In the previous post of our ADF and OpenContent Management Suite (OCMS) comparison series, we’ve compared how the search as well as the contributor interfaces work in ADF vs. OCMS. As we’ve done previously with our comparison series blog posts, (Alfresco Share and Documentum) for this next post we’ll turn our attention to 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 building applications with Alfresco ADF 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
- ADF makes primary use of a folder breadcrumb navigation component, with a folder tree component listed as a future enhancement, currently unprioritized.
- OpenContent Management Suite (in 2012 called HPI) takes an approach where metadata searching is the primary mechanism for finding folders and documents.
The rest of this post will detail how ADF compares to OpenContent when working with folders and documents within a folder.
ADF Demo Application
As with our Search and Contributor comparison posts, our comparison is based on Alfresco’s “demo shell” application that is packaged with the ADF components on GitHub. As a development framework, comparing ADF to OCMS is not completely an apples-to-apples comparison. However, by using the demo shell application, we can at least compare the current components that ADF provides. For more examples of ADF components, check out the component catalog.
As briefly mentioned above, ADF does not currently contain a standalone component for exposing the full repository folder tree to the user. However, it is listed as an”unprioritized” enhancement in the Alfresco Jira. We do not believe this is entirely a bad thing however, since our own OCMS interface does not have a full repository browser as well. ADF does, however, have a component that allows the user to view a folder. It’s found in the “Content Services” section of the Demo Shell application. By default, the Demo Shell application places the user in his or her User Home folder:
This component lists any subfolders and documents in the current folder, presents some available folder actions as well as document actions (some in the top right, and others via right click or the three vertical dot menu), as well as a breadcrumb style component near the top that allows the user to browse the folder tree. It should be noted that if the user navigates all the way back to the “Personal Files” level, all repository folders in the root that the user has access to will be visible. We would recommend disallowing this functionality in an ADF application as it falls into some of the challenges presented above. Specifically, performance issues for large repositories, and that it can be cumbersome for users attempting to navigate a complex folder tree.
Some additional thoughts on the ADF Folder component:
- Filtering documents in the ADF component is not possible. You can change how the document list is sorted, but you cannot facet or filter on document metadata.
- User-configurable column display is limited in the same way as when we reviewed the Share folder view. The user cannot choose to show or hide metadata fields without additional coding in the ADF component interface. As to custom metadata fields, it’s up to the developer of the ADF application to choose which columns to display.
- Viewing documents is accessed by double clicking on the document. In the Demo Shell application, the page reloads to display the document in the PDF viewer. If the document cannot be rendered to PDF and the document’s native format isn’t viewable in the browser, the ADF Demo Shell application simply displays a message saying “Couldn’t Load Preview” and the user’s only recourse is to utilize the download action at the top. 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, the demo shell application 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, 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
Instead of a folder tree or folder breadcrumb navigation, OCMS allows users to 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. For an outside party comparison, see long-time Alfresco Architect and Evangelist Jeff Potts thoughts on OCMS folder navigation at ECM Architect comparing interfaces and ADF/Share from May 3rd 2018:
TSG has removed the hierarchical folder metaphor entirely. Instead, content just goes where it needs to go based on user role, the type of content, and the task at hand. The focus here is on end-user productivity where end-users are most likely case workers, records managers, or similar
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.
- Folder Redaction – Part of our current Redaction Roadmap planned for late 2018 this feature allows for bulk redaction across the folder document based on patterns as well as specific values.
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 below, 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:
Dual pane view – viewing document properties while viewing contents:
Overall, the ADF components for working with documents and folders falls into some of the same drawbacks that Share’s interface contains. However, as a development framework, we would recommend that ADF application developers consider some of the points above when developing applications, especially those involving case management scenarios. By contrast, OpenContent Management Suite provides a case management view of folders out of the box 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.