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The Five Best EDMS Packages

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Deciding which EDMS package is right for the work you do is the key to successfully implementing document management procedures in your office. Let's take a look at the five biggest packages out there and weight their pros and cons before you buy.

1. Vault Collaboration

Autodesk Vault Collaboration comes in two flavors: Vault for AEC and Vault for Manufacturing. Depending on what type of work you do, one of these will definitely give you all the EDMS tools you’re going to need. Since Vault is an Autodesk product, you can rest assured that they are fully developed and tightly integrated with the appropriate Autodesk design software. Each program has extended functionality if you are using AutoCAD verticals as your primary design package. That doesn’t mean that Vault is limited to working with those programs, it’s not. Vault integrates with MicroStation and the entire Microsoft Office product line as well but its true strength lies in how well it ties into the various Autodesk design packages.

I work in the Infrastructure field and Civil 3D is our main design software. With that in mind, I am switching my entire firm off of Meridian and over to Vault AEC Collaboration because of the added benefits it gives us in sharing data across files that no other EDMS software can provide. Since Civil 3D creates all its design information (alignments, surfaces, etc.) within a single drawing, you need to manually create a data reference to enable users to share that data across files. Vault AEC has that functionality already built in: when you close a file inside Civil 3D, Vault intervenes and asks if you want to share that design information with every other drawing in the Vault project. One click of a button and what was once a confusing manual process is done in a consistent and efficient way.

There are dozens of other integrations between Vault and AutoCAD products, like automatic linking to Sheet Set Manager so you can generate entire drawing sets in one step and having your title blocks and cover sheets update automatically when you change project properties and add or delete files. Vault is a very powerful and customizable EDMS package and it gets my highest recommendation for anyone who uses Autodesk products on a regular basis.

2. Meridian Enterprise

Meridian Enterprise is a very powerful EDMS package that has some of the most advanced integration functions available on the market. Meridian works within just about any major software package you have on your system and it has a highly developed interface with all the major CAD systems out there. While it doesn’t focus on any particular AEC industry, Meridian does have very nice generic controls for integrating with your standard AutoCaD, Microstation, and other drafting packages. To move beyond that, Meridian has left open a programmable user interface that you can use to customize the program to access pretty much any function within those CAD systems.

That scalability is one of Meridian’s strengths; you can really adapt the program to your own workflow process with just a little bit of programming. If you don’t have a programmer on staff, most resellers offer customization at reasonable prices. I’ve used this program at my current position for the better part of a decade and I’ve managed to put together some real time saving features with minimal investment. Project relocation, batch plotting, electronic signatures, and half a dozen other customizations have saved us countless thousands of billable hours.

Meridian’s ability to track changes to a file, create backups and revisions with a single click, and to view and red line files without ever needing to open the actual drawing are fantastic tools. I will warn you though that it is a complex system and there is a definite learning curve involved in getting your users comfortable with it. Meridian is very Autodesk Inventor focused but it’s so configurable that adapting it to different industries isn’t a problem at all. When working with Inventor though, it does a marvelous job of creating parts catalogs, tracking component revisions and building visualization files. If Inventor is your primary design program, then Meridian is definitely the package for you.

3. Adept

Adept from Synergis Software is a fully featured Engineering Document Management Software that has all the standard core procedures you’re likely to find in any advanced EDMS system. It allows for full metadata configuration of custom fields, check in/out of document by users, version control and audit trails to keep track of who did what, and when, to all your files.

Adept focuses heavily on the manufacturing industry and integrating with programs such as Inventor and SolidWorks, meaning that Adept has the ability to link directly to drawing items such as attributes and block names to generate parts and bills of material lists automatically. Adept also has an integrated client that runs inside of any AutoCAD software to give users direct access to the project file structures without the need to leave AutoCAD. Likewise, Adept has identical integration into Bentley’s MicroStation product line.

Because it’s focused so heavily on manufacturing, Adept’s integration with SolidWorks from Dassault systems is one of its strongest components. Users can access parts and assemblies, run status inquiries on them, even search through multiple revisions and automatically update components of their design through the Adept Task Pane, which runs entirely inside of SolidWorks. Through that pane, you can browse to any part or assembly and hover over it with your mouse to get tooltips that display the current status of each part. You can also right-click on any file in the database to open/edit it without needing to leave your open file. That’s a big time saver: you can modify pieces of your design on the fly and immediately see those changes reflected on your overall plans without ever needing to close a file.

Adept’s only negative, is also its biggest positive: it is really meant for the manufacturing industry. If that’s your world, then Adept may be the right EDMS for you. If your work primarily in any other AEC industry though, you may want to avoid this package and look for something better suited to what you do.

4. AutoEDMS

AutoEDMS from ACS Software is an Engineering Document Management Software that may appeal to smaller firms. AutoEDMS has the standard check in/out , workflow, revision, and title block linking controls that you expect to see in any EDMS package but beyond that it keeps things fairly simple. AutoEDMS doesn’t have the advanced data and parts linking that many of its competitors have, nor does it carry the high end customization and integration tools of the larger programs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, a simpler interface is all you need, so why buy a program that gives you more than you’ll ever use?

AutoEDMS is more of a generic document management system, allowing for basic control of a central database for storing and manipulating your files instead of focusing on industry specific design packages. It does integrate with AutoCAD, MicroStation, SoliWorks and other similar products but it doesn’t offer the fully extended data linking that other EDMS packages do.

If you’re looking to move into an EDMS for the first time, this may be a good choice for you. The simpler interface will get your staff comfortable with the basic concepts of document management without confusing the subject with dozens of advanced functions that you may never need. Start with smaller software, like this one, and give yourself, and your staff, time to become comfortable in an EDMS environment before moving to a more robust package that specializes in your industry.

5. Control Central

Content Central from Ademero is more of a straight document management package than an EDMS system but since it does allow you to store and access any file type using their native program, I’ve decided to include it here. Content Central is an extended file management system which allows you to keep any and all files within a defined project folder structure and assign extended information to every file within that structure. It has standard check in/out features and has tools for automatic file naming and indexing.

Unlike most other EDMS packages, Control Central also has functionality built in for scanning documents and using auto recognition features to determine what they are and where they go within your project. That can be a very nice feature for dealing with invoices and contracts from consultants and clients. This program also has a very nice system for monitoring approvals and for sharing/collaborating on files with other users.

From an engineering standpoint, this package is somewhat limited. It doesn’t have the integration you may want with your design package and it doesn’t have a simple plug-in for accessing the database from inside other software. Most of your file management is meant to be done directly through the Control Central client, which just launches your files in the program that created them when you double click on them. This software seems more focused on a generic office management model than and engineering one but it has nice features that can be adopted for a small to mid-sized AEC firm.

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