Revision/version control software for stuff that isn't source code...
August 22, 2008 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Is there such a thing as version/revision control software for printed documents? Software developers have version control for their source code, but what about people who write sales brochures?

I work in a large multinational corporation, the marketing department of which generates a large volume of outward-facing literature - brochures, applications, etc. These are written in-house, artworked by an agency into pdf, and then reviewed/amended/signed-off prior to being printed and distributed; changes to any given item are frequent and reasonably regular (usually 6 monthly), and may need to be amended and reviewed by a number of people (usually 4-6).

Unfortunately, the relevant department has no concept of the re-use of identical elements across documents (e.g. common paragraphs, tables, etc.) - every document is completely independent of the others, no matter how much copy text is duplicated; they manage version control completely manually; they are inconsistent in handling updates to one document, and frequently do not apply them across other similar documents; and lastly, they operate in a non-collaborative manner regarding review and sign-off - so any changes suggested by one person aren't seen by the others until all of the changes have been re-applied to the document, incurring extra artworking costs and time delays.

I'm absolutely certain that there is some software out there somewhere that - in effect - does source-code version control for printed literature, and will help to resolve all of the issues that we have... but I have no idea what I'm looking for! Every search I do just returns source code versioning.

Does anyone out there work for a publishing house, or a document production agency, or something, who use software such as this to control all of these aspects of printed literature lifecycle? Something that gives collaborative review of documents; something that links "paragraphs" between documents (so one change updates multiple documents, or at least identifies them for you); something that helps to control which version of a document was available at any particular time, irrespective of the subsequent changes...
I'm coming at this from a business analysis background (it's not my job any more, it's just a habit I can't shake!), and it really frustrates me that a core part of such a large business is totally dependent upon inefficient and inaccurate manual processes... but is my only solution to roll up my sleeves and learn to code something suitable?
posted by Chunder to Technology (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by mpls2 at 4:51 PM on August 22, 2008

Try They have a document management system which includes versioning and a workflow. It is not a trivial piece of software and you will need IT support (e.g. it needs a database), but you did indicate your firm is fairly large.
posted by monkeydluffy at 4:51 PM on August 22, 2008

You may also want to look at alfresco, which was started (IIRC) by a bunch of ex-documentum guys. It has an open source / community edition, which may be good for getting started.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:02 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


documentum is expensive
posted by mattoxic at 5:58 PM on August 22, 2008

Is it only the copy that you need to version control? Not the layout and images? It sounds like it. Why wouldn't source code versioning work besides that it will be impossible to get anyone to use it?

What about a wiki? Most keep track of changes and who made them.
posted by low affect at 6:25 PM on August 22, 2008

You might also look into the concept of product lifecycle management, where the idea that there is a way to manage the product requirements, the design documents/plans, the manufacturing documentation, the end user documentation, the sales documentation and the service documentation so that updates to a spec would cause a ripple down the chain, and, ultimately, that feedback would be fed back into the requirements/design stage.

I know that Microsoft looked at lot at document lifecycle in the planning for Office 12/2008. I'm not sure how much actually made it into the product though. Deadlines were more important than features in that part of the borg org.
posted by Good Brain at 6:26 PM on August 22, 2008

Seconding low affect up above.

If you keep your copy in--oh the horror--a text file instead of a word document, you could use any of the version control software that I use for sourcecode. In fact, that's exactly what we did with many of our brochures and such at the last place I worked.

You just save the layout and such for the end. Which is when it should be done anyway.
posted by Netzapper at 6:51 PM on August 22, 2008

I'm working on something similar, since a) I have pretty much the same issues (on the design agency side), and b) I got to keep track of version changes, reviews and everything. The up-side in my particular case is that I don't have "shared" items between documents. Knowing what is the document workflow (I'm guessing Adobe-based) your agency uses might help. I'd look into InCopy integration with InDesign.

I think a simple workflow based on something similar to google docs (or google docs itself) might also help; I've been designing magazines that way for some time in a very distributed environment (across several nations). In the end, I'm in the process of coding a very simple web based versioning system for corporate literature, so that all parties involved can just check in-out the latest version of a document for editing in their own office/home/what have you from a server.
posted by _dario at 9:04 PM on August 22, 2008

posted by PueExMachina at 9:52 PM on August 22, 2008

nthing sharepoint. It's pretty easy for non-techies as everything is managed through the browser and MS office applications. Also agree that the real benefit is seen if users are already using the MS office suite
posted by askmehow at 9:31 AM on August 23, 2008

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