If you are managing large numbers of documents on a file-system, and you want to browse them quickly (the electronic equivalent of licking your thumb and flicking through the folder). Then computers never quite measure up to having the paper. People work very visually when skimming a file for a particular item – they remember the ‘shape’ of the document text, the colour of the letterhead logo, and other very broad things that are very hard to capture with a search engine. You don’t want to open each file to see if it’s the one you want, and Windows’ own integrated preview abilities are somewhat limited (in the size of the thumbnail, and speed of operation).

I’ve been pointed in the direction of the best solution for this problem I’ve seen:Explorer View, from an Australian company called GetData.

In my MYOB days, we used to recommend Quick View Plus, indeed we even wrote specific links to QuickView in Singleview. It’s fine, but it also proved to be a bit flaky at times (particularly with PDF files), and the licensing costs could sometimes be a bit on the high side for Citrix users.

Explorer View, rather than acting as a replacement for Windows Explorer, actually embeds itself inside Windows Explorer – adding a preview pane at the base of the screen – just like the one in Outlook. It supports lots of file formats (including Word 2007 DOCX but not XLSX yet), zooms up to full size, lets you look at all pages of a document, and it’s really fast.

Even better, you can break the preview pane out into its own window. This means you can put the preview pane full-size onto your second monitor (you DO have dual monitors don’t you?) and run Explorer on the other – just flick down the documents in Explorer, and see full-sized previews of each one – as fast as you like.

It’s also pretty reasonably priced – a 50-user licence is US$499 (£350 quid – give or take)

I just bought a copy, and I’m showing it to clients whenever the need arises.

Legal Admissibility of electronic documents

For many years, the British Standards Institution (BSi) have published a code of practice (PD0008 and then BIP0008) for ‘Evidential weight and legal admissibility of electronic information’ – a document that I’ve had on my desk for many years. In the absence of clear statutory rules, this became the de-facto standard for organisations who wanted to dispense with paper records, but wanted to ensure that digital images of original documents were going to be acceptable in any future regulatory inspections, court cases, etc.

Many organisations and Government bodies reference the BSi code when defining what they consider to be acceptable practice for ‘paperless office’ operations where no original paper copies were to be kept. Despite this, it remained only a code of practice, and there remains a great deal of concern (much of it unfounded) that eliminating paper creates some kind of legal or regulatory risk to the organisation.

In November last year, the BSi finally turned this document into a formal British Standard: BS 10008:2008. There’s not much difference in terms of the actual processes and recommendations, but it is now organised in a way that makes it much easier to validate your own systems as compliant or not.

This development should go a long way to encouraging adoption of document management systems in the more risk averse areas of business (coughAccountantscough).