Alfresco or Documentum Collaborative Document Reviews with OpenAnnotate

Whenever we give a demo of OpenAnnotate, clients always ask, “What happens when multiple users need to review a document at the same time?” OpenAnnotate has always supported having multiple users annotating a document at the same time, but a recent client has added functionality which broadcasts “live” the annotations and comments that users are making.  This makes the review process in OpenAnnotate more collaborative. This post will outline some things to look for when evaluating your options for annotating/reviewing documents in your ECM repository.

We have had clients struggle with other annotation products and review processes in the past that did not allow more than one user to be reviewing a document at the same time. The “out of the box” functionality that is advertised for many ECM repositories to be able to perform a document “review” involves the following:

  • Create a workflow to send to individual reviewers
  • Each individual user must check out the document when it is their turn to review
  • Perform their edits in the document (with or without track changes)
  • Remember check back in the correct document
  • Complete the workflow task

We have seen many clients struggle with this process because it involves multiple steps that users must remember to perform in order for the review to go smoothly. Some of the things that go wrong or problems with this approach are:

  • Only one person can be doing their review at a time. This can add hours/days to the review process because each user must independently make their edits before the next user can review and make their comments.
  • Users forget to check back in the document, leaving others locked out of doing their review
  • Users forget to turn on “Track Changes” in the document, so other reviewers and authors don’t know what was changed
  • Reviewers “over-edit” the document since they are using the native editing application and tend to spend too much time editing fonts, changing design, wordsmithing
  • Documents must go through many separate review cycles since the first reviewers don’t get to see what the later reviewers changed in the document.

TSG has had success in rolling out our OpenAnnotate annotation tool because it addresses the following issues:

  • Annotations are made using the Adobe XFDF specification allowing for documents to be viewed with their annotations inline
  • Reviewers have a simplified toolset that lets them enter comments, draw lines/boxes/circles/arrows, highlight/strikethrough text. This lets them focus on the content of their review rather than the semantics of the tool.
  • Annotations are made as a layer on top of the document allowing multiple reviewers to be making their annotations at the same time

The most recent enhancement to OpenAnnotate takes that last point one step further as it allows users to collaborate on the review process in real time without having to refresh the page to see if another user has made comments.

We have added a “Participants” pane to the interface that will show all users that are currently annotating the document, as well as expose a chat window to allow users to have an informal dialog during the review.

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When annotations are being made, every user will immediately see the annotation appear on their screen. This allows users to make their comments at the same time as other reviewers and respond to each other’s feedback. We have also expanded each annotation with a “reply” feature which allows an individual to reply to a highlight/strikethrough or other annotation.

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Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.