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Open-Source Document Management: Pros and Cons

Derek Walter

Open-source systems create an opportunity to test-drive programs before purchasing a proprietary solution. Here's what you need to know about open-source document management.

  • Open-source software gives businesses the flexibility to build a document management solution that works best for their needs.
  • Security-conscious organizations may need to build their own protocols.
  • Open-source systems offer an opportunity to test-drive programs before you purchase a proprietary solution.
  • This article is for business owners, HR professionals and other business leaders who need a customizable document management system for their company.

If your business spends a lot of time and energy managing paperwork, you could benefit from open-source document management software. This software allows you to quickly manage and automate your day-to-day paperwork needs. Here is everything you need to know about customizable document management software.

What is open-source document management?

Document management software is a system for storing essential information for your business. Legacy hard copies of documents can be scanned and then uploaded directly into the document management system, where they'll remain safely in digital form.

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

A key consideration for any document management system is the workflow. You and your team should be able to navigate the file structure easily and face minimal friction in collaborating with other users. A document management system that provides mobile access will ensure greater convenience for your team.

If you will scan files as part of your workflow, make sure there is a method for adding and organizing files within the user interface of the software you're considering. Keyword search and a system for viewing and editing permissions must all be built into the framework.

There are other practical features to consider when building a solution that works best for your team. For example, you need to determine whether multiple users can edit the same document simultaneously. You'll need to build a version control system so users know which iteration of the document they are on and have the option to roll back changes. An audit trail, for example, allows you to trace the history of a file's edits and which team members worked on it.

Key takeaway: Open-source document management is a customizable, free platform for teams to share and collaborate on digital files.

Is open-source document management the solution for your business?

Open-source document management software enables organizations to access, monitor and share essential files. When you use an open-source system, your company is responsible for customizing the solution for its users and implementing any updates 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.

 

Businesses typically have one of two aims in using an open-source solution. Some businesses want to use open-source software as a trial solution to test whether that type of system will meet their needs before they pay for a similar program. For other businesses, open-source software itself may be the end goal.

Reuben Yonatan, CEO of independent provider comparison site GetVoIP, said there is a lot to like about the open-source world.

"Many open-source products have additional features, like enterprise-grade storage space or hosted solutions," he said. 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."

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.

Key takeaway: If you want a flexible, highly customizable document management solution, open-source software might be for you. However, be prepared to handle the technical updates and support yourself.

Benefits of open-source document management software

These are some of the many benefits of open-source document management software:

More flexibility

The main benefit of open-source software is its flexibility. A core premise of open-source software is that it can be used and customized to the needs of the users, so a company that is comfortable with building its own solutions may find open-source software 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 can lead to better software from which all of its users can benefit.

Workflow automation

Another major benefit of using document management software is that you can replace many manual processes with simple automation rules. For example, document management systems can process information, organize documents, and send out electronic signature requests without any human intervention.

Less need for physical storage

Storing and organizing paper documents can take up a lot of space, time and energy. With document management software – open-source or otherwise – you can significantly reduce the space and cost of physically storing documents in your office building.

Better security and disaster recovery

Storing physical copies of all sensitive documents may seem like a secure option in the era of large data breaches, but document management software can actually increase your data privacy. With this software, you can tightly control who has access to sensitive information and keep records of who accessed specific data at a specific time. Furthermore, digital document management allows you to index, archive and retrieve all your documents in the event of a disaster, which you can't easily do with physical copies.

Key takeaway: The benefits of open-source document management software include flexibility, automation and easier disaster recovery.

Potential drawbacks of open-source solutions

For these reasons, an open-source document management solution may not be the right choice for every business.

Proprietary software may be a quicker and cheaper solution.

Certain features might be more quickly accessible (with fewer headaches) from a third-party solution. Also consider the costs and time of doing the software work in-house and how the storage solution will look.

Document management software can be created as an on-premises or cloud-based system. With the on-premises (self-hosted) option, your business is in control and does not rely on an outside cloud provider for access or uptime, with server storage typically onsite at the office.

If you choose an on-premises system, you must decide how the upkeep costs fit into your budget, which is why many businesses use cloud-based systems. Your IT team doesn't need to maintain on-premises servers for your documents; storage is handled through the cloud. Of course, with this option, any downtime on the software's provider's side means you'll temporarily lack access to your files. However, such instances are rare, and you may even be able to build a hybrid option that uses both on-premises and cloud storage.

Open-source software always has security risks.

The major potential drawback to using an open-source system is the security risk, according to Jon Lincoln, former vice president of business development for cloud-based document 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."

Some certifications may be more difficult to obtain.

A key factor to consider is the application of ISO certification principles. The International Organization for Standardization publishes standards that serve as a global benchmark for business 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.

Key takeaway: Open-source document management software can come with significant security flaws and demand significant upkeep.

Top open-source document management solutions

If you're ready to invest in a document management solution but aren't sure which is right for your business, take a look at our list of the best document management software and systems of 2021. If you are specifically looking for open-source software, here are a few options to consider:

  • VIENNA Advantage Community (read our full review) is a community-driven, user-friendly document management system that is free to businesses. It provides advanced workflow automation features to improve your business's processes. This document management software has been certified by TÜV SÜD, which provides security, testing, certification and auditing services.

  • OpenDocMan has a full suite of document management features, including automated workflow management, document search, and extensive file management. OpenDocMan was developed under the GNU General Public License, so you can modify it as needed.

  • Kimios allows you to create, edit and share documents from any browser. It supports many file types, including text, images, videos and 3D objects. If your business uses Microsoft Office, a plugin is available to optimize your employees' workflow. Kimios is available under the Affero General Public License.

  • LogicalDOC Community Edition is open-source document management software that doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the commercial version, but it offers all the basic features a small business may need, such as a web-based interface, SOAP and REST API interfaces, and extensions with Joomla and WordPress. LogicalDOC Community Edition is available under the GNU Lesser General Public License version 3, which means the source code is available for free to modify and redistribute as needed.

  • OpenKM Community Edition, another open-source version of a commercial product, allows you to create workflows and access documents from mobile devices, and it's compatible with different operating systems. This document management software offers an open-source option for free via the GNU General Public License version 2 model. The source code is available to everyone.

Key takeaway: VIENNA, OpenDocMan, Kimios, LogicalDOC and OpenKM all offer open-source document management solutions worth considering.

Bottom line

An open-source document management system can help a company keep its important information accessible and organized for everyone on the team. This method of document management affords you many options, although the open-source nature requires planning and foresight about how you'll implement the features from the available solutions.

Sean Peek contributed to the writing and research in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Image Credit: smolaw11 / Getty Images
Derek Walter
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
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.