Many companies have adopted a document management solution (DMS) to improve document and data management productivity. It’s likely they chose between three different strategies. Whether they knew before or found out the hard way later, technology advances and new requirements arise from users. So, regardless of the choice, the DMS needs continuous development. This is to ensure compatibility with the latest technologies in order to also meet new requirements from users. The time and effort involved in maintaining a DMS varies greatly depending on the chosen DMS strategy. You’ll want to choose wisely. So, what are the top three strategies to choose from and what are their critical considerations?
The three strategies include an off-the-shelf DMS, a DMS built using 3rd party components, and a DMS you built from scratch. But, before you can begin to consider which one to select, you must first assemble a team to help make the right choice.
Roles Involved in Choosing a DMS Strategy
The team members involved with the design and development of a document management application vary by organizational size and the industry that the organization works in. However, it usually contains people from marketing, engineering, sales/customer service departments, and customers. The marketing department typically helps perform market feasibility studies. Software engineers do the development work. Meanwhile, the sales team / customer service team usually interact with customers for their input.
With the proper team assembled, one can move to selecting the right path toward a document management solution. All along, the team must remember the continuous development tasks required for their purposes. This is because it enormously impacts your users’ positive experience. Not having the proper continuous development and support can mean sinking the whole thing at any given point. Do yourself the favor of ensuring a selection that covers continuous development for the entire lifecycle of the application: acquiring, implementing, usage, updates and support – repeat.
Buying an off-the-shelf DMS might be an obvious option for companies that don’t have enough in-house document management, or development, expertise. Many times, such DMS solutions are generalized in terms of functionalities. In other words, they may not be fully ideal for your specific industry. Or, even those that are provided for your specific industry may not necessarily have every feature you need. For this type of application, when you require any updates, you will probably need to contact the provider of the application for help. So choosing an enduring provider with good customer service would be important.
When choosing such a DMS provider you may need to consider at least the following:
- How long has the solution provider been in business? Finding a DMS provider who will be an enduring business partner is crucial to your success.
- What’s their service-level agreement (SLA) like? Can you get timely support if you run into any issues when installing, updating or using the application?
- How flexible is the application? Is it customizable, scalable, regularly updated, etc.?
Application Built Using 3rd Party Components
Other organizations may opt for pre-built 3rd party components to piece together and build a DMS solution that best suits their own requirements. Organizations looking for such a solution often have very specific requirements to meet. Third party tools can save a lot on development costs and noticeably speed time-to-market. In using such components you can stay focused on your core expertise and move fastest to meet customers’ requests. When dealing with such an application, if you need to update the functionality of an external component in use, you only need to update that specific component and its related code. This isolated / segmented approach can save a lot of time and effort.
For example, you can use a 3rd party web and browser-based TWAIN SDK as the means to interact with scanners in your application. So, if you suddenly need to enable document scanning support in a newly released browser version you only need to update that SDK. There is no developer task to take care of the details of how the SDK copes with updates to the browser. The SDK provider should take care of all that for you.
When choosing 3rd party components for your document application you should consider:
- Check the background, experience and stability of the SDK vendor.
- Do a build versus buy analysis to consider the full time and costs involved with each.
- Is the component under active maintenance – how does the SDK vendor support it?
Application Coding From Scratch
Some companies choose to build a document management solution completely from scratch. Often this is to have full control of the source code. This usually means much more time and human resource investment, not only during the initial development period but also for the maintenance thereafter. As with anything else, there are key things to consider if you are going this way:
- Do you truly have enough R&D resources to develop and maintain the application for the long run?
- Does your entire team have the proper expertise with the related industry standards? Remember that with document management solutions many standards come into play, from image acquisition interfaces to file extension types.
- How robust will the application need to be? How well can you adapt to possible changes to related standards? For example, the use of NPAPI plugins for browsers are currently being displaced in favor of HTML5, such as in the Chrome browser. Adapting to such changes requires immense R&D on top of added development time and costs.
- ROI: is coding from scratch really worth the investment of such time and costs?
You can write a small book on the best practices one should consider for each strategy. For now, here are some additional resources that may be helpful too.