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Open Source DMS (Document Manangement System): What is it and which system should you choose?

The essentials in brief


Questions to consider before choosing a Open Source Document Management System

What is an Open Source DMS?

An open source document management system (or commonly misspelled as open source DMS system / documentation management open source) is a software-based solution for capturing, editing and storing records of multiple file types. It allows the user to digitize paper-based documents in order to reduce the time for keyword searching and physical storage room.

Modern DMS offer even more features: For example, in the event of a new document, a predefined process is automatically triggered and informs every employee about his or her task lists. This is called a workflow or resubmission and is often used for recurring tasks in the context of automated document review processes.

A non-proprietary document management system is free to download. Furthermore, the user doesn’t have to pay any license fees or charges per record. The code for the software is also publicly accessible for everyone. This means, that the software can be freely adjusted according to the needs of the user. If desired, the user can adapt these changes by himself without the original creator of the software.

The counterpart is a closed source DMS. These systems usually require a one-time payment or monthly charges and are not available for any changes made by the public.

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Why should you use an open source document management software?

Generally speaking, using a document management software will help you achieve significant time and effort savings when searching for a document. Moreover, you will need less expensive phstorage since you are legally able to destroy the original paper-based document once it is archived audit-proof. Of course, it is also possible to archive not audit-proof for non critical data. Using a DMS has many more advantages, for instance, a powerful automatic text recognition (OCR) in order to enable multiple search criteria or full-text search.

You can combine these advantages with the benefits of open source-based software. From a monetary point of view, the software is free to use and high charges for closed source solutions can be avoided. In case you still need support: These costs are usually low since the creators of the software are using already existing software components. This economic advantage is passed most of the times to the end user.

Another advantage of this software is its flexibility. Many companies need a custom solution for their existing ERP, so they can connect the DMS with their company software system. An open source code allows the user to adjust the DMS by himself. No expensive external tools are needed and the user has full control over his system, which results in a safe and reliable architecture.

Summing up, using open source solutions is especially useful for smaller and medium-sized companies. Since these kind of applications can be used for free, there is a low risk for companies when they are just starting out with digitized document management. The need of paying a high amount of money for proprietary software is no longer given, when there are still uncertainties about how it will benefit the own company. Not only companies profit from document management solutions, but also private users who want to organize their records at home for free.

Are you interested in the basic functions of a DMS? Take a look at our video, where we demonstrate simple actions within a system (please enable english subtitles).

Which open source document management systems are there?

The list of software providers for document management solutions is long. Many of these are on the market for several years and are and are constantly improved. Some of the providers are:

  • bitfarm-Archiv
  • Krystal DMS
  • OpenDocMan
  • SeedDMS
  • OpenKM
  • Google Drive
  • Mayan EDMS

Each one of them has its own advantages and a field of application in which it is specialized. Due to the fact that every company has individual requirements, we do not consider a general comparison being useful.

However, in the next chapter, we will list several factors that will be crucial in almost every company. This should help you when choosing the right system for your company.

documentation management open source

Criteria to acknowledge for choosing the best free Document Management System

When choosing the optimal software, there are a lot of criteria that should be considered. Even smaller features, like a disk image, can benefit greatly, once it is an important criterion for a company. While we cannot list every possible point here, we are providing you a list of aspects which are crucial in nearly every company. If you are looking for a free DMS with OCR, you should consider the following key points among other things.

  • Workflow Management
  • Access Control
  • Legal Compliance
  • User Interface
  • Application Programming Interface
  • Text Recognition
Checklist for open Source DMS

Workflow Management

A workflow is the sequence of related work processes within a company. These operations can be functional, physical or technical. Such a work process has a unique start event and end result, and is usually handled by several process participants on the basis of a division. Having a professional workflow management within your DMS will reduce the time for work processes significantly.

The process can start automatically once a new document or mail is imported and will then send out a notification to every user, who is related to this task. An internal messaging system is important in order to keep every user up-to-date. For maintaining an overview, every user must be able to keep track of the current workflow status. A free document management software should record and display the current processing status by visual notes or fields.

If you are interested in a video demonstration, you can watch our video regarding workflow management on YouTube (please enable english subtitles).

Access Control

When many people of the same company are using a DMS, it is crucial to have in-depth access control management. This ensures, that every user only has access to the files, which he is allowed to see. A professional open source management system can set the permissions precisely and differentiate between different operations like view, edit, archive or delete. This is one of the main features of modern life cycle management regarding documents.

Moreover, your system should have a fine-grained control for users and groups. This way, you will be able to manage workflows on a user or group basis. Thus, these groups can have access to certain archives. This way, you do not have to distribute rights to each individual user, even if this should be possible on demand. Using this method, you can save a significant amount of time, when setting up a DMS for a bigger company.

Legal Compliance

One of the most important criteria when looking for a document management application is probably legal compliance. When working with many different document types, a company has to be compliant to legal regularities in order to prevent costly warnings. While these regularities might differ in each country, the DIN EN ISO 9001 norm is probably one of the most well-known regularity.

It belongs to the norm family DIN EN ISO 9000 and is a globally recognized standard that defines requirements for effective quality management in a company. It is designed to be sector-neutral, so the norm applies to many companies within the industry, service sector or non-profit segment. The system of your choice should support you by meeting these norms without having the user make major changes on the system.

User Interface

Since most of the staff is working with a DMS on a daily basis, it is important to have a clean and intuitive user interface. This simplifies the interaction with the software and reduces the time when using a feature of the system. An intuitive interface affects the user experience and hence the general satisfaction with the software.

This is especially important since some people might not be tech-savvy. When implementing such a system, everyone should be able to operate the system easily and without confusion. It should be clear, where each button is located and which function it has. A DMS can realize its full potential when everybody in the company can handle the software with ease and thus minimizing user errors.

Application Programming Interface

Document management is often not just a closed loop, but goes hand in hand with other areas.  It is therefore hardly surprising that accounting software, for example, often needs to be linked to the DMS.

There are countless scenarios where an interface (API) between the document management system and external software is advantageous. Therefore, we recommend that you consider possible interfaces when choosing the optimal system.

In addition, the interfaces should be designed to be audit-proof, i.e. adjustments made once remain functional. This is possible due to a built-in version control which stores former versions and has a revision history. More information on this topic can be found in our glossary and the term Check in / Check out.

Text Recognition

Having a document management system will enable you to do a full-text search. This is especially useful, when you have only access to the paper-based document and are achieving thousands of files. Even when having a million documents within your DMS, the advanced search query will only take a few seconds. The DMS uses text recognition (OCR) in order to convert pixels to letters and numbers. OCR is widely used for scanned images, when there is no PDF with an embedded text available.

Your system should be equipped with a powerful OCR engine in order to recognize as much text as possible even when the scanned image is not optimal. While there are many OCR engines, Tesseract is considered to be the best open source OCR and can be used for over 100 languages. Moreover, the tesseract community is constantly working on improvements and is releasing its latest engine with neural networks.

Free dms with OCR for windows: bitfarm-Archiv

The powerful open source solution for microsoft

bitfarm-Archiv is a free windows DMS, but can be used on other operating systems as well. Built as a microsoft document management system and developed under Delphi, it is widely used by businesses and institutions for digital archiving, electronic document management, enterprise content management (ECM), customizable workflows and process management as well as contract and knowledge management. Our DMS has been implemented in small and medium-sized enterprises across all industries and offers a mobile web client as well. Institutions and public administration with thousands of connected users value our wide variety of features and appreciate the time saving aspect of bitfarm-Archiv.

However, our GPL version is also suitable for personal use and is therefore a powerful home document management software. Since this version is also open-source, it can be used both privately and commercially without any cost. Especially at home, important invoices or personal documents can thus be quickly digitized.

Our document management provides a multitude of components without incurring licensing costs. That's what makes bitfarm-Archiv a very cost-effective and economical alternative to proprietary document management systems. With an recommended MySQL database, you will achieve maximum effectivenes at full-text indices and semantic full-text search. Furthermore, you can export every document to the desktop for a later offline use and its meta data.

The costs incurred by setting up the system, employee training and technical support are already included in this calculation. IT budgets are usually limited, and many businesses, institutions and administrations rely on high-quality professional open source solutions such as bitfarm-Archiv.

Remote collaboration becomes more important every day. With bitfarm-Archiv, every business can implement a low cost digital transformation offering web access without much effort. Apps are available for mobile devices running Android and iOS and a web based Viewer for the most common browsers. We recommend a dedicated windows server, however, other solutions are also possible.

Freeware GPL & Enterprise

We offer two versions of bitfarm-Archiv. The GPL Edition is a freeware DMS designed for small businesses and non-profits, personal use, small workgroups and developers. The Enterprise Edition with additional premium features is also free of license costs and designed for high demanding enterprise customers. Please have a look at our references to get an impression of how we serve the industry since nearly two decades.

Feature descriptions and customer opinions mainly refer to our Enterprise Edition.

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Use cases

Checklist for open Source DMS

Product details bitfarm-Archiv Software

Hardware for open Source DMS

Further reading: Sources and interesting links

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