IBM FileNet Review

Easy to integrate, and enables our clients to guarantee compliance

What is our primary use case?

There are two use cases. One is as an extended datastore for IBM Connections, but we don't have many Connections customers. We have actually lost two such customers in the recent years because IBM didn't do anything for that product. 

The more common use case is as a general filestore for documents, with interfaces to the Web, etc. It is used to store incoming invoices and documents and to classify them. It's also used to automate the process of document storage, when documents come in. We have a mechanism to automatically categorize a document based on content. Based on that, we are able to create attributes for the content management system. Then we store the document in FileNet to enable retrieving it. We have PIDs, a universal access code, for each document and via that we are able to retrieve documents, even via applications.

We have created some interfaces. We have a central solution to make it easy for customers to plug in their application systems in an easy, customizable way, without having to program it. We also work in the area of analytics where we use Cognos. We have customers who retrieve information about incoming invoices. They can click on a link and retrieve it automatically out of FileNet or Content Manager.

How has it helped my organization?

FileNet helps increase productivity. For example, in reporting for a construction company, when they look at the costs, they can see the incoming and outgoing invoices. By clicking, they pull that document from the content store. The productivity comes from not having to go to a folder and look for a document. It's the integration which makes it productive, day-to-day.

You can only see how much the solution saves when you did not have a content system before. We have customers, for instance, who stored their documents in PDF format in folder structures. They had structures based on year and customer number. To find and use a document would take three to four times more effort than to have access via automated interfaces. The next gain is when you plug in mobile. Then you need something like FileNet, an intelligent content store.

It also helps with compliance and governance issues because it's a datastore that is not modifiable, and you can guarantee that. You cannot guarantee that with a folder-based file structure, where multiple people have access. In that scenario, you cannot guarantee that a document hasn't been changed.

What is most valuable?

The most valuable features of FileNet are the 

  • storage mechanism
  • search mechanism 
  • interface through Content Navigator and 
  • mobile interfaces. 

What needs improvement?

The area of migrations to new versions must be made easier. It's quite good that they have now begun to improve the API area, to modernize the interfaces, but there's always a very big investment involved in migrating from one version to another. That prohibits rolling out new functionalities to customers. It's not so easy. You can't release a new version every three months to bring in new capabilities. That is the old-fashioned, the way it worked ten or 20 years ago. That is bad. In that area, they really must improve.

We have FileNet, Content Manager, and TSM in our own installation. We migrated that installation three years ago to version 5.12. Now we have to migrate to 5.25 to bring in new facilities, and it's a big task. We have to do it in addition to our other tasks where we support customers. We need a parallel machine and to set it up there and to migrate step-by-step, then test it and roll it out. It's not so easy. That is a big area where there is much to be done to satisfy the needs of customers.

For how long have I used the solution?

I've been using it a long time. We have been an IBM Business Partner for more than 20 years. We have been using FileNet since IBM bought it, I believe about eight years ago. We have been in the content management area since 2002. We started in the area of content systems with IBM Content Manager and then we added our support for File Net.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

I have never really heard of problems with the stability because the database. IBM Db2 is never a problem. I cannot say anything about Oracle or other databases. We have avoided implementing with a non-IBM database where we can. When we do, there is no problem with stability.

In the larger installations, we use primarily TSM as the object store, and therefore we do not have problems with overrunning file space and those kinds of issues. The only thing we have seen is that when a customer's system administrator installs a new Java version on the server where FileNet is running, sometimes it can cause a big mess. FileNet doesn't come up.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We have customers with a very small user base, 50 users or so, and we have some who have a really big user base. But the scalability is primarily dependent on how long you are storing documents. The time over which documents are stored now has been extended far beyond seven years. In the past, often this was a financial necessity. But now, even though we do not have insurance companies as clients, we have customers where the stored documents are more than ten or 15 years old. The scalability is also more dependent on the count of documents than on the user-base interaction.

From my point of view, it's scalable enough. Today there are machines which are scalable, where you can put in additional processors and memory. In today's scenarios, scalability is not really an issue. FileNet can take advantage of today's technology for scaling. There are other products which cannot because the database prohibits it. When they use MS SQL Server Express, for example, there are limitations. And when you have windream and such solutions in the German market, which are also in the Austrian customer area, they show wonderful functionality and a wonderful GUI, but when it comes to the extensibility and scalability, they reach their limits relatively early.

How are customer service and technical support?

We have not had to use technical support very often. We get technical support from Germany. There is a good support center where the response time is quite good.

How was the initial setup?

When you use IBM Content Foundation as the entry point for installation, it's quite well-documented. If you have know-how in the IBM area, including the area of WebSphere Application Server, then it's not too hard to install. It's up to your partner to download the right versions which fit together, the right way, and then it's not really a big deal. In those circumstances, you can install FileNet within two or three days and have a running version.

What was our ROI?

Process automation is the main reason we created our own server: To make the interfaces easy and to automate the process of storing and adding the right attributes, and to make sure you're able to search and find the document again.

It's very hard to say what the ROI is on that automation. The goal was to make a solution for the customer where he can solve his problems. For us, the greatest part is the services part. We set it up as a vehicle through which customers are able to implement automation, and to make it easy for them to apply it to their applications.

For FileNet in general, the return in investment happens over two to three years when you take into account the license costs, the maintenance costs, and the implementation. I think that is a reasonable ROI. I have heard of products that have much longer ROI.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

The licensing cost of FileNet is comparable. It costs more if you use Case Foundation or the like — if you extended it. But that is not the scale of our customers. They are too small for that.

We do the scanning part, at the moment, with other products, not the IBM scanning engine, because it's a price-sensitive area.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

The problem is that the competitors' products have, in most areas, a contract with an ERP system. We now have three customers who are migrating to new ERP systems and they all have contracts with a document management solution. They bring it in with a fixed price and give them a whole document integration path.

We have one customer who, for many years, used IBM Content Manager, and now he's migrating to a new ERP system and he's throwing out the old solution because, with the new ERP system, he has document management out-of-the-box with the licensing cost. This customer has no experience with the new document management system. Nothing. The ERP seller sold him the D3 DMS system and now we have lost that content management installation.

In terms of decision-making, the problem is that most customers have IT people making the decision about which product to use and they do not have really the experience. When customers come to us, they often come in with a prepared offer from someone else with a vested interest.

This is happening more or more and it is not good. In the past, it was up to the market to have a good but independent product with interfaces to all application areas. With this new scenario, it's the IT managers, who do not have much experience — they come from university from which they only have technical knowledge — and they say: "Okay, I have one supplier who is providing me one solution. I have an all-in service contract and I don't need to take care of the solution on a technical level." That is bad for independent solutions like FileNet.

What other advice do I have?

It's a stable solution. It's proven. It provides guaranteed compliance; neither the attributes nor the content itself can be modified. You can guarantee and report that. The implementation time is no more than for other products. And the product is scalable.

In creating our tools we have integrated a lot with FileNet. It's very easy to integrate because the only thing you need is a mechanism to store, a way to add and change attributes, and to retrieve. You also have to be sure that you have a good search engine when you do not have direct attributes, a full content search.

In the first years, we were not happy with the usability of the content management products. Content Manager had no value for end-user interfaces. We passed on the strong demand for that. In the last few years, with the new versions of Content Navigator, it has been much better. We have a good interface also in Notes, in the right sidebar. It's a solution from IBM, Germany, where you can drag and drop documents. The Content Navigator now also has mobile support with a good interface. It's much more useful than it was before.

The internal features haven't changed and are enough to fulfill the requirements of customers. But customers always want a beautiful GUI. It's much more necessary to sell it with a beautiful GUI than with the functionality they really need. When we sell it, the end-user interface carries a much greater weight in customer decision-making than the technical part. On the technical side, there is nothing that FileNet is missing. There are three ways things can be stored: in the database, in the filestore, or in TSM. Our larger customers have TSM as object storage for FileNet and that is a very good solution.

We have not implemented the IBM Automation Platform for Digital Business. We have looked at it. We thought that in the last two or three years it was too big, too heavy, and too expensive for our customers. We are rethinking that at the moment, looking again to see if it can help and if it makes sense. We are not sure in the moment if this automation package is really a helpful and an effective investment.

Overall I would rate FileNet at nine out of ten. What it's missing to make it to a ten is the possibility of implementing new versions and new functions easily, in smaller time intervals, without a big investment on the customer's side. That is a barrier to new functionalities. In addition, IBM doesn't market well. You do not hear anything about FileNet in the market — nothing. Nobody has promoted it over the last three years. You hear much more about all other DMS systems compared to FileNet. You hear about new facilities, about mobility, and the integration of scanning and scanning-automation processes. You don't hear anything about FileNet. And that doesn't make it easy.

Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor. The reviewer's company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner.
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