Simple software to circulate documents for approval and
September 16, 2014 8:47 AM   Subscribe

I have been tasked with improving our office’s digital/paper workflow. We have an office of about 30 people and right now all of our documents (contracts, proposals and other text documents) are stored on a shared network drive and it’s up to each user to file their own documents which has led to disorganization. What easy-to-use software or service could we use to systematically collect feedback and approvals on documents, and also store completed documents for future access?

When we are working on a document, one person circulates drafts, collects the feedback/comments and re-circulates a new version. We would like to find a more organized way to assign documents for review/approval (ideally there would also be a way for a user to view a list of everything they have been assigned to review) and track versions and drafts. Some users work in the field or at satellite offices so access by iPad/iPhone is needed. Once a document is executed we would like to save it on our server in an organized way. Much prefer a solution that lets us keep our files on our own server rather than everything in the cloud.

I have tried to get a handle on this by reading online but there seem to be an overwhelming number of options. Sharepoint keeps coming up but it seems like it might be too unwieldy or overkill for this. What’s the simplest way for an organization our size to collaborate on a document, and file the digital copy once executed so we can find it again?
posted by brbmaroon to Technology (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If your office uses Microsoft Office, I hate to say it, but SharePoint is probably the answer. You will probably need to spend some money on consulting, but it is designed for the exact scenario you are describing. The key thing to remember about a SharePoint implementation (or any business process management tool) is to keep it simple - don't worry about graphic design (at least initially), and also have a very clear understanding of the information workflow you are trying to model.

The 2nd point is the hardest part (and it will be important regardless of the software you choose). Your organization needs to be bought into the workflow you are automating, and that buy-in needs to come from the highest levels. Nothing kills a business process automation project quicker than not having clearly defined processes.

It will be SO MUCH CHEAPER to understand exactly what you are automating, before you begin the implementation. That means flowcharts that show how information flows through the company and departments therein, and a roles & responsibilities matrix that details which people are responsible for the different aspects of the document approval process.

Other things to consider are what happens to a document after it's approved? What happens to documents that die on the vine? Do you want in-process documents to be searchable? How do approved documents get deleted? If there is ever any doubt err on the side of caution & simplicity, it's always easier to add complexity to an existing system.
posted by askmehow at 9:05 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've never dealt with it from an admin point of view, but as a user I've found Alfresco pretty nice. I think it would handle everything you need it to.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:09 AM on September 16, 2014

Pretty much came in to say all that askmehow said. Sharepoint does a great job of this, assuming you are an MS Office shop.
posted by k5.user at 9:23 AM on September 16, 2014

Best answer: Sharepoint. It's set up for workflows and it's easy to use. Although you may need someone expert in it to set the whole thing up for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:35 AM on September 16, 2014

Redmine can do this, and it's free, other than the costs of the server you run it on. Different types of documents get saved with different kinds of "trackers," and each tracker type can have its own work flow. Things are also divided by projects and sub-projects, so it's easy to enforce different people working on different trackers. There are many free plug-ins available to extend the program in interesting ways.
posted by ubiquity at 9:46 AM on September 16, 2014

Seconding Alfresco. We used it at a previous employer and for a simple use case like yours, it does everything you'll need, without the license fees and proprietary lock-in of Sharepoint.
posted by COD at 10:00 AM on September 16, 2014

Best answer: Sharepoint is what my company uses and can go through the exact scenario. The other Microsoft related product that i am working with is info path which also does the same things.
Quick base is another product that I worked with that provides a very user friendly interface(better than share point/info path) but it is paid.
posted by radsqd at 1:27 PM on September 16, 2014

We use basecamp, it feels much more flexible than Sharepoint and is very malleable. We also have a wide range of computer literacy among our user base and everyone has been able to pick it up very quickly.
posted by z11s at 11:47 PM on September 16, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone…I'm going to give Sharepoint a try. Alfresco looks good too.
posted by brbmaroon at 9:18 AM on September 20, 2014

It sounds like what you need is an online proofing tool. And since you want a “simple” tool, it should have an easy-to-use, browser-based environment that makes it simple to provide feedback on creative work (print, web, video files). You also can’t discount the importance of a tool that has built-in version control and flexible routing rules that let you determine which reviewers get to see a proof when – a creative director has to approve a design before it goes to the client, for example.

If that sounds like what you’re looking for, then I would recommend inMotion ( ). It has all of these capabilities, mobile apps for iOS and Android, and it comes with unlimited file storage.

You might also find this article, Selecting the Right Online Proofing Solution, helpful -
posted by bekergashev at 9:06 AM on August 18, 2015

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