we required access.

While the workflow options in SpringCM dont compete with those found in high-end enterprise systems, we found them to be solid overall and suitable for most document routing needs. SpringCM makes it possible to create both simple, single-step workflows (such as "Joe, review this document") to more complex, multistep workflows. Any workflow created can be saved as a template for reuse.

When it comes to sending out documents from the system, SpringCM has a nice implementation that provides all necessary options from a single interface. For example, when sending a document through SpringCM, we could attach a note, select recipients, choose delivery options (mail, PDF, fax, SpringCM inbox) and define a number of security and access settings, including document expiration and forwarding, printing, and copying rights.

SpringCM offers several good options for businesses that want to customize the service to fit within their existing company Web infrastructure. In the customization screens we could replace the SpringCM logo with a company logo and change site colors and text to match our current company sites and portals. It is also possible to integrate the SpringCM login fields into company Web sites and portals.

As is often the case with SAAS products, new versions and updates come fast and furious. By the time you read this review, the SpringCM service should be running under a new version (3.8). In a preliminary demo of this version, we saw that SpringCM will have a new user interface that, for the most part, mimics the standard interface of Microsofts Outlook. Another major new feature in this release will be the option to clone an entire SpringCM account, which will be useful for deploying the service to different units or departments of a company.

Next Page: Xythos on Demand.

Xythos on Demand


Unlike SpringCM, which exists solely as a hosted offering, Xythos on Demand has a sibling internal application in the form of the Xythos Enterprise Document Management Suite. The nonhosted version sports the same user interface as does Xythos on Demand, but offers additional features and capabilities, such as workflows and corporate directory integration.

At first glance, Xythos on Demand doesnt look like much—the products sparse, gray user interface can be described only as dull. However, once we started using the product, we found it to be fairly intuitive and easy to use, though with a few notable exceptions.

One thing we didnt like was that too many of the products core features, such as versioning, permission settings, commenting and custom properties, were buried in a Manage interface, which at first glance didnt appear to be editable. However, once we figured out where everything was, using Xythos on Demand became much easier.

Helping with this process was the fact that, unlike SpringCM, the help system in Xythos on Demand is in context, so we received relevant help tips related to the windows in which we were working.

One of the strongest feature sets within Xythos on Demand are those regarding subscription and notification options. Users can subscribe to any documents or folders to receive notifications whenever content changes, when comments are added or when someone reads content.

Even better, all folders and content within Xythos on Demand can be subscribed to through an RSS feed. We found this to be a great addition to the document management system, giving users notification of changes to document repositories using the same feed reading tools that they use to get updates from blogs and news sites.

Rather than a traditional check-in/check-out mechanism, Xythos on Demand simply makes it possible to lock and unlock documents from changes. The product doesnt include any form of workflow, instead relying on simple sharing and permissions options.

The tickets feature makes it possible to share documents with external users and partners with some control over usage. To create a ticket, we would simply define whether recipients would just have read or also write options, define an expiration date, and add an option password. Once this was completed we were provided with a link that we could e-mail to other users.

When it comes to loading content onto the system, Xythos on Demand offers standard options such as browser fields and a multiupload plugin. The Xythos Drive is a Windows application that we could load onto systems to provide mapped drive access to Xythos repositories and good integration with Windows desktops.

Xythos on Demand also does a good job with its WebDAV implementation, providing a Web Folders button on all content that lets users open an Explorer folder of any content area with a single click.

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