Lab Test: Xythos Enterprise Document Management Suite 7.0 builds on Web 2.0 tech

Injection of AJAX, wikis, and RSS, along with improved tagging and search options, make Xythos a strong choice for bringing order to unstructured content

InfoWorld has watched Xythos mature impressively over the years, starting as a highly usable, economical document manager through Version 6.0, then broadening its appeal with records management. Enterprise Document Management Suite (DMS) has now reached Version 7.0, and with the number bump comes some important enhancements.

The short story is that Enterprise DMS 7.0 has improved business process automation features (such as automatic event triggers and easier workflow), and it supports social networking with a new wiki and RSS subscriptions. Its fresh AJAX-based user interface means most features are just a right-click away. But perhaps the biggest change isn't visible: Xythos has further adopted open standards, including a JSR-170 repository; this potentially opens your content store to other enterprise systems, such as human resources or enterprise resource planning applications.

The installed software (Enterprise DMS is also available as a hosted service, Xythos on Demand) proved easy to set up on a Windows 2003 Server: I was done in less than 30 minutes. I was immediately stuck by how much has changed in the Web UI, yet how easy it is to use 7.0 without much training (or retraining). Gone is the left-hand navigation, replaced by context-sensitive Web 2.0 pop-up menus.

In my testing, this architecture greatly speeded my interactions with Xythos. For example, steps that I do all the time, such as sharing files with partners and vendors, now require just one click. Further, Version 7.0 eliminates the need for an e-mail client for this sharing process; you can access the system with just an Internet connection, such as at a hotel or airport kiosk.

Other conveniences include a simple form for uploading documents and direct access to any folder from your browser (called the Xythos Web View). This process worked smoothly using Internet Explorer, Firefox 2, and Safari 2. Alternatively, you can use any WevDAV client running on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

The power of wizards
Wizards represent another usability improvement, which should help both expert and casual users. The Create Folder wizard, for instance, let me specify settings such as logging, versioning, and document classification – items that I might have overlooked in Version 6.0.

Further, with the Sharing wizard, I had no trouble creating unique permissions (read, write, and manage) for certain users, thereby increasing content security. As a side benefit, by following these standard procedures, it's easier to create a setup that meets compliance requirements; there's also an audit log. Process wizards extend to administrative tasks – such as workspace configuration and management – which can reduce the workload on IT staff.

Although social networking is almost a commodity these days, it makes a lot of sense to build in these features. That's what Xythos' developers did by including a wiki. This should improve collaboration where formal documents aren't involved, such as discussing research results from clinical trials or reviewing media files. Because these conversations are stored within the system, they're subject to the system-wide security and retention rules.

Besides the wiki's standard group editing of content, you can quickly link to documents in the Xythos repository. Importantly, Xythos automatically recognizes the original sharing and security rights of these documents. That is, if someone is viewing a wiki and discovers a page with a restricted document, then those items won't appear.

Additionally, Enterprise DMS 7.0 includes RSS, which lets me subscribe to changes made to any folder, document, or wiki. Other applications could also consume these feeds. For example, I added the Xythos RSS feed to a Microsoft SharePoint site using the RSS Viewer Web Part, so users of the portal saw when changes to Xythos documents were made.

In addition to WebDAV and the JSR-170 repository, Xythos interoperates with portals that use JSR-168 portlets, such as IBM WebSphere Portal – so you can access your Xythos content without leaving the portal. Document Manager's security lets you create a single-sign-on environment with your LDAP or Active Directory server.

Tag and ye shall find
Besides classifying documents into a broad area, I could now tag documents with free-form text. In combination with a much better search function, finding documents was quick and accurate. For instance, search filters let me locate content – in both the document repository and Xythos wikis – by file name, meta data, user-created tags, or keywords. Xythos' search explores PDFs and image files – a total of more than 100 formats. Searches can also be saved and shared.

Finally, workflow now lets you perform some significant business process automation – moving beyond the basic document routing and approval of the past version. For instance, based on an event, such as an approval, I had Xythos automatically post a document to a specific wiki. Another task that's easily automated is assigning tags based on the folder where a document is stored.

Xythos DMS is a strong offering, though there's some room for improvement. Hopefully, the company will consider expanding the product's APIs beyond the WebFile Server (the underlying content manager) so that workflow functionally, say, could be extended. Additionally, the wiki's capabilities might be updated with more collaboration options.

Xythos recently merged with Blackboard, a company that develops e-education enterprise applications. It's a natural fit: Xythos has a number of academic clients using the DMS to mange instructional content and education grants. Yet this really demonstrates the importance of cloud-based applications, especially document management – expertise both companies have and Xythos 7.0 proved during my evaluation.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Value (10.0%)
Security (15.0%)
Features (25.0%)
Management (10.0%)
Scalability (15.0%)
Ease of use (25.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Xythos Enterprise Document Management Suite 7.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.6