Learn about open-source document management software and how to use it for your business.
- Open-source document management software is a platform that can be shared as a public source and modified to fit a business's specific system needs.
- It is highly customizable and should be modified by experienced developers.
- Open-source software is typically free and safe to use.
A document management system (DMS) can play an integral role in the organization and efficiency of your business. Companies that want a paperless office or a streamlined way to store and access digital documents turn to document management software. The most useful systems allow you to perform a variety of tasks like scan paper documents, control file versions, organize various folders, set user permissions and collaborate with other team members.
Not all applications are created equal; you must, therefore, choose a DMS that serves your needs and integrates with your other business platforms. Business owners and developers who want added flexibility and customization often turn to open-source DMS solutions.
Open-source software differs from standard software in that it is not a complete system on its own. Instead, it consists of a base application that businesses and developers customize to fit their needs. Although it may require advanced skills to build, this is especially beneficial for those who need to create advanced or unique management systems for their businesses.
When choosing an open-source document management system, intraplatform and system compatibility is crucial, said Pravin Vazirani, assistant vice president of operations at Chetu. Your new system needs to communicate with other current business programs.
"To ensure that a platform is compatible, leverage custom software developers to create company-specific patches and programs to help these systems all interconnect and communicate," Vazirani told business.com. "They will be able to take your 'skeleton' program and integrate it with the rest of your systems."
What does open source mean?
Open source is a term used to describe software that can be shared as a public source and modified to fit a business's specific system needs.
"It is essentially a technology platform that has been created as a 'base' of successful actions, plans, development, software, etc., that can be marketed by an individual company with the input of their knowledge and information," said Sarah Franklin, co-founder of Blue Tree AI.
Companies do not use open-source software on its own, but rather as a foundation for their DMS. It can be very useful for businesses that need advanced functionality or unique management systems.
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How to choose an open-source document management system
Since open-source solutions are flexible, it may seem like there is very little difference between each application; however, this is an inaccurate assumption. Knowing what to look for can help you choose the best DMS for your business.
The first step in choosing an open-source DMS – or to determine if one is even right for you – is to examine your business and decide which functionalities you want the software to have. Document management applications support several capabilities, so you must determine how simple or complex your system needs to be.
Additionally, factor in your budget and timeframe. Consider how much you can spend on a DMS, how much it might cost to have it modified, and how quickly you need it up and running.
One of the most useful functionalities of a DMS is the ability to quickly and conveniently digitize paper documents. Vazirani recommends software that has optical character recognition (OCR), which recognizes physical characters on a page and digitizes them so they can be read by computers. He said this feature is crucial for those who need a full-text search function, as it allows users to search not only by file or format type but also by content.
Storing, searching and extracting documents
A basic function of any DMS is the ability to quickly store, search for and review documents. This task is simplified with software that can search based on tags and full-text queries. Many businesses benefit from a DMS that automates these functions based on preset rules.
"Aside from intelligent document recognition and document capture services, robotic process automation (RPA) can also feature extraction technology, which automatically extracts important, desired data from documents and populate databases, as well image processing, allowing for things such as bar codes, QR codes, or other optical marks to be recognized by the system for ease in storing and retrieving documents," said Vazirani.
If you are using an open-source DMS, creating these rules and parameters may be the most arduous part of the modification process. Vazirani recommends seeking a specialist to help with the creation of your system, since most programmers and AI developers are well versed on rules suitable for DMS and will rely on only specialized input that is business-specific from the users' end if needed.
"To develop a modern DMS, businesses should, ideally, turn to specialized and custom developers with experience in building high-functioning DMS systems," said Vazirani. "However, for those with software development experience, or looking to oversee a team of developers, one should find the best software to handle user interface paths for both RPA, such as Blue Prism, and OCR, such as Ephesoft, which will help automate the DMS and extract vital data."
Having the ability to track document changes can be monumental for your business. Many companies benefit from a DMS that has version control. For example, if you are collaborating on a shared document with your team, this feature gives you the ability to view every previous version of that document and who made each set of changes. This enables you to track the progress of a living document and revert to a previous version if needed.
Security and regulations
For many companies, internal documents and data are the lifeblood of the organization. The level of security you need depends on how confidential that information is. Having a DMS where you set user permissions and security restrictions simplifies the collaboration process and provides peace of mind.
Since most open-source software comes with limited security settings, this is something you will need to build into it. If you work in a highly regulated industry, you may need a standard DMS that has the ability to report on compliancy measures.
Integration and compatibility
Although open-source systems are very flexible, you still need to check that it is compatible with your current business platforms. Having a DMS that can easily integrate with other operations throughout your business will streamline workflow and increase efficiency and accuracy. It is also important that it is compatible with every file type you will work with.
Usability and support
The complexity of your DMS will depend on your team's needs and capabilities. Find a platform that satisfies your business requirements, yet is easy enough for your team to understand and implement. It can be helpful to find a program that offers a demo or free trial.
If you want to use open-source software, you someone on your team who is tech savvy enough to modify it, or find someone to outsource it to. If your team is limited on tech knowledge, it can be especially helpful to choose a document management company with good customer service and tech support teams.
The best open-source solutions
Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are a few great companies that offer intuitive software applications. After much research and deliberation, this is our list of the best document management software.
However, if you are looking for an open-source DMS specifically, we spoke with industry professionals to get their take on the best options to choose from.
Vazirani recommends the following open-source document management systems:
Regardless of which platform you choose, make sure it is easy to implement and modify as your business needs change.
Open-source document management systems are completely customizable and offer many benefits to business owners. However, these applications also pose questions. We spoke with subject experts to answer some of the most common questions asked about open-source DMS programs.
How do you create a DMS?
Every company needs some type of filing system, whether it be simple or complex. A DMS can be a useful tool to file documents as your business grows. Franklin advised that when you are weighing your options, first assess your business's current filing and data system to identify what it is currently saving and how it is organized.
"Identify each subject, and discuss what you will change to become more efficient and well managed," said Franklin. "Develop the measures that the business will adhere to and what rules must be followed. Then prepare and study what you and your team have designed and implement it into the workflow."
How much does an open-source DMS cost?
These systems are typically web-based platforms that are free for public use. However, there may be additional costs associated with modifying the software. For example, you may need to hire a developer to customize the platform for you, which takes time and costs money. According to Vazirani, although software with open-source code is, by definition, open to public use, there are premium options available for purchase that range in pricing.
Is an open-source DMS safe?
The security of a technology platform is incredibly important. Having a platform that is completely customizable might leave some business owners wondering if an open-source DMS solution is safe to use.
The short answer is yes. However, there are some security factors you should keep in mind. For example, most open-source systems don't encrypt documents. If you work in a highly regulated industry, you may need a DMS that has the features you need to prove compliance.
Since companies essentially only leverage program skeletons with open-source systems, Vazirani said the modifications of the system (the part that makes it unique and useful to the business) must be customized to protect your business's data.
"It is also important to use reputable open-source DMS providers and to perhaps invest in the paid support from many providers that can assist with quickly patching and solving security concerns," said Vazirani.