Article: Pros and cons with simultaneous editing for document management

July 14, 2011

Companies all over the world are striving towards becoming more efficient and cut down on work that should not be needed. One of the popular features a lot of companies are looking for is document management with simultaneous editing. This is a great feature for collaboration purposes, but it is, as always, important to understand what you are looking for to understand if this feature can help you become more efficient or not.

A dream of a lot of companies is to be able to have automatic processes all over the company to help them become more efficient in the internal processes. One of the processes to make more efficient is the process around document management.

Document management systems work in different ways, mostly depending on what technique that is used, but also what purpose the document management has.
Some of the more popular ways are:

1. Real time simultaneous editing
This kind of system will enable users to work in the same document at the same time. Changes to the document are saved regularly by the server and will be visible to anyone.

2. Non-real time editing
This kind of system will enable users to change the documents, but not at the same time. This is a great way of working if you want to easily be able to track changes and be able to create revisions. A common way to mark if a user is working with the document is to check-out the document and therefore lock it for editing by anyone else. When the user is done with the editing the document is checked in.

It is easy to see that the first solution is good if you have a live document that is changed a lot by a lot of people. The second solution is good if you want to have more control and if you want to control in what way you create your own revisions.

But, wouldn’t it be great if you can have the same solution with both options?
There are document management systems today that create revisions while you are doing changes, even though they are real time simultaneous editing systems. They will save the changes made by each user and then give you the possibility to see who has changed what and what changes were made. This helps a lot of companies to solve a lot of problems they see with these kinds of systems.

However, larger organizations would like to decide when a revision is to be created. Changes can be made a lot of times during one revision and then you wish to create a milestone of the document’s lifetime. This means that you would like to enable simultaneous editing during the revision and then decide that the changes made will be part of the major revision. The owner of the document will then be able to create a major revision, but what happens if there are users changing the document while a major revision is created?

Other challenges for simultaneous editing are the possibility to edit the document in offline mode. This is very commonly used for people who are travelling a lot. If you should be able to edit a document in offline mode and also let people simultaneously edit in online mode, the situation becomes even more complex.

If you want to have a system that will create major revisions, enable the possibility for simultaneous editing and also allow for working with the document in offline mode, you should be looking for a solution that combines the two methods. This should also be combined with some business rules on how to work with documents in the document management system.

To do this, you should have a rule saying that as long as no one checked out the document, everyone is able to work with the document simultaneously. When the document is checked out, this is done since someone wants to work with the document offline.
Before a new major revision is to be created, everyone will be informed some time before so that they can finalize the current changes. The new major revision will then be having up to date and accurate information.

Purchasing a document management system is not easy. There are a lot of things to take into consideration that is not brought up in this article. But even these aspects are important to think about before the purchase. Some people are in need of a flexible real time collaboration system and some are not. This article is bringing up some things to think about while deciding on whether to purchase a document management system with simultaneous editing or not.