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Xerox Docushare: straightforward knowledge sharing

This article appears in the issue Nov/Dec 1999 [Volume 8, Issue 11]

Are you looking for a simple system for aggregating your organization's electronic documents into an intuitive repository? Do you want the ability for users enterprisewide to be able to search for information and retrieve items via their Web browsers? And do you want to do it without breaking the bank or getting bogged down in long implementation cycles?

Consider Xerox DocuShare. The system employs an organization's existing intranet platform to allow users to post and manage collections of information, which are stored in file servers and indexed in a database. It is not designed to be a full-blown document management or groupware system, but rather a simple means for users to add information to the organization's knowledge store and access it from any location.

In that area, DocuShare succeeds. The system is simple to deploy and administer, and it's easy for users to understand and use effectively. For organizations merely looking for a straightforward infrastructure for information management and sharing, it fits the bill.

DocuShare is designed to simplify document aggregation and access. From a Web browser, intranet users can access the document repository, which appears as a simple tree folder hierarchy. Or users can access the system via their Windows Explorer interface, in which the repository appears as a mapped drive within the organization's network.

DocuShare is designed to be a community-maintained system. For example, users can create their own accounts, groups, distribution lists, shared workspaces and access control--greatly minimizing administration requirements. Organizations can also configure DocuShare for centralized administration and management. The system allows users to create "collections" for documents, and the relationship between collections is reflected in a folder/subfolder metaphor. Administrators can set up an initial taxonomic structure to get started, and can later modify it to meet the needs of a changing organization and its business model.

When a collection is created or a document is added to the system, each folder and document is associated with an "owner," usually the person who added the item. The owner can also assign permissions for the object (such as read, write and manage rights). Owners can also reassign ownership as needed.

Users can add files to collections via drag-and-drop or double-click on an item to view it. The product is also ODMA-compliant, so that users can open, edit and save files to it through productivity tools such as Microsoft Word.

Architecture

The DocuShare server runs on either Windows NT Server or Sun Solaris. As mentioned, users can access the system through Web browsers or Windows clients.

The documents themselves are stored in the organization's standard file system. DocuShare supports most applications and file formats, including desktop applications, video, audio, URLs, calendars and bulletins. The system does not currently integrate with e-mail or groupware systems such as Microsoft Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Lotus Notes.

The document repository uses a back-end database to store profile information and metadata about the documents and their security settings. The system uses its own database for smaller implementations, but can use Oracle for enterprise implementations. In addition, it uses Verity's Verity search engine for full-text indexing and searching.

DocuShare provides its own security, which is set up by administrators and authorized users when assigning permissions for collections or documents. The system does not leverage the security of the operating platform and does not currently support LDAP.

System setup is performed via the Web browser. The DocuShare Administration Interface is clean and easy to navigate--a feature that is characteristic of the product as a whole. The administration interface offers a variety of logging and statistical capabilities, as well as the ability to set up object properties (determining the properties/attributes for the different document types); server configuration (setting paths, site parameters and license information); server maintenance (rebuilding search indexes, compressing databases and providing access to log files); account management (creating, editing and viewing users and groups); and content management (configuring site styles, document types, icons, top-level collections, ability to locate orphan files and view repository use).

Netting it out

Overall, DocuShare is a straightforward solution that delivers on its major goal: giving users a simple way to access a common document repository that is also easy for IT to deploy and maintain. If that is what you need, DocuShare makes sense.

But if you need process control or more granular document management and control, consider higher-end document management systems, which provide robust security, detailed control over document properties, version control and process automation capabilities. Likewise, if you're looking for more advanced KM-oriented features, other tools can address your needs. For example, DocuShare is lacking in capabilities for collaboration, sophisticated searching, notification and automatic delivery. But if it's a simple, low-cost, low-maintenance solution you need, DocuShare is worth a look.

Bill Chambers is a senior analyst, Jennifer Harty is an analyst, and Linda Andrews is a technical writer with Doculabs (www.doculabs.com), 312-433-7793, e-mail info@doculabs.com.

Overview

DocuShare is a Web-based application that enables an organization to manage and share information across disparate geographic locations using the corporate intranet. The product allows users to store, retrieve and update documents in many file formats, and enables cross-platform access to shared files from any PC, Mac, Unix or SGI computer with a Web browser and intranet access. The result is a low-cost, low-maintenance solution for effectively sharing information.

Platform support

DocuShare is a 32-bit, Web-based, three-tier client-server system that runs on any client platform with a standard Web browser (i.e. Windows, Macintosh or Unix clients running Netscape or Microsoft browsers). The application server runs on Windows NT hosting Microsoft Internet Information Server 4.0, or on Sun Solaris with Netscape Enterprise Server or Apache Web Server.

Strategic value to organizations

DocuShare provides a simple, inexpensive, easy-to-use tool with ad hoc document management capabilities for organizations to enable their users to share knowledge. It uses an organization's existing intranet platform to post and manage collections of information. The system offers basic functionality for collaboration that requires minimal administration and user training. Docushare offers an attractive solution for organizations that need a less structured environment for ad hoc knowledge sharing, as opposed to a highly structured and controlled document management system.


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