If you use Documentum for your enterprise content management platform -- or SharePoint, Alfresco, Oracle, or maybe a mix of these -- then you might be interested in having a look at Generis CARA. CARA is a browser-based document management interface that works with both CMIS and repository specific extensions and it's a pretty slick tool. Let's take a look.

Taking Root in Documentum

In the spirit of EMC World, which is happening right now, it seems appropriate timing to talk about a tool that can help you manage the content stored in your Documentum repository. Called CARA, it is in its third release and it is an alternative to tools like Documentum's D2.

Now I know there have been announcements at EMC World about updates coming to D2 that make it easy for users to manage content, but CARA v3.2 exists right now and from the demo I had, it's a tool many a document manager would love to have in their arsenal of tools. (Here is an independent view of D2 from January of this year).

How CARA is Built

A JAVA application built using the Google Web Toolkit (which means it works in pretty much any browser), CARA is configurable for each customer. In fact, Generis has a zero customization policy that says if you need something new, they will add it as a configurable feature available to everyone.

CARA is a single browser window interface that enables you to manage your documents within the Documentum repository. It does not integrate tightly into Documentum but rather is one layer abstracted which means you can upgrade the Documentum without needing a simultaneous upgrade for CARA -- so the same version of CARA works with Documentum 5.3, 6.0, 6.5, 6.6 and 6.7. Also good to point out is that CARA is Section 508 Compliant.

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CARA Architecture

CARA connects to repositories like Documentum using CMIS (if it is supported), also taking advantage of specific capabilities of the repository via APIs.

When you first see CARA open, it almost looks like you are remote desktop"ing" into the Documentum server. You can have multiple windows open on your screen and you can do things like drag and drop between windows.

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CARA desktop view

A widgets panel is available with a number of out of the box widgets (e.g. properties for a selected document) or you can add custom widgets that offer additional information from within Documentum or outside via third party applications. Some examples:

  • A Query inside the system
  • Embed a URL (like a Twitter feed, in-house SAP data, etc.)
  • A Web Service
  • xCP Form & Workflows

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CARA is available also as a mobile solution and in a number of languages including English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic and Polish.

Working with Data in CARA

Dimensions

CARA offers views called dimensions so you can view the repository in special ways. It's here that 90% of current CARA users work as opposed to working with the standard folders and search. Dimensions are your personalized tree view (and search) of the repository. You set your dimension by specifying properties (1 per level up to 5 levels). You can create dimensions for roles or scenarios to make it easier for employees to get their work done. For example, you can group documents, or filter them by different combinations. You can also show or hide individual pieces of data by groups or display different columns.

Once you create a special view (dimension), it is saved to the system so that the next time you log in from the same location or via a different computer or device your preferences are there.

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You can create new documents in CARA based on another document or template. Or you can upload one from your desktop. You can also create a placeholder for a document. Documents are categorized by types and subtypes.

A few additional items of interest:

  • A data dictionary is also available and can be set up by language.
  • You can have a PDF import rule set up that restricts the uploading of password protected PDFs.
  • Restrict work to a particular cabinet.
  • My Desk is a shortcut intray for workflow.

There are additional CARA products that work with the CARA Web desktop including an annotation solution:

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CARA product family

Dashboards & Reporting

Using dashboards, you can define queries and view the results. As content is updated, the query is automatically updated when you view the dashboard. You can also create your own dynamic dashboards by selecting from several variables to build your query. In most cases, wizards are available to help you configure your dashboards.

Instead of viewing data by the traditional data object type, CARA looks at data based on classifications (you can have nine levels of classification or taxonomy) and category.

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Within CARA you can also configure search and do advanced searches. Search is done by type or classification and is asynchronous so you can run a search and go on to do other things while it's working away. There are also reports for status, workflow, searches and more.

Getting Started Could Be Easy

It's safe to say that I am only scratching the surface of the features and functionality available with the CARA Web Desktop. But there's only so much you can say in a quick review like this.

CARA was originally designed for Documentum, but now works with Alfresco, SharePoint and Oracle's WebCenter, and you can view all these repositories within one Web Desktop. It's common to see an organization use more than one enterprise content management system, so a solution like CARA that can bring them altogether is useful.

So you might ask why use CARA and not Documentum's D2 product? Generis does offer a number of prepackaged solutions of the CARA Web Desktop for certain industries. Some of these include Legal, HR, Change Control and SOPs/Quality. This would make it much easier to get your installation up and running (note that Generis's says you can set CARA up with 2-3 days using a Package and up to about 2 weeks).

I think you should look at both of the products and decide for yourself which one offers the better experience for your needs. You may find one more useful to you over the other. But that comparison may just have to wait until the announced updates to Documentum D2 are released.