The Value of Zero – Zero Footprint Viewer for ECM

AJAX can play an integral role in providing a common viewing interface for multiple solutions. This includes explaining how it can be used to access content in multiple repositories. Especially relevant since multiple organizations are trying to understand how they can bring Sharepoint into their current ECM strategy.

Simon Wieczner, Snowbound Software

October 9, 2009

Everyone is familiar with many of the viewers recommended today in the Enterprise Content Management space – primarily because they’re the ones many of us use everyday. Microsoft Windows Picture and Fax Viewer or MS Office Document Imaging for TIFFs, Adobe Acrobat Reader for PDF, and MS Office for Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

The MS Document Viewer comes with Windows, (though sometimes it’s hard to find); and the Adobe Reader is a free download that is often already on your system. If your system doesn’t have MS Office, (and what Windows system doesn’t have MS Office today?), you can download free viewers for Word, Excel and PowerPoint directly from Microsoft.

Given you’re getting the PDF and Word readers directly from the developer, they’re powerful, as good as a reader for those documents can be and they’re free – what can be better than that? That’s why your friendly ECM system salesperson will tell you that viewing stored documents is no problem – “Just launch your favorite viewer”.

If you’re worried about your users editing a document, Adobe Reader doesn’t permit it for most situations and you can get a free MS Word viewer that doesn’t permit editing. Just make sure that your user doesn’t have MS Office or Adobe Acrobat Standard installed on their system because they do allow editing if your documents aren’t locked.

So where is this article heading? What’s wrong with going with the name brands? As always, one solution doesn’t fit all. If you have only one kind of document in your repository (for example TIFFs) – one universal viewer that everyone can adopt may work.

But what if you have two types of documents, or three or more? Then it can get complicated. You’ll have install three different viewers and then train your personnel on all three products. This isn’t trivial. Each product operates differently. Annotations have different feature sets and abilities, so your users have to remember what features can be used with which viewer. If the annotations are used for review by someone else, that person has to have the appropriate, compatible viewer as well.

Another important concern is whether the viewers store their annotations locally (a serious flaw) or on servers in such a way they don’t modify the original document for compliance and security issues? There is no industry standard for annotations.

What if some of your users have a Netbook running Linux or a Mac or a Unix workstation that doesn’t run Windows? What if you’re trying to disseminate your product to a whole set of outside users whose environment you don’t control and who could be running any kind of computer or operating system?

Security is also an issue that gets complicated with different viewers. What if you want to restrict how your documents are viewed or handled – perhaps disable printing or saving? Many corporate documents have all kinds of security restrictions around them – issues like selective access to sensitive information, or when such information does need to be viewed, disabling any method of extracting or printing or emailing sensitive data like social security numbers. What if you have 5,000 or 20,000 potential users for which you need to institute that kind of secure operating environment? How do you do that?

If you’re storing and manipulating proprietary TIFFS produced by some of the document content companies or IBM’s AFP documents or perhaps CAD drawings, the standard applications described above won’t work. You’ll need another viewer or a method to convert them all to PDF or TIFF. Some PDF’s are password encrypted and the password itself may not be available or even lost. Standard viewers won’t help but there are special programs that can work with these types of documents.

For those scenarios and others, a custom application specific to your needs will probably be the only way to satisfy the requirements. That’s a nightmare scenario when you’re talking large numbers: development, integration, testing, deployment and support for thousands of users of which many may not even be under your control. Expect to spend many months, if not years, of effort on creating your own solution.

Is there something better? To the rescue comes the universal viewer. If done right, the universal viewer reads all your documents, handles redaction to restrict viewing of sensitive data without corrupting the original document, and permits standardized annotation of those documents. And ideally it runs on multiple platforms without a lot of support headaches. Many partial solutions have been offered over the years - universal viewers running Windows, browser plug-ins, form-based web manipulation methods, documents converted to Adobe’s Flash format, and .NET clients. Most were restricted to Windows and required a product install and product updates to operate. Supporting a multitude of users with different types of systems was difficult, to say the least.

As a universal platform solution, Java viewers for cross platform support are offered and the requirements are generally very minimal – just that a Java environment of a certain level be installed on the client system. No real installation and easy updates are some of the benefits. However for companies that disseminate their documents to users world-wide including private individuals, even these minimal requirements can be too much.

Enter the technology of the Zero Footprint AJAX-based viewer. The only requirement is a browser and an Internet connection. Almost all the processing is done on the server so little is required from the client system. That server based processing permits access with relatively simple connectors to multiple repositories such as EMC/Documentum, IBM/ Content Manager, Filenet P8, Microsoft Sharepoint, OpenText and others.

With clever programmed Javascript that is easily handled by any browser, your clients can view any document dished out by the server. Features such as redaction of sensitive information can be offered as well as image manipulation like zoom or rotate. Even powerful annotation capabilities are possible. Features such as printing or saving can be enabled or disabled based on user permissions -- powerful, yet simple. That’s why it’s the latest holy grail of document workflow and review. Except unlike the Holy Grail, you can get it today.

As originally published on ECM Connection, reprinted with permission.