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Grow Your Business Technology

Open-Source Document Management: Pros and Cons

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  • Open-source software gives businesses the flexibility to build a document management solution that works best for their specific needs.
  • Security-conscious organizations may need to build in their own protocols.
  • Open-source systems can create an opportunity to test-drive programs before purchasing a proprietary solution.
  • Focus on solutions that are best for users and streamline collaboration.

Document management is a system for storing information that is essential to an organization. Legacy hard copies of documents can be scanned and then uploaded directly into the document management system where it is safely available for all in digital form.

Many systems allow users to enter metadata and tags that can be used to organize the files. Other tools may include a search capability so team members spend less time tracking down specific documents.

A key consideration of any document management system is the workflow. Users should be able to navigate the file structure and have minimal friction collaborating with other users. Furthermore, a document management system that provides mobile access will ensure greater convenience and benefit for businesses. 

For those who will scan files as part of the workflow, it's important to ensure there is a method for adding and organizing files within the user interface. Keyword search and a system for author and viewing permissions must all be built into the framework.

Open-source document management software enables organizations to access, monitor and share essential files. When a system is open-source, the company is responsible for customizing the solution for the users and ensuring they implement any updates that are built by the open-source community.

 

Editor's note: Looking for document management software for your business? Fill out the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

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Businesses typically have one of two aims they want to achieve by using an open-source solution. Some businesses want to use open-source as a trial solution to test whether the system will meet their needs. For other businesses, however, it may be the end goal.

Reuben Yonatan, chief executive officer at GetVoIP.com, an independent provider comparison site, said there is a lot that is worthwhile from the open-source world. 

"Many open-source products have additional features, like enterprise-grade storage space or hosted solutions," said Yonatan. Proprietary systems may be a stretch financially for small businesses. "For many [companies], it is a good fit to try open-source software first, then upgrade when the time is right," added Yonatan.

Open-source document management may be the right choice for an organization that wants to build and customize its own solution.

When created under an open-source license, the software is typically free to use, modify or redistribute. If supported by an active community, open-source software benefits from regular input and modification that improves the product over time.

The main benefit of open-source software is flexibility. A core premise of open-source software is that it can be used and customized to the needs of the users. It underpins much of what is used with software systems, so a company that is comfortable with building its own solutions may find open-source to be the best route.

"Open-source means that anyone can improve upon the success of the previous generation," Yonatan said. In the long run, this shared knowledge and collective effort leads to better software from which all users can benefit.

An open-source document management solution may not be the right choice for every business.

There may be certain features that are more quickly accessible (with fewer headaches) from a third-party solution. Organizations must also consider the costs and time involved with doing the software work themselves and how the storage solution will look.

Document management systems can be created as an on-premises or cloud-based system. With the self-hosted option, the organization is in control and does not rely on an outside cloud provider for access or uptime with storage that is typically onsite.

Of course, a company must decide how the upkeep costs fit in with their budget, which is often why many businesses use a cloud-based system. An IT team doesn't need to maintain on-premises servers, and storage is handled through the cloud. Of course, any downtime means temporary lack of access to the files. However, such instances are rare, and some organizations may be able to build a hybrid option that uses both on-premises and cloud storage.

The major potential drawback to using an open-source system is security, according to Jon Lincoln, business development director for cloud-based content management solution OfficeScope.

Security is paramount, and open-source software may not have the most robust capabilities.

"With security being a major concern for many industries, organizations must keep in mind that most open-source document management systems do not encrypt documents," Lincoln said. "If compliancy is a major concern for your organization or industry, then using open-source document management will not be the right choice, since it doesn't provide features that you may need to tap into to prove compliancy."

A key factor to consider is applying ISO certification principles. The International Organization for Standardization publishes standards that serve as a global benchmark for businesses when it comes to specific practices and procedures. Proper documentation, for example, is a key component of ISO 9001.

While certification may not be necessary for your business, given the time and costs involved in achieving such a designation, a specific set of standards and procedures for establishing the user interface, sharing capabilities, and security of a document management system are essential.

There are other practical features to consider when it comes to building a solution that works best for your team. For example, determine whether there should be simultaneous editing of documents. Build a version control system so users know which version they are on, or have an option to roll back changes. An audit trail, for example, allows a path to trace the history of how a file was edited.

An open-source document management system is an important component of how a company keeps its important information accessible and organized for everyone on the team.

Open-source document management affords many options for businesses, although there must be serious planning and foresight about how to implement the features from the available solutions.

Check out our best picks for more recommendations and considerations when choosing an open-source document management solution.

Derek Walter

Derek Walter is the founder of Walter Media, which offers writing and content strategy services. He is also the author of Learning MIT App Inventor: A Hands-On Guide to Building Your Own Android Apps.