Intranet Document Management



David Gurteen

First Published



Information Technology; Intranets; Knowledge Management; Lotus Notes/Domino

This is a specification for a Lotus Domino based product (named DocLib) that I wrote in early 1998 that would address many of the problems traditionally faced with making corporate documents available on an intranet. The product was never completed though since then I have implemented several highly customised document management applications for client corporate intranets based on the ideas below. If such a product or customised application is of interest to you - give me a call or e-mail me.

DocLib is a new product under development. This document is intended to provide information on its likely functionality. Most but not all of the functionality below will be included in the first release. The name of the product is also likely to change.

DocLib is a simple yet sophisticated Lotus Notes "document library" template. It is highly customisable and may be used to create many different types of document database. These "information and knowledge repositories" as well as being used for publishing information can act as resources for distributed learning. They include for example:
    - document repositories to store documents associated with particular projects
    - IT or HR procedures or policy databases
    - corporate communications bulletin boards
    - corporate marketing presentation libraries
    - daily Marketing Intelligence Newswires
    - product and services news and information databases
    - industry and competitive news and information
    - multimedia learning tools

Like all Notes applications, "files" stored in DocLib may be held in Notes format or may be attached or embedded in each Notes document. Thus DocLib applications may be used to store spreadsheets (e.g. Excel), word-processing files (e.g. Word) and presentations (e.g. PowerPoint). In addition, the full-text indexing capabilities of Notes allows all the documents in a library, including the attachments, to be rapidly searched for keywords and phrases.

Information Overload
Deployment of document databases such as DocLib dramatically reduces e-mail traffic; personal e-mail overload and the problem of finding key information many months after an event. However, poor implementation of such databases only shifts the problem from one area to another when the databases fall into disuse as they progressively get cluttered with outdated documents that no one owns and that are never updated or deleted. One of the principle design aims of DocLib is to effectively tackle "information overload" by providing tools for "content management".

Content Management
Although DocLib can be used for creating informal document libraries such as bulletin boards, its prime purpose is for creating high quality, highly structured document databases where only the most useful information is published. If a "jumbled mass of documents" that characterises many corporate intranet sites where people cannot easily find what they need is to be avoided then "content management" needs to be taken seriously. Content management is as much about killing and consolidating information resources as it is about creating them. The content of a database is like a product - you need the same discipline when developing documents like white papers as you do when developing software.

To help manage "content" each DocLib database has an "owner". In addition each document has an "owner". Database owners should review the database content and work with the "content owners" to ensure that what is being produced is useful and meets the purpose of the repository. The database should be kept up to date by continuously pruning it back to what is useful and current. Documents should also be tailored so that they are consistently crafted to transmit information efficiently.

Tools are available in DocLib to help in the continuous update of database documents - and for the removal of outdated information. After a document has been posted for a designated amount of time the document's "owner" is automatically notified by e-mail that the document needs to be reviewed. If the document is not reviewed in a timely fashion, DocLib automatically archives it. Alternatively documents can be automatically archived or deleted without user notification after a set period of time. Of course archived documents need not stay in the archive - they may be reviewed, updated and re-posted. If they are no longer relevant they may be deleted. In addition, deleted documents may be "recovered" up to 90 days (or longer) after they were deleted.

Interest Profiles
Users may create their own "interest profile" within a DocLib application to request that they are mailed when new documents are posted. For example, they can define the categories of documents in which they are interested or even specific keywords or phrases that if occur in a new document results in an e-mail notification to them. This helps ensure that documents that are highly relevant to a user and maybe time critical are not overlooked.

Publishing Control
DocLib can be configured, depending on its application, so all users or a limited set of users can create and post a document for reading. Alternatively it can be configured so that users can create draft documents but not post them. A user assigned as a "poster" is given the task of posting newly created documents after review.

Stored documents have only a small number of fields that a user needs to enter: "Subject", "Categories", "Author/Source", "Type" and "Body" fields. As well as Notes text - attachments and/or objects may be embedded in the "Body" field.

Category Management
An administration and information overload issue is how to readily change the categorisation of a large number of existing documents to conform to a new taxonomy. Most Notes databases do not provide any help in this area and so over time categorisation becomes jumbled and meaningless - making it increasingly difficult to find documents. DocLib provides category management tools to make it easy for an administrator to change document categorisation across the whole database quickly and efficiently. Tools include the ability to add a selection of documents to a number of new categories; to remove a selection of documents from a number of categories and to change a category on a number of selected documents.

Roles and Access Control
Users may be assigned one of several roles that provide access to different levels of functionality within DocLib. Roles include : "Administrator", "Poster", "Creator" and "Reader".

Reader and Editor access control is fully implemented on all documents to ensure that users have appropriate access in accordance with their role. For example, a user in the "Creator" role cannot edit other people's documents nor edit administrative documents such as the configuration documents.

Documents may be assigned a status of "Drafted", "Finalised", "Posted", "Archived" or "Deleted". Together with roles this allows control of the documents in the following way:
    - "Readers" can only read documents that have a status of "Posted" or "Archived".
    - "Creators" may create new documents but are not allowed to "post" them for reading
    - "Posters" may create & post documents of their own & "post" other people's documents. - "Administrators" may do all of this and have access to set of administrative functions.

Home Page Front End
A "home page" is displayed every time a DocLib application is opened. This home page may be edited by an "administrator" of the database to provide information relevant to the library that may change on a regular (possibly daily) basis. For example, with a daily newswire service - up to date stock prices or exchange rates could be published on this page. It could also be used as a "newsletter" to document recent changes or additions to the repository.

The home page may also be linked to other "informational pages" to extend the information provided. This allows the database owner to provide a "drill down" front end to the library documents. This could be useful when the library represents a well established body of knowledge and a front-end is required that allows users to read certain key documents in a structured way.

Alternative home pages may be stored in abeyance and activated as required. For example, a new home page could be worked on over several days and replace the existing home page when appropriate at a click of a button.

Importing Documents from existing Applications
DocLib has been designed to make it easy to import documents from existing standard Notes applications e.g. applications created from the standard Notes Discussion Forum or Document Library templates. Agents convert the documents to the right format on input. Agents for other applications can easily be added.

Notes databases are often implemented with little thought to administration. For example, there is rarely a single view that shows all documents by "date created" or "date last modified" plus other relevant information that allows rogue or lost documents to be quickly found. It is also often not clear what access control users have to a specific document and replication/save conflicts are not easy to identify and fix. DocLib addresses these administration issues and others. For example, there is a special view for showing conflicts and if necessary an agent can be enabled to inform an administrator when they occur.

It is also not clear with many Notes applications who actually owns or manages the database and who are the actual administrators. To provide better support in this area DocLib allows a Manager/Owner and a Lead Administrator to be defined in its configuration. Users may easily see who these individuals are through action buttons and optionally mail them direct.

In addition, all modifications are stored in a history section at the end of each document. This allows the integrity of a document to be audited.

Many Notes databases provide little in the way of Help or documentation. What help is provided is stored in the "About This Database" and "Using This Database" documents. DocLib stores help in individual Help documents which can be accessed through a set of Help Views. This modularises the Help; makes it easy to categorise for administrators and users and allows it to be searched using the full-text search engine. Administrators can also easily modify and extend the Help documentation to better document the specific application.

User Feedback
A Feedback feature is built into the DocLib that allows users to give feedback, report bugs, suggest improvements etc. Feedback documents can be saved in the database itself and/or mailed to application developers direct or to a mail-in database. This makes it extremely easy for a user to give feedback and allows for "continued improvement" of the application.

DocLib has been implemented with attention to detail to ensure that it is highly usable. For example, action buttons have consistent icons, naming and positioning. If a button makes a uneasily reversible change then the user is warned before the action takes place. Action buttons are provided to ease simple functions. For example, a document when open in the Search View, has buttons for navigating between the items of matched text after a search.

Each database is not only configurable through an internal configuration document but the template has been designed to allow a Notes developer to make more in depth modifications rapidly.

Database Accessibility
An application generated from DocLib may be configured to be closed for a certain periods of the day. This is useful, for example, if it were being used as a general purpose staff bulletin board for personal notices.

Lotus Notes, Intranets and the Web
The first release of DocLib has been designed to be fully functional under Lotus Notes. It has also been designed to work with Domino 4.6 such that applications are accessible through your Corporate Intranet or the Web. However, the applications may only be browsed through the Web. Documents may not be created or administered. This limitation will be addressed at a later release.

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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