From Excel to EDMS: how to organize convenient processing of materials for a scientific conference

    In this article I want to share the experience of organizing the collection, reviewing and discussion of materials sent by the participants of the scientific conference held annually by our department.

    We accept materials by e-mail in the OpenOffice and Microsoft Office formats, but the original layout of the collection, in accordance with the requirements of our printing house, is prepared in * .docx format. The interaction between the authors, the organizing committee and reviewers had to be organized in such a way as to take into account all the files received, the changes made to them and comments. To control the elimination of comments, it was required to save and compare various versions of files.

    The first conference experience

    Acceptance of materials involved several employees of the department. The accepted file was checked for compliance with formal requirements, then sent to a specialist for review, then (in the case of a positive reviewer response) to the editor to work on the collection. Data on the materials received (title, authors, contact information) were entered by the editor into the general list. It was an ordinary Microsoft Excel file.

    In this chain, double work was done on the review and technical processing of materials. Structuring thematic sections required attention and accuracy. Changes were lost when exchanging file versions by email. These problems led to an increase in the total time spent on the collection.

    Drive Automation

    In 2014, taking into account previous experience, we created a form in Google Drive that included data on the materials received at the time of their receipt, indicating the status (reviewed, edited, for compilation in the collection). The original file was also saved to Google Drive. Filling out the form was carried out by several employees. At the same time, the loss of files and their double processing were practically excluded.

    There are new problems. When entering the data, it was required to check the presence of the received materials in the list in order to avoid duplication. It was necessary to preliminarily agree on the rules for naming files, distributing the front of work between editors. Two editors could add a new file with the same name. One file could be downloaded for editing by several editors, and individual changes would disappear. Work on the collection became more convenient, but I wanted more automation.

    We are trying to organize work with Joomla

    In 2016, it was decided to publish preliminary versions of materials for discussion and reviewing on the conference website. To organize teamwork, we used CMS Joomla. Thematic sections were organized, a registration form with sending files. An attempt was also made to switch to providing the conference participants with their own publication using an online editor. This allowed working with various versions of materials using the tools built into the CMS. But most of the participants sent files by e-mail, ignoring the registration form, and had to return to the previous scheme of work, supplementing it with the publication of files by editors on the conference website. The use of a thematic forum simplified the discussion of comments and the work of reviewers.

    This approach to the organization of the conference had a number of problems. Work directly with the author's presentation of their materials online did not work out. We used our own site to store various versions of the sent files and organize collective access to them, but to control the changes we needed to download the files to the computer, and upload the changed ones again. It took extra effort and time to maintain the site. As a result of one of the hacking attempts, the sent materials had to be restored. Due to these problems, we refused to use CMS Joomla.

    We try the electronic document management system

    When discussing the organization of the conference in 2017, it was decided to test the electronic document management system as a teamwork tool. Among the candidates were the most common, judging by the publications on the Internet, products: NauDoc, Alfresco, Pilot-ICE, 1C: Document flow.

    Our selection criteria:

    • the availability of a trial version available at no additional cost;
    • free use;
    • support for various document formats;
    • clear Russian-language documentation;
    • the presence of a Russian-language interface.

    I will not conduct a detailed comparative analysis of these systems. There are a number of articles on the Internet dedicated to these products. EDS immediately requiring a preliminary purchase were immediately rejected. Alfresco shallows due to the lack of Russian-language documentation and the lack of official support for the Russian-language interface. NauDoc is no longer supported by the manufacturer. We settled on Pilot-ICE due to the available trial version and the availability of a free license for educational organizations.

    Adapting the system to our requests did not take much time. The server and client part were installed on the computers of our local network. We created a project with thematic sections to work on the structure of the collection. When new material arrived, it was introduced into the project by one of the members of the organizing committee indicating the status. For these purposes, we used work with material cards and attributes.

    The source files were stored on a virtual disk. After some time working on the file, the editor synchronized its version of the file with the server using the context menu of Windows Explorer. While working with a file, the editor blocked it from changes. When replacing a file, for example, sent after authoring, and synchronizing with the server, a new version was also created. Subsequently, a decision was made to save certain changes in the current version. Using a virtual disk turned out to be convenient due to the lack of binding of version control to the editing program and file format. Of the minuses of the system, it should be noted the inability to remove obsolete versions.

    To review and control the elimination of comments, the editor submitted documents in a fixed markup format by printing on a Pilot-XPS virtual printer. At the same time, a document card was filled out, and its place in the structure of the project (Conference digest) was also indicated. We noted the convenience of filling in the fields in the card compared to maintaining a register of received materials in the Excel file. The same copy and paste, but without the need to switch between documents several times.

    Reviewers concluded that the submitted material corresponded to the requirements of the conference and recommended it in one of the thematic sections of the collection. To make comments, a tool was used to view XPS files and compare document versions in fixed markup format.

    The conference materials were structured according to thematic sections using the operations of copying and pasting documents in the project structure. The process has become noticeably simpler, since it did not require physical movement of the source files themselves and could be carried out jointly. The problem was further consolidation of materials in the collection. For layout of one section, it was necessary to manually select all the source files of documents related to this section. Further work on the compilation of the collection took place using a text editor.

    I will give a general outline of our work using EDMS:

    • saving the received file to a virtual disk;
    • printing on a virtual printer in XPS format and registration of the sent material in the structure of the collection outside the thematic sections;
    • wording of the review task;
    • elimination (if necessary) of comments and printing on a virtual printer a new version of the document;
    • control over the elimination of comments (comparison of versions);
    • transfer of the document to the thematic section recommended by the reviewer;
    • statement of the task to the editor for combining files into one collection.

    Despite the remaining problems, the use of an electronic document management system turned out to be more convenient compared to previous attempts to organize the processing of conference materials. Accounting, reviewing and structuring by thematic sections have become effective due to teamwork and reliable file storage. In conclusion, I will give a comparative table of our attempts to organize a conference using various tools.

    The way to organize teamwork pros Minuses
    Maintaining a register of received materials in a Microsoft Excel fileNo additional software required
    • Double work on reviewing and technical processing of materials.
    • Loss of changes to files.

    Google Drive
    • Organization of collective access to the materials sent.
    • Public access to the register of materials received.

    • Difficulties in the distribution of work between editors.
    • Risk of re-submission of sent material.
    • Loss of changes to files.
    • Uncomfortable comparing file versions

    CMS Joomla
    • The possibility of public access to the materials sent.
    • It is convenient to review materials and organize them into thematic sections.

    • Inconvenient to make changes to files.
    • The method of publishing materials did not find support among the conference participants.
    • Additional costs for maintaining the site.

    Naudoc - Lack of support
    AlfrescoFreeLack of Russian-language documentation
    • Organization of collective access to materials.
    • Saving different versions of files
    • Ability to compare files of various formats
    • Possibility of convenient structuring of materials according to thematic sections

    • There is no version control binding to the editing program.
    • It is inconvenient to select files belonging to the same partition on the virtual disk.
    • There is no way to delete individual versions of files.

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