Recommend me some Correspondence-Management software?
July 9, 2008 2:32 PM   Subscribe

Can anybody recommend me some software that will allow me to manage correspondence paperlessly; that will allow 4 networked users to access a database containing all correspondence, including scanned copies of stuff received on paper from customers and third parties contacted on their behalf.

I work for a public representative. we currently use a lotus notes - based system that allows us to record details of our customers, and stores soft copies of any letters we compose. However it is not designed to accept scanned documents or emails.

We open about 50 new cases a week, in addition to ongoing work on existing cases, and dealing with queries verbally (this still needs to be recorded).

I am hoping that there is an off-the-shelf solution - something used by SMEs or government agencies in other countries.

Many thanks to anybody with any input - this is my first time using metafilter :)
posted by sjbrophy to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
This might not be the ideal solution, but I know some organization that manage this by just having a network fileserver and referencing the filename in the existing system. And then you just save the correspondence to a network share.
posted by fogster at 2:40 PM on July 9, 2008

You can easily attach a file if your Notes database is set up to hold files. Then you just have to scan. Toshiba makes (or at least used to) a good scanner for this purpose with a document feeder.

It was much better than the HPs we had used in the past. Of course, that has been several years now, so there may be even better solutions out there.

Most of our clients have moved to using their big copiers to scan, in addition to printing large documents with them. Most of the big-iron copiers have add-ons that allow them to either email you the document or store it on a file server. Some even have secure web interfaces you can use to get your scan. The nice things about them are the accounting, and that it's someone else's responsibility to maintain the copier in good working order (we lease them).

If nothing else, it seems something like Time Matters could probably be made to work for your use, but it's meant more for legal professionals, although I don't see any immediate reason why it couldn't work. I'm pretty sure the newer versions will index documents.

I'd probably stick with Notes and attach the scanned files, if it were my decision.
posted by wierdo at 2:52 PM on July 9, 2008

You didn't mention the price range you're looking at, and if you expect your volume to grow in time, decrease, or stay the same.

If you want something that can potentially grow with you in the future, and you're not opposed to spending a bit of coin, there's IBM FileNet -- since you're using Lotus right now, you must already have an IBM salesgeek in your rolodex. I'm sure they'll be happy to tell you about it. It's a real ECM package, meaning that you'll probably need to customize it depending on exactly what you want it to do. It can manage scanned documents as well as editable ones, and it does versioning and other stuff. (However, it doesn't do true collaboration like Google Documents does; it's more like a SVN repo, where you check in and check out documents.) I don't know if it integrates with Lotus, but in the latest version there is some integration with the MS Office suite.

A full-blown ECM product may or may not be overkill for you, but it's at least something to consider. Many of them have low-cost versions below the traditional "Enterprise" pricing, and many also come with out-of-the-box interfaces so you can start using them fairly quickly. FileNet is really the only one I'm familiar with, but there are others. (IBM alone has 2 or 3.)

The other thing that I've seen basically serving the function you describe is MS Sharepoint, but I am not a fan. I don't know if the problems I've seen with it are due to flaws in the product or just implementation / use, but it seems like a good concept executed poorly. However, I'll cop to an anti-Microsoft bias, so maybe you want to check it out with an open mind.

The other thing to consider is hiring someone to work on building you something in Lotus Notes that you like and can use. Notes takes a lot of crap -- lots of it justified -- for being bloated and hard to use, but it's pretty flexible under the hood and is certainly easier in most cases than writing a networked/database app from scratch. I've seen some really crazy stuff done in Notes (arguably things that it should never, ever do), so I think what you're talking about is well within the realm of possibility. If you have a significant investment already in Notes, and you're not going to be getting rid of it anytime soon, you might at least want to consider just hiring someone (fixed price!) to improve or replace what you already have.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:55 PM on July 9, 2008

I haven't used Lotus, but as wierdo says, it's very common for newer copiers to also do scanning, and have the ability to send the scan (usually PDF) directly to a shared folder or folders on a network and/or email you the scan file. It's a pretty intuitive way to go paperless; anything you would have photocopied, scan instead. I've seen places that have a big recycling bin right next to the copier - once it's scanned, they toss everything.

How you organize and file all those PDFs is up to you: as simple as a bunch of shared network folders like a file cabinet, up to an enterpise-class DMS (document management system). But it sound like Notes already has some tools to help, so it might be as simple as getting a new copier.
posted by bartleby at 6:06 PM on July 9, 2008

Take a look at the Document Management System of TimeMatters. It was designed just for this very thing - managing cases and court documents for lawyers. Very stable. I've used it in my practice for going on 10+ years. On of its advantages over other DMS systems is that it uses plain old english filenames in a logical, descriptive directory structure. Other DMS systems on the market will generally assign a meaningless alpha-numeric code to each document (see Worldox), thereby rendering your entire collection of documents unorganized and useless to you if/when that system is no longer sold/updated. With TimeMatters, the documents can retain the name you gave them that makes sense to you and they're accessible outside of the DMS - not that you want to do that.

It's been around forever; it's interface is a little outdated, but it's rocksolid and has a very broad, active installed userbase.
posted by webhund at 6:48 PM on July 9, 2008

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