xythos quick take review for saas document management Xythos is a provider of on-premise and hosted (SaaS) document management solutions for organizations both large and small. Their hosted product has a somewhat unique history in that is was designed and developed from the very beginning as a web-based service. The SaaS version of their document management product, launched in December 2006, is the software we've got in our sights today. Xythos on Demand (XOD) is a full featured enterprise document management solution, and true to its name, it is delivered as a hosted service. Join us as we poke around in the binary guts of XOD.

Overview -- Xythos on Demand

Xythos on Demand is a software as a service document management solution that supports a number of small, medium and large organizations. It is the mirror image to its sister Xythos Enterprise Document Management, an on premise solution. The only difference between the two is that one is hosted and one is not. Xythos competes in a tough market. With the likes of Google and Microsoft (with SharePoint as a service) both offering competing solutions of their own, these be sharky waters. If you ask Jim Till, CMO of Xythos, what makes Xythos unique, he would say, “We’ve succeeded playing 'David' to these 'Goliaths' by remaining true to our open standards technology roots – continuing to support mixed data center environments, Mac desktops and any form of app server, database or storage configuration customers want."

Product Description

The Vendor: Xythos Software Inc.
The product: Xythos on Demand
Category: Enterprise Document Management

Typical Usage Scenario: Utilized by an organization that needs to centrally manage all documents and provide structured document workflow and collaboration tools for their staff as well as the convenience of offline file synchronization. The product is especially suited to organizations with compliance and security concerns, as XOD provides an intelligent and automated means for managing and tracking documents transported as email attachments.

Company & Product History

Xythos (more news) actually started out as an OEM supplier of portal technology back when all things Dot Com were in boom mode. The crash required them to shift their model. And they decided to sell their document management application to run in an organization’s own data center. 4 years later with 450-500 enterprise organizations and over 4 million licensed users using their document management software, Xythos is a profitable standalone entity. In 2006, tired of constantly saying no to providing Xythos Document Management as a software as a service solution, Xythos broke down and created Xythos on Demand. For 6 months they stealth marketed the service and in August of 2007 officially released it to the world. Xythos has 3 core products: # Xythos Enterprise Document Management Suite -- on premise solution # Xythos Digital Locker Suite -- document management designed specifically for the education market # Xythos on Demand -- the SaaS version of the on-premise solution Xythos on Demand is currently at v2.1. It is updated roughly every three months -- this is 4x more often than Xythos’ on premise application update cycle.

Market & Pricing

Xythos’s market is a mixed bucket of government agencies, financial institutions and educational institutions. Their products are used across the world in North America, Asia and parts of Europe. Pricing for the Xythos on Demand service is relatively straightforward: know how many users who will use it, how much storage you will need, and then take a look at their subscription based pricing: xythos_pricing.jpg

Partner Network Xythos does not pretend to do all things well. So when they created Xythos on Demand they did the smartest thing they could -- they partnered with companies who did specific things better. As a result, while Xythos focused on delivering a quality document management solution, they relied on partners like OPSource to host their solution and LES for billing. Business Model 75-80% of Xythos’s revenue comes from on premise licenses with a 20% renewal year over year. They also provide customization and jumpstart kits with their own professional services team (a small 5-6 employee group). Xythos Document Management is known for its ability to be easily integrated into other environments including portals from IBM, Oracle and BEA. Their product is sold through direct market and a mix of partners like Recco, CoFax, Captiva and the web 2.0 company Zimbra. Client Base Xythos on Demand has grown substantially since it was generally released. 50% of its market is outside of the US, in the UK and continental Europe. There are currently hundreds of organizations using Xythos on Demand, the likes of who include: Stadia (Systems integrator for salesforce.com), NCR, Volm Companies, MACH Energy, Astadia Consulting, Symbiotic Projects Limited and Harvard University. The Competition Xythos on Demand is compared to other services like Google Docs and SharePoint. Now SharePoint we can understand as it’s considered an “enterprise level” product, particularly in the document management realm. With their new SaaS offering, they may well become a strong competitor to the Xythos on Demand solution. Xythos believes they have the better solution. This may true as it can support a heterogeneous end-user environment. SharePoint is very much Microsoft based. As for Google Docs, although you can’t argue it’s a nice on demand tool for productivity -- similar, although less robust, as MS Office -- we aren’t sure how it could compare to a full-fledged document solution like Xythos.

Product Differentiators

Very few products start out like Xythos Document Management did -- as a 100% open standards web-based environment. Xythos was never a client-server solution. The on demand solution contains all the same features and functionality as the on-premise solution which makes moving to the on premise solution extremely easy. In addition, companies can be secure in the knowledge that their data is being stored and backed up in an environment that is protected by SunGuard. Another differentiator is Xythos Drive – a piece of software installed on the desktop that enables a user to work offline and provides an explorer like view of their folders and documents. According to Xythos, 60% of Xythos on Demand users use the Drive exclusively to access content. This is likely because it’s the format they are most use to. It also maintains a local copy – so it may also be a comfort thing.

Key Features and Ratings

mainscreen.jpg
Figure: Xythos OnDemand Home page

Product Core Technology

Rating: 4/5 Xythos on Demand is built on an open standards based platform. This includes WebDAV (used for Xythos Drive and Web Folders), J2EE, JSR-170 and Open APIs.

Content Entities

Rating: 4/5 Xythos is a document management solution. Therefore it works with just about any file type. It should probably not be considered a web content management system – even though the company runs its own web sites this way. It does support any number of file types including HTML, docs, xls, application/exe’s, zips, audio, video, text and more. Core document library service features can then be applied to each type of content stored in the system. There are two core components to this service -- files and folders. Users can create folders and add any number of files to these folders. Most of the management activities can be applied to both folders and files. If applied to folders, folder and files placed within a folder will adhere to the settings of that folder unless manually changed. For each document, Xythos enables users to classify and tag their content as required. xythos_doc_options.jpg
Figure: Manage settings for a document/folder
Classification: Xythos supports the classification of documents for managing a file in a more regulatory and standardized way. There are 4 basic classifications which include: basic document, human resources, publication and sales. Once you select a classification, you must complete a number of metadata elements based on that classification. Currently you can’t add new classifications, although this is expected in a future version. Tagging: Tags are simply searchable key words for a file. folders_users.jpg
Figure: Setting permissions on a document/folder

Content Versioning

Rating: 5/5 Xythos on Demand supports the versioning of documents. You can enable versioning on a specific document or a folder. Versioning on a folder ensures all documents added to it contain a revision history. There are two types of versioning. The first simply creates a copy of the document each time someone makes changes to it. So you have multiple copies of a document with different version numbers. The second includes checkin/checkout capabilities. If you check out a document, then no one else can make changes to it until you check it back in. This allows you to maintain versioning within the same document. Other users can still view the latest version of the document.

Workflow

Rating: 5/5 Workflow is fairly robust in this solution. You can create a number of workflow templates and then attach them to folders and/or documents. Each workflow template is made up of a number of steps with those steps assigned to pre-defined users or groups or automated tasks such as moving a document to a particular folder. Workflow can include both parallel and sequential processing. xythos_workflow_details.jpg
Figure: Viewing Workflow Details
Every user has a task list when they log into the system. If there are workflow tasks assigned to them directly or a group they belong to, they are displayed in this task list. The user can select a task to complete or reassign to someone else.

Multi-lingual Support

Rating: 0/5 Xythos on Demand does not currently have any multilingual capabilities. It’s on premise version and Xythos Drive are available in English, French, German, Czech and Japanese. Xythos says they have had no translations requests for Xythos on Demand as of yet.

Administrator Features

Rating: 4/5 Administration features for Xythos on Demand include things such as: Creating and Maintaining Users and Groups admin_users.jpg
Figure: Manage Users for the site
Service and Billing See your service plan, make changes directly online, enter credit information for billing and review billing statements Branding You can brand your version of XOD by adding your company logo – but that’s pretty much it for branding. According to the company, there are some additional customization options coming later this year. Usage Summary Know how much storage is being used by user as well as seeing bandwidth usage overall admin_usageSummary.jpg
Figure: View Usage Summary
Workflow Templates Create your workflow templates to be used with documents and folders. When you first set up your account and get online, you have access to a small Administrative Guide document that outlines all the basic things you should know and setup as the administrators. Nice to see it’s not a hundred pages of to-do’s.

Usability

From a usability perspective, Xythos on Demand is a relatively easy to use, easy to navigate solution. There’s no user handbook -- so it does take a bit of getting use to at first -- especially if you are use to another product like MOSS. The interface is clean and contains straightforward navigation (including icons) to help to find your way around. Although products like SharePoint have changed their terminology to things like libraries, Xythos stays true to the files and folders metaphors that their customers still prefer. You can configure some of the navigation to a degree. However the most used options are those displayed by default, so you won’t really want to change much. Also, the application is loaded with context sensitive help – something you will likely use for the first while until you get your feet under you.

Customizability/Integration

Rating: 2/5 Xythos on Demand can be integrated with Portals via the use of Intellilinks and Tickets. These are links to documents on the site. When a user clicks one of these links, they are directed to Xythos where they will need to authenticate before they can access a document or folder. Customization of Xythos on Demand is currently limited to branding. More specifically, you can add your own logo to your site. For now, that’s about the limit to customization, although Xythos says to expect additional customization enhancements in the next service upgrade expected this summer.

Content Delivery Architecture

Rating: 5/5 Xythos on Demand is of course a SaaS solution. Therefore there is no requirement to install anything in an organization. Many organizations do want to know however that their information is secure, highly available and backed up regularly. The Xythos service runs on fully-redundant Red Hat Linux application servers behind a Juniper Netscreen firewall. Availability is said to be 99.9%. The infrastructure is provided via their partner OPSource and runs in a fully redundant collocation facility that is monitored 24x7x365 by closed-circuit cameras. User access security is a combination of SSL and PKI. Data is backed up to SunGuard on the East Coast for 90 days -- this is an offsite location. A flexible folder/file level access control model is also included to ensure that only approved personnel have permission to read, write or manage content. These controls are also inheritable for improved policy compliance. Secure external collaboration is also supported through the use of Xythos “tickets” – time dependent and password protected links to content that can be shared with external participants.

Our Take, In Summary

Here’s a summary table of the review:

FeatureDescriptionRating
Core Platform TechnologyOpen standard technolologies like WEBDAV, J2EE, JSR170
4/5
Content EntitiesSupports a number of file types. Management of features is applied to folders and/or files
4/5
Content VersioningAbility to create multiple physical versions or one single version with checkin/checkout functionality
5/5
WorkflowWorkflow is created as a template and assigned to any number of files or folders
5/5
Administrator FeaturesAbility to manage users, workflow templates, usage, etc...
4/5
Multi-lingual SupportOnly Xythos Drive is available in multiple languages
0/5
Customizability & IntegrationLimited customization, integration with portals/email via Intellittach and Tickets
2/5
Content Delivery ArchitectureHosted through partner OPSource in a very secure, highly available facility
5/5

Additional Features

Wiki Collaboration To go along with their document management capabilities, XOD provides a Wiki environment for collaboration. You can easily set up a wiki to create and publish content for collaboration. Tables and images can be inserted into the wiki content. create_wiki.jpg
Figure: Create a Wiki
A complete historical record is maintained for the wiki -- so you always know what was said, when and by whom. create_wiki_panel.jpg
Figure: Adding a Panel to a Wiki
Xythos Drive Xythos Drive is local application that runs on the Window's desktop. It allows you to quick access your documents in a Windows application user interface. You can map a drive to your files and access them remotely using the familiar windows explorer view. xythos_drive.jpg
Figure: Xythos Drive – Explorer view
A right-click menu also allows you access to many of the document management features you have directly on the service, such as managing versions or setting up subscriptions via RSS or alerts. xythos_drive2.jpg
Figure:Manage files/folders
In addition, Xythos Drive enables you to work offline on your documents and have them automatically synchronized the next time you go online. The other really nice feature that comes with Xythos Drive is Intellittach. Intellittach enables you to replace all file attachments in your email (Outlook or Notes) with an encrypted link to the document. You don’t have to do anything different, just attach your document and Xythos will automatically add a link instead of the actual file based on your selection. You can however still send the actual file if that’s your preference.

Our Take on XOD

Things We Really Liked * Clean, easy to navigation interface * Right click menu capability * Local Xythos Drive functionality * Workflow templates * Email Integration with Intellittach * Context sensitive help * Hosting environment with OPSource * Usage Statistics in real time * Versioning options All in all we found the Xythos on Demand to be a robust solution for managing and collaborating on documents. And we feel it reasonably can be compared to SharePoint (especially with the recently announced SharePoint as a service option). The two contain many of the same doc management and collaboration features, although admittedly they are offered in very different formats. One soft spot we noted was a lack of integration partners for the Xythos on Demand solution. However, because it is a document management product, it's difficult to see what type of partner development would be required. The exception here would be integration with portals. The on premise version probably integrates more tightly than the on demand option; however, it would be nice to see more sophisticated security integration (e.g., single-sign on, LDAP integration, etc.), which is not currently offered. Xythos on Demand's wiki functionality is also a nice additional collaboration feature. Along with versioning and strong workflow functionality, collaboration is certainly a top feature overall for this solution.

Xythos for Web Content Management?

It's true that you'll find some literature on Xythos' website that discusses using XOD for web content management. However, we'd caution that the functionality is somewhat cumbersome, as you are still dealing with files (even if they are HTML). In general, we don't see the product as a strong contender in the Web CMS domain.

Business Fit

XOD is sold as an enterprise service and we do agree it has enterprise value. That being said, it's missing some important aspects that are generally required with an enterprise solution. Multi-lingual support is generally required for enterprise solutions as are rich security/permissions management and integration. XOD's username/password authentication system strikes us as an area where things could be improved. What's probably the most important aspect for an enterprise solution is the ability to categorize your documents. With XOD one is limited to 4 categories and the metadata is fixed for those categories. There's no capability in this version to add your own categories or add/edit the metadata. This is supposed to be resolved in a future version, so we'll have to stay tuned as this story evolves.

The Wrap

If your org is looking for a centralized document management solution with strong collaboration capabilities, offline sync support and compliance features, then we recommend taking a closer look at XOD. Similarly, if your workforce is geographically distributed, your employees work remotely, or you just don't want the expense or hassle of managing an in-house solution, Xythos on Demand is worth a gander. The product's functional scope is more narrow than either the free Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) or MOSS, but what it does it does well. And for many departments and/or organizations, its core strengths may be just what the doctor ordered. At any rate, it's easy enough to see for yourself, as free trials are available here.