Product Review: PC Docs refines Web data access

Here's a sobering statistic: 80 per cent of a company's electronic information lies in an unstructured sea of organisational chaos. Memos, proposals, presentations, and reports are often created using different applications and are strewn across servers throughout the company, decreasing an organisation's productivity. To combat such fragmentation, many sites are turning to Web portal software, such as DocsFulcrum 3.0, from PC Docs Group, to provide a single point of information access to their employees.

Like a souped-up search engine offering many advanced features, the Windows NT-based DocsFulcrum allows users to perform high-speed queries against intranet and Internet sites that have been indexed by the product. To maintain efficiency and speed, DocsFulcrum peruses its indices instead of the indexed files themselves when a search is performed. The result is a powerful tool for categorising and managing your intellectual assets.

In addition to accessing intranet or Internet data, DocsFulcrum can index and navigate information stored in a host of different formats, including Lotus Notes databases, Microsoft Exchange Server stores, ODBC databases, and document management systems. These sources are gathered together into a common information model called a Knowledge Map, which presents your information sources as a logical, unified folder hierarchy.

The Knowledge Map metaphor enables your users to query for information in thousands of folders from any accessible information source that has been indexed, without concerning themselves with its physical location on your network. To allow refined data mining, users can create customised views of the Knowledge Map by creating personal folders and saving frequently used queries locally on their desktops.

Strong suit: searching

The true power of DocsFulcrum lies in its wealth of search options and capabilities. Users have a number of avenues at their disposal to perform distributed searches. Fulcrum WebFind allows searching through a standard Web browser, and the Fulcrum Find client, its client/server application alternative, can be seamlessly launched from within Microsoft Outlook and Exchange clients.

DocsFulcrum can display search result lists according to statistical relevance ranking, and document summaries let you preview entire documents through an abstract of the retrieved item. This allows you to quickly determine whether a particular document contains the type of information you are looking for without actually opening the document itself. For those tired of Boolean searching, DocsFulcrum supports a less formal query syntax through natural-language processing.

DocsFulcrum lets Web users view more than 200 different file formats without launching native applications via its FulView ActiveX control. This lets you quickly access non-HTML documents. For non-ActiveX-capable browsers, this version provides improved HTML document rendering on the fly, complete with search-term highlighting.

To augment manual searching, DocsFulcrum also comes with ProActive Agent technology. This allows you to schedule searches to occur on a regular basis and delivers the results directly to your desktop. Agents can be set up for public or general use.

I was extremely impressed with DocsFulcrum's Intuitive Searching option. Under this guise, I was able to search for related documents such as the one I was viewing using a whole paragraph or the entire document as a query. DocsFulcrum's multiformat viewer let me view items I retrieved without launching the document's native application.

Sturdy architecture

The heart of DocsFulcrum is its Knowledge Server engine, which acts as middleware between your clients and information resources and handles the processing for indexing, searching, remote administration, and Web crawling. The Knowledge Server engine is also scalable, allowing multiple instances of Knowledge Server to work in tandem to support client/server and Web-based access.

Installing Knowledge Server is a relatively straightforward process. To maintain your catalog of online indexes, you'll also need access to a relational database for storage purposes. An adequate assessment of your site's system, memory, and storage requirements is also required. For large-scale installations, you should plan on rolling out a dedicated server for the task.

Once installed, it becomes readily apparent that DocsFulcrum is tightly integrated into the Microsoft BackOffice products; it makes full use of Windows NT Server monitoring tools, such as Event Log and Performance Monitor. In addition, you can directly administer Microsoft Exchange information sources directly from the Exchange Server administration interface.

To allow Knowledge Server access to existing information stores, such as Exchange Server or Lotus Notes, you'll need to install individual Knowledge Activators for each resource. In addition to the standard Activators available with the product, DocsFulcrum supports custom Knowledge Activator development via its Knowledge Builder toolkit.

Web-data access and Web-searching capabilities have been seamlessly integrated into DocsFulcrum. This product offers extensive capabilities for searching and indexing, making it a sound addition to any corporate intranet.

Todd Coopee (tcoopee@industrialmedia.ca) is the technical director at Industrial Media, a new-media consultancy in Ottawa.

The bottom line: excellent

DocsFulcrum 3.0

Summary: DocsFulcrum offers a single, searchable point of access to online resources, using powerful indexing and search options. Natural-language queries, an Enterprise Table of Contents, and search agents that can be scheduled are a few of the options available from Web- and Windows-based clients.

Business Case: DocsFulcrum is well worth its cost, letting companies organise intellectual capital into a cohesive, searchable map online. Users can quickly find relevant information that matters, which can help to increase productivity.

Pros

+ Search options

+ Agent technology

Cons

- None

Platforms: Server: Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3 or 4 installed. Find client: Windows 95/98, Windows NT

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