Keep your documents organized with SeedDMS

Log In and Finish

At this point, you can point your browser to the base URL of your SeedDMS installation, log in as admin with password admin, and finish the configuration. The first thing to do, after changing the admin password, is to pass SeedDMS all the information about the database you want to use, as shown in Figure 1.

Before you start to use SeedDMS, you should also configure an automatic backup procedure. The backup should include the configuration file conf/settings.xml, the whole data folder, and unless you chose SQLite, also the whole MySQL or PostgreSQL database. On a related note, please note that you should tick the Create database tables box of Figure 1 only when you are actually creating a whole new instance of SeedDMS; otherwise, the tables you had backed up will be rewritten!

Users and Permissions

Once your SeedDMS is up and running, and you are logged in as administrator, select Admin Tools from the top menu to load the control panel of Figure 2. One of the easiest and most useful things to do right away could be to define global keywords, categories, and custom attributes for the documents that your team will actually manage. In addition to the global list managed by the administrator, each user can have her own list of keywords. Figure 3 just hints at how much customization is possible: Basically, you have all you need to catalog your documents exactly as you wish. The main risk is to indulge these features so much that the system becomes too overwhelming to use!

Figure 2: The main control panel of a SeedDMS administrator.
Figure 3: If owner, timestamps, and other ordinary metadata aren't enough, you can create your own inside SeedDMS.

The parameters in Figure 4 give an idea of how it is possible to monitor the activity and workload of every SeedDMS user. Another tool available to managers to plan and monitor team activities is visible in Figure 5: a timeline that shows present and future deadlines of all documents plus many other parameters, from their revision status to the number of attachments.

Figure 4: Activities, workload, and resource usage of every SeedDMS user are immediately visible to the administrator.
Figure 5: The SeedDMS timeline window can show all the documents being processed and their advancement status.

Each folder or document can have separate default permissions, as many revisions as needed, and much more. Personally, what I like in SeedDMS is links: Every user with editing rights over some documents can define links, that is, direct relationships among the documents.

Users and Workflows

The predefined roles of admin, user, and guest should be enough in almost all cases because any administrator can designate substitutes and give each user access to only the minimum necessary folders and workflows.

The user interface for adding and managing documents is quite spartan, but it is also relatively self-explanatory and easy to use. Figures 6 and 7 show how a document looks inside SeedDMS and some of the things you can do with it. Once you upload a file, you can set its expiration date inside SeedDMS, as well as add keywords, categories, comments, and version information. You can also configure which users or groups should be notified when work is done on the document.

Figure 6: All files and folders inside SeedDMS have a clear label that specifies their purpose.
Figure 7: The main Document Information window of SeedDMS, where each user can set and update all the corresponding information.

The good part of SeedDMS is that once you have configured the right workflow, using it is easy, productive, and well worth the effort. Indeed, workflows are the main reason to use a DMS. The bad part is that designing a workflow inside SeedDMS takes time and requires some discipline, brainstorming, and testing. No single, pre-packaged workflow will be good for everybody, because every organization has unique needs and constraints.

Another reality of every document management system is that nobody, including you, will use it if it is too cumbersome or time-consuming. In other words, you must avoid the risk that a SeedDMS workflow forces your team to adapt to it, rather than the workflow adapting to the team.

The secret is to build a strong understanding of the workflow before you start using SeedDMS. Start with a pen, paper, and real observations of your team at work. Evaluate different options, and consider that different groups inside your organization might need different workflows. Once you are really confident that you have defined the workflow you and your peers really want (or need … ), implement it in SeedDMS.

SeedDMS makes it possible to design custom workflows. For me, the most efficient way to go is to start by creating all the necessary states and actions. In Figure 8, for example, I created a prestudy state, in which the status of a document is "Released."

Figure 8: Before connecting document management phases in one coherent workflow, you must assign each of them a document status.

The next step is to connect all the states and actions inside SeedDMS, just as they are on paper. Clicking on the Workflows button opens the interface of Figure 9: The left half contains a graphical, dynamic representation of your workflow that SeedDMS updates as soon as you add or remove states. You can change the layout of that diagram (not the connections!) as you want by dragging its elements. Remember to click on Save Layout when you are done.

Figure 9: SeedDMS describes each workflow both in textual and graphical form.

The right side of Figure 9 is where the real translation of your workflow design from paper to software happens. On the top, you specify the name and first state of your workflow. The form at the bottom is the place to add the transitions from any state to any other, the action that make them happen, and which users can perform those actions. Every time you add a transition, SeedDMS appends it to the table on the right and also adds it to the diagram. Once a complete workflow is available, users can assign it to each document they upload into SeedDMS and then follow it throughout the whole lifecycle.

In the simplified workflow of Figure 9, the user Enzo is responsible for declaring the end of the prestudy phase for every document that must follow the Product Introduction workflow. Figure 10 shows how this actually looks for Enzo. When clicking on the Workflow tab of every document assigned to him, Enzo will see that the document still is in prestudy. In that case, he has the option to click on end prestudy to make the document progress to the first review phase. Also note how, unlike in Figure 9, which represents a whole workflow for all users, all phases following first review in Figure 10 are grayed out. The reason is that Figure 10 is the workflow for a specific document, which can only progress one phase at a time and in the defined order.

Figure 10: Workflows in action: Each user immediately sees what he or she must do on every document.

In real life, to make a team actually manage its documents using SeedDMS, you need to configure three critical functions: role management, access rights, and notifications. In the roles management interface (Figure 11), you can specify which users can act on certain phases of each workflow. For instance, you can declare that only team leaders can reject a document.

Figure 11: SeedDMS users can see only the actions and workflow phases that they have been explicitly authorized to work on.

The notifications feature lets users know when they must do something (refer to Figure 7). In the sample workflow of Figures 9 and 10, Carla should immediately receive an email every time Enzo ends the prestudy phase for a document that is also assigned to Carla, because it is her responsibility to lead the first review and eventually declare its conclusion.

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