Robert N Phillips
CEO, Lasotell Pty Ltd.

How many times have you wanted the previous version of a file either from your machine or from someone else’s machine, but you cannot find it because of the multiplicity of files of the same name spread across as many directories (or similar reason/excuse)? We all know that the real answer is a document management system, but they cost the earth, right? Wrong (sort-of)!

Each of the PCs in our environment runs a local copy of Component Software’s CS-RCS (Revision Control System), which is free. This is not a full-blown document management system, but it does allow us to operate on multiple client projects, on multiple client sites, without losing track of earlier versions of work. The system is accessed via a right-click on the file in Explorer or from within the RCS Explorer, which is an interface to the RCS document repository. It requires the writers to follow two simple procedures, and it means we never get confused about the contents of any file.

The typical work environment consists of one or more writers with their own portable PCs and a client network with a common user area for the writers. When the writer creates a file and saves it, the procedure is: use the Add to RCS command to place it in RCS for the first time, and the file is moved to the network server. At this point, the file is locked away in the repository on the local PC and a backup copy is available on the server (in case the portable goes under a bus on the way home!). When the file needs to be updated, the procedure is: locate the file in the repository using the RCS Explorer and execute the Check-out command. After editing, the file is returned to the repository via the Check-in command and moved to the server.

Files can be grouped into projects and they can be tagged with milestone names such as Review, Final Edit, Published, and Version 1.0. The RCS Explorer lets you obtain previous versions of a file, and it also performs a very intelligent (as in, easy to understand/identify) Compare Versions function for Word files.

Using something as simple as CS-RCS can save you, personally, and your team, collectively, a great deal of angst and frustration. You can also run CS-RCS in multi-user modes (very cheap licences) that allow everyone to access a common repository. Either way, you can still beat the Bean Counters and operate at a professional level of document management (otherwise known as “corralling cats”) without tearing out your hair or breaking the department or company bank.