Roofing firm lets Linux shelter wayward documents

A London, Ont.-based firm that had previously used a proprietary document storage system and ordinary filing cabinets has chosen open source software to provide document management capabilities to its salespersons, project managers and designers.

London Roof Truss, which produces pre-engineered roof and floor trusses for contractors, homebuilders and lumberyards, had been storing its documents on Microsoft Windows NT Server, but the absence of management tools had thwarted efforts to prevent documents from getting lost or being accidentally deleted, according to Wayne Bilger, the company’s systems administrator. And while hard-copy documents were being stored in filing cabinets, the time spent searching for these documents hampered employee productivity and impeded customer service.

Bilger said London Roof Truss ultimately chose SUSE Linux Openexchange Server after having evaluated a number of systems such as the proprietary Microsoft Exchange. It opted for an open source solution, however, to avoid having to pay for additional components needed to meet its specific requirements. But while looking for open source software, the firm encountered two primary problems: most applications were neither fully developed nor bundled with reliable support options.

“”(SUSE LINUX Openexchange Server) was the only fully developed open source tool where you could get maintenance,”” said Bilger. “”It also has more features out of the box than Microsoft Exchange. We had no real document management structure in place and no very simple e-mail system and no project management system.””

With the Openexchange solution now implemented, London Roof Truss said its employees are able to initiate and supervise projects electronically, send e-mail notifications to project team members and respond to customer inquiries in seconds rather than in the half hour previously required. It was also able to improve worker productivity by migrating from a paper-based system to an electronic document-based system and access corporate data remotely. Administration time was reduced by using a versioning function to prevent accidental deletion of documents, Bilger said.

I.D.L. Technology Group, a Novell partner based in Spring Valley, Calif., worked with London Roof Truss to implement SUSE Linux Openexchange Server in less than a month.

“”One of the biggest things was document management and version control,”” said Tony Vickers, chief operations officer, I.D.L. Technology Group, adding that the client also wanted the ability to send and receive faxes electronically. “”They were looking for something stable and something equivalent to the Outlook platform on the desktop.””

The Novell partner mentored London Roof Truss on how to set up Openexchange Server, according to Vickers, and on how to make adjustments to the system.

Although IDC Canada’s Warren Shiau said that companies choosing SUSE Linux Openexchange Server are typically interested in the collaborative functions it facilitates, vendors like Novell, Oracle and Sun Microsystems likely won’t convince many from the Microsoft Exchange 5.5 installed base to switch, largely because the Microsoft product ties into so many other key applications.

“”Novell is targeting the Microsoft Exchange installed base that hasn’t yet moved to Exchange Server 2003. But most of the Microsoft Exchange installed base will stick with Exchange,”” said Shiau, a software analyst with the market intelligence and advisory firm’s Toronto office. “”Openexchange will be most viable where customers have cost considerations as a primary concern.””

Bilger said that the solution is currently being used in the closely integrated design and sales departments, and could eventually be used by the manufacturing department. He also confirmed that the relatively inexpensive cost for SUSE Linux Openexchange Server was a key factor. As part of the arrangement, his company will pay on an annual basis for maintenance and updates.

Compared to Microsoft’s Exchange Server, SUSE Linux Openexchange Server can scale to 1,000s of POP/SMTP/IMAP users with no license costs, according to Novell.

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