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Whether your company is looking to go paperless, create a more collaborative business model, or just make better use of available technologies, document management software (DMS) is a must. When it comes to implementing DMS, you have many different programs to choose from. However, while there are undoubtedly a lot of software names and brands to sort through and research, all document management systems fall into one of two main categories: proprietary and open source.


The Difference Between Proprietary and Open-Source DMS

Proprietary DMS is typically regarded as the best option for “professional” applications. These programs are designed and maintained by well-known or well-established brands. Often, the programs themselves have a recognizable brand name, simply because proprietary programs are used in so many corporate and business settings for document search, storage, security, and collaboration.

Open-source DMS, meanwhile, is similar to any other type of open source software. It can be freely downloaded, used, modified, updated, and shared by anyone. Developers of free DMS programs not only provide download/install links for their software, but they also share the source code so that any other coders or developers can fix bugs, code new features, or otherwise alter the program.


The Pros of Using Free DMS

The most obvious advantage of using an open source document management system for your business is that you can get it for free. If you are trying to save money in the company budget for other applications, then free DMS might sound like a wonderful way to cut costs. Such is the appeal of popular open source document management programs like OpenDocMan and LogicalDoc.

The lack of a price tag is not the only thing that is appealing about open-source document management software.

Open-source programs have several other advantages, detailed in the list below:

  • Easy availability and “test-driving”: Choosing a proprietary DMS as your company’s document search and storage system can involve weeks or even months of research. Proprietary software is expensive, so comparing the prices, feature lists, and testimonials of different programs is pivotal to choosing the right program for your business. With free DMS programs, you can just do a Google search, go to a program page on SourceForge, and download the software to your computer. Not only is implementing the software throughout your business faster and more convenient than it is with proprietary programs, but you can also try out several different programs without penalty. If you don’t like the first free DMS download, just download another, and another, until you find one that works for you.
  • Collaborative development: The cool thing about open-source software is that anyone can update it at any time. So if you frequent the forums of a specific program, you will be able to find tweaked or improved versions of the core DMS software. In other words, you can benefit from the collaborative nature of the open source community simply by keeping up to date with what other users are posting. It can be fun to watch the evolution of an open source DMS as different users add new features and the program continues to evolve. If someone in your organization can contribute developmental ideas to the program, that’s even better.


The Cons of Using Open-Source DMS

Unfortunately, the drawbacks of open-source document management systems—particularly for use in a business environment—tend to outweigh the advantages. Here are just a few of the cons you need to consider before trying to incorporate a free DMS program into your day-to-day business processes.

  • Fewer DMS features: It goes without saying that some free DMS programs are better than others. The good news is that you can usually see user ratings for different open source programs on popular download sites like SourceForge. The bad news is that even the best open-source DMS probably won’t have all the features of a proprietary program. For instance, eFileCabinet, a popular propriety DMS, allows for easy document search and organization, integration with third-party apps, mobile and desktop accessibility, document permission and collaboration features, encryption and other security safeguards, file storage redundancy, and more. While every decent open-source DMS program you find will probably have some of these features, you will be hard-pressed to find one with all of them.
  • Compliance: Proprietary document management systems are usually designed with regulatory guidelines in mind. For instance, eFileCabinet is fully compliant with standards set forth by HIPAA, FINRA, and the SEC. While free DMS will often use standards and templates created specifically for the open-source community (ODMA, LDAP, WebDAV, SOAP, etc.), programs in this niche are less likely to meet the compliance standards of government agencies or different business industries.
  • Lack of technical support: If you are having a problem with a proprietary document management system, there are typically numerous troubleshooting options at your disposal. The eFileCabinet website, for example, hosts product support videos, FAQs, installation guides, training manuals, and a support forum. If none of those resources solve your issue, you can call or live chat with an eFileCabinet representative. You won’t find the same technical support with any piece of open-source software. While your free DMS may have a forum where you can ask questions or request new features or bug fixes, many of those queries can go unanswered for weeks or months at a time. So unless you have someone on your staff who can dive into the source code and handle the fix in-house, you might be out of luck. Just take a look at the forums for OpenDocMan to see how common it is for support requests to go unanswered.

It might seem more convenient and less expensive to go with an open-source DMS instead of a proprietary software. However, considering the lack of technical support, the reduction of features, and the muddy compliance issues, trying to make free DMS software work for business applications can ultimately be an exercise in futility. For most companies, it will be better to invest in proprietary software in the first place.