As part of our 2018 comparison series between Alfresco Share and the OpenContent Management Suite, we previously discussed the search interface as well as the contributor interface. For this post, we will look into the available functionality for both consumers and contributors when looking at a group of related documents, typically contained within a folder.
Back in 2012, we looked at how folders were managed and exposed in a number of Documentum interfaces. The article is still worth a read today since the concepts are largely the same in 2018 and apply to Alfresco Share as well. Some of the highlights include:
- Foldering in an ECM system can pose challenges since:
- Ensuring documents are always placed in the correct folder can be tricky
- For large systems with many folders, traversing a complex mutli-level folder tree can be cumbersome
- For large systems with few folders, these folders typically contain many thousands of documents, making it hard to find documents and suffering from interface performance issues
- Share makes primary use of a folder tree navigation component
- OpenContent Management Suite (in 2012 called HPI) takes a different approach, where metadata searching is the primary mechanism for finding folders
The rest of this post will detail how Alfresco Share compares to OpenContent when working with folders and documents within a folder.
Share subdivides users into ‘sites’, much like SharePoint. Within each site, users have access to a Document Library, which contains a folder tree navigation pane on the left hand side of the interface:
Users can find folders by browsing the folder tree, similar to utilizing Windows Explorer. While this may be familiar to users, keeping a complex taxonomy stored in a folder hierarchy can be cumbersome, and increasingly is unfamiliar to users that are used to searching either by metadata or full-text search.
While working within a folder, documents and any subfolders are displayed in the main pane:
Some thoughts on the Share folder view:
- Filtering documents in Share’s folder interface is not possible. You can change how the document list is sorted, but you cannot facet or filter on document metadata.
- Sorting and ordering columns is limited in the same way as the search results view discussed previously. The user cannot choose to display or sort on custom metadata fields without a customization to the interface.
- Folder and Document actions (ex: view properties, checkout, etc) are accessed via a column in the results view that includes a hidden “more” button. From looking at the results, it’s hard to know where these actions are available. Folder actions can only be accessed by going up a level to view the folder in the right side of the display. In this manner, it’s not possible to execute actions on a folder while working with the documents within that folder. This poses a large issue for many clients that have case management scenarios.
- Viewing documents is accessed by clicking on the document, and the page reloads to display the document in PDF.js. If the document cannot be rendered to PDF, Share simply displays a download link. While this works fine for viewing a single document, it can be cumbersome to flip through many documents in a folder since each time, the user must navigate back to the folder to select the next document.
After viewing a document, Share switches the entire screen to allow the user to view and work with the document:
While it’s great that the user can preview the document in the browser using PDF.js, this interface is cumbersome if the user wants to view many documents in the folder. In order to do that, the user is forced to navigate back to the document listing each time he or she wants to view the next document.
OpenContent Management Suite
By contrast, OpenContent Management Suite has a much different approach to both finding and working with folders. Instead of a full-repository folder browser, users find folders via a metadata search. By focusing on search, OpenContent frees up the taxonomy on the back end – no longer does the folder structure need to follow how users navigate the folder tree.
This approach has a number of benefits beyond freeing up the folder taxonomy on the back end. Finding folders via metadata provides many ways to access a group of folders vs. a static hierarchy of folders that only provides one way. Additionally, after searching users can sort, filter and facet results just like any other search. Once the user clicks on a folder, OpenContent Case displays the folder in a configurable case management view:
Some thoughts on this folder view:
- Key metadata beyond simply the folder name is quickly visible in the top left corner of the view. The attributes that display here are configurable in the admin UI.
- Folder Actions are configurable and clearly listed for use based on the user’s security permissions. Menus and sub-menus are not utilized.
- The View All Documents action clearly lists the documents in the right pane that are in the folder. This view is exactly the same as the search results view. This means that the user can:
- Filter, sort and facet the list of documents
- Control which columns are visible and in what order. This extends to any attribute, including custom attributes.
- Documents can be displayed in the bottom left using metadata categorization. This displays to the user like subfolders, but it’s really metadata on the documents that’s controlling which ‘subfolder’ the document displays within.
- Advanced folder and case management actions are exposed and easily accessible to the user. These include:
- Combine PDF – allows the user to quickly combine many documents into one. The resulting document can be stored in the folder or downloaded to the users machine
- Send Email – allows the user to quickly send an email directly from the case folder. Documents within the folder can be attached to the email. The email itself is recorded in the case folder for reference and later viewing.
- Folder Notes – allows the user to add notes to the folder, which can be useful when more than one user is working within the folder over time. Additionally, notes can be automatically recorded here when certain actions are performed on the folder. For example: document upload, delete, email sent, etc.
When viewing a document from the View All Documents screen displayed above, OCMS previews the document using OpenAnnotate, but keeps the documents list displayed on the screen. In contrast to Share, this approach allows the user to view multiple documents in the folder one after the other without needing to navigate back and forth between separate “folder” and “document” views.
Diving a little deeper into the ‘Related Objects’ section of the OpenContent Case view, it’s possible to configure other related documents and folders to display here as well. This provides a mechanism to surface other content outside of the current folder that may be useful to the user. In the example above, we can display other related policies and claims for the current policy on this screen without losing the user’s context (and forcing the user to execute another search):
When viewing documents in OpenContent Case, the document is quickly previewed in the browser, typically utilizing OpenAnnotate as the viewer so that the user can annotate on the document as well:
Some additional notes:
- Document actions are clearly visible above the document. The available actions are configured by an administrator in the admin UI and are security dependent. For example, if the user only has READ permissions on the document, then actions such as checkout, delete, etc. will not appear.
- Users can utilize a dual pane view to view two documents at once. See the screenshot below.
- Document properties are displayed along side the document, allow the the user to easily line up content with metadata. See the screenshot below.
- Advanced document actions include:
- Document Notes – similar to Folder Notes mentioned above, but tied to a particular document.
- Split Document – the opposite of the the Combine PDF action, this action allows the user to split up a single document into many.
- Send Email – Executes the same send folder email functionality, but automatically attaches the current document to the email.
Dual pane view – viewing the policy contract along side a claim loss report:
While the Share folder and document interface may work for small implementations, in a large system the folder navigation and hierarchy can be cumbersome to work with especially in case management scenarios. By contrast, OpenContent Management Suite provides more of a search and case management view of folders with easy navigation between documents. OCMS is being continually improved and enhanced by TSG’s community of clients and is geared for highly configurable case management applications. Let us know your thoughts below.