Introduction to Synergis Adept Engineering Document Management System, Pt 2
A Sample Session
You access Adept from within many applications – like AutoCAD, Inventor, or Solidworks – by first installing the plug-in appropriate for the software. I have never used Solidworks or Inventor and it has been years since I last used AutoCAD, and so I tested Adept with MicroStation. While Adept does work well with MicroStation, Adept does not have a plug-in to work inside MicroStation, which meant that instead I worked with the Adept client interface to manage my files.
(I did try accessing files using Adept’s AutoCAD interface, which allows users to perform most document management activities inside the CAD program. I found, however, I preferred the stand alone client for a number of reasons: lots of users don’t pay attention to where files come from and where they go, and so forcing them to start from the client helps solve this problem; there is a delay from when a new CAD program is released to when third-party software is updated; and sometimes vendors can get at odds over who is responsible when add-on software doesn’t work inside the CAD program.)
Logging into the Adept client is as simple as clicking on the desktop icon, and then waiting for the program to launch. The interface is a series of configurable windows for finding, managing, and reviewing files whose metadata has been stored in the Adept database. (Metadata is information about your files, such as size, location, and content.)
Adept stores several types of metadata:
- System data is file property information taken directly from Windows, including file names, file sizes, and file types
- Extracted data is user configurable data that Adept extracts automatically from supported file types
- Manually entered data is custom information that organizations and users want Adept to keep track of
- Action data is the audit trail that keeps track of what has been done to files and by whom
It stores all the metadata in libraries. Each Adept library corresponds to a folder location on the network; in this way, it makes use of whatever filing system you have in place. This should make installation easier and get Adept running more quickly, because you won’t need to alter the location of the data. In addition, keeping your folder structure gives you the ability to find files the old way, when necessary; just remember that doing so defeats the purpose of a document management system.
From what I gleaned while using the software, reading the documentation, and checking out online videos is that the sky is pretty much the limit as to what you can store and track with Adept.
The Adept client interface consists of the parts shown in Figure 1:
Figure 1: Adept screen open with three windows
FileGuide – Library Browser window provides a hierarchical directory structure view of the data.
Work Area window shows the files in a specific work area, and allows selection of the work area to which to check out files.
The third window is the Relationship Browser which shows the child-parent relationships between the selected files in the Library Browser.
Figure 2: FileGuide window showing parent/child relationships
I’m not sure how important the child window is to a SolidWorks or AutoCAD user, but to us MicroStation users it is extremely important, because our design files tend to have lots of files referenced to one another, making it difficult to keep track of what goes where. Adept understands the relationships between files and so displays the appropriate ones for users.
When I check out a file that has others attached to it, Adept gives me the choice of checking them out as well. (See Figure 2.)
The windows can be configured just about any way I want. For example, Figure 3 shows the window tiled horizontally, but they can be configured vertically, cascaded or user arranged.
Figure 3: Different ways to configure client windows
Once I was comfortable with my interface setup, I employed two basic ways to find files. One way was to use the File Guide-Library Browser to search the vaults in hierarchical arrangements or by predetermined views — set up previously by the system administrator. (See Figure 4.)
Figure 4: Library browser views
In the other way, I simply selected the Search button from the Adept menu bar, and then filled out the necessary search informaton. (See Figure 5.)
Figure 5: Client Interface buttons
I also had the option of using previously set up search cards via the data card dropbox, as shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6: Library search cards
Regardless of which search card I used, the results appeared in in a separate window. From here, I selected the file or files I wanted to check out to my personal or shared workspace; to do so, I right clicked and then selected the appropiate action. In this case Sign Out, as shown in Figure 7.
Figure 7: Results of a search
After I selected Sign Out, another window appeared asking me how I wanted to handle parent-child relationships the file might have, as shown in Figure 8. In this case, Adept recognizes that the DGN file I selected had a reference attached to it. By selecting All, Adept signed out the selected file and all its attachments. (If I want to check out only the one
file, I would have selected the 1st Level Only button.)
Figure 8: File sign out dialog showing child relationships
Once the files are signed out to the proper work area, it is just a matter of launching the desired application. Again this is done using a right click of the menu and selecting Launch. (See Figure 9.)
Figure 9: Launching the selected file
Checking a file back into the system is just as easy: return to the Work Area window to select the file or files I wish to check in, right click, and then select Sign In. See Figure 10. A window appears showing me which files will be signed in and where they are going. Additionally, I can also choose a workflow for the file to follow.
Figure 10: Checking in a file
There you have it. From the viewpoint of the average user, Adept is an easy system to use. I point this out, because no matter which EDM software you chose, if it isn’t easy and unobtrusive to the average user, then your firm is wasting its time and money.
My overall impression of Adept is positive, in that the system is easy to use and seems to have more than sufficient features for most engineering environments. Specifically, here is what I really like about software:
- Adept doesn’t mess with your existing file structure. This allows you to work as you always have, at least as far as your network infrastructure and procedures go.
- Concurrent licensing. You can buy a few licenses of each type to start and then see which work best in your environment. This type of licensing gives you the advantage of seeing which interface works best for your users.
Figure 11: AutoVue displays hundreds of file types
- Built in file viewer and markup. The included AutoVue software works well and is fully integrated into the Adept software, as shown in Figure 11. It allows anyone with access to Adept (via the desktop client or Web versions) to view, print and mark up any file within the Adept system. When someone accesses a file that has been marked up or commented on, Adept lets them know. This expands Adept’s functionality to everyone in your organization — not just your CAD users.
- Multiple ways to search for documents. Adept’s libraries let old-fashioned users like me search for files by using a standard hierarchical system, while providing the ability to do Google-like searches for young bucks. By setting up search views in advance, you can allow every group within your organization to access data the way they want to.
- Check out and check in. I have always believed you should keep the original file safe, and let users only work on copies. A drawback to this approach, however, is when multiple people work on the same file at the same time. Adept overcomes this situation by allowing files to be checked out to either a personal (controlled access) or to a shared (common access) work area.
- File versioning. One of the things I miss about the VAX minicomputer systems of old was that the file system had built-in versioning of files. No matter what you did to a file, you could always go back by one or more versions. Adept allows for versioning of files, if you choose to use it; this function can be turned on or off at the administrative level or by the user.
- If your organization has a well-defined workflow for handling data, then you will probably really like Adept’s workflow features. Workflow needs some setting up, but once working it forces everyone to follow the system. For this review, I had to keep the feature turned off, because it kept me, as an individual, from doing what I needed to. In a lot of organizations, however, workflow is the key feature they need.
- Documentation and support. The Synergis website provides a wealth of introductory and how-to videos on the functions of the program. I watched a few, and found them well done and helpful. All the documentation provided to me was in PDF format, and was readable and informative; I was able to transfer the PDF files to my Nook e-reader and so carry them with me. The files could have been formatted better for use on e-readers, but nevertheless it was convenient to access them this way. (I mentioned the e-reader to Synergis and they seem receptive to looking into it.)
- Supports multiple products well. Every EDMS out there supports AutoCAD and Microsoft Office data. It is when dealing with multiple CAD products and data formats that problems can crop up. Adept supports multiple systems with ease, which makes it a good choice for organizations that own multiple CAD products. Believe me when I tell you that a product supporting MicroStation this well is rare indeed!
- While I was not able to test it, Synergis provides a Web part so that SharePoint users can access all features of the Adept Web client. If your organization uses SharePoint, then this allows you to integrate your CAD workflow.
Was there any thing that I didn’t like about the software? Not really, but then I was only looking at it as a user and not from the administrator’s point of view. Because I did not have to install it, I cannot tell you how difficult or easy it might be.
In speaking with Synergis over the course of the review, I got the feeling that most users of the software get paid-for help initially to get the system up and running. If my dealings with Synergis are any indication of their customer support, then I would say they go out of their way to make sure the product is installed and running successfully.
There are several document management and engineering document management systems out there. While Synergis may not be the largest or even the best-known EDMS vendor (I had never heard of them before this review), they make a solid product and so deserve an in-depth look by any firm wanting to install an independent, flexible, and scalable engineering document management system.