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Cute, chunky and colourful

Archetype, Arup's document management system, is proving to be a more versatile tool than free system Columbus

Archetype is a new document management system which has been adopted by Arup in the UK and is now an integral part of the services and products marketed by Oasys, Arup's computer-software division.

With exclusive distribution rights for Archetype in the south of England, Oasys is excited about its latest protégé, as I discovered when I met Alec Milton and Alan Ogden of Arup.

The story started a couple of years ago when Arup realised that its homegrown document management system Columbus did not do everything it required. Although Columbus excelled at managing drawings, it fell short in other areas of document management including general office management and correspondence.

After a detailed review of various products and approaches, Arup decided to hunt for something that would look good; be easy to use, inexpensive to maintain and relatively easy to integrate with Columbus.

It ruled out both Dbase and Oracle-based systems on the grounds of cost and the relative complexity of enabling wide-area, dial-in connections to the database. It was close to agreeing terms with one company when, quite by chance, it discovered Archetype. Feeling that this met all of the required criteria, Arup pressed ahead with negotiations for implementation and distribution.

At first glance, I was not convinced by 'the look' of Archetype; it was more like shareware developed by the Early Learning Centre than a professional enterprise system. But I warmed to its chunky and colourful layout. It has five key areas: general admin (including contacts, diary, staffing, resources and time sheets);

project information; schedules (rooms, doors, windows, lintels);

documents (a very long list); and correspondence (managing emails, faxes, letters and memos).

Navigation is quick and simple.

Just start the application and select the appropriate project number from the pick list on the right of the main switchboard.

Thereafter you have the ability to view all documents associated with that project and controlled by your own security level clearance, which is specified in the database settings and checked automatically against your windows login.

As the application is built using Microsoft's Access database, customisation and integration with other windows applications is relatively simple and cost-effective. A prime example is the way in which Archetype can automatically read the 'attributes' (information in the title block) of AutoCAD drawings and populate the database accordingly.

Furthermore, whenever a new document is created, there are various templates that can be used to ensure corporate compliance for letters, faxes and memos. The new documents will also be given appropriate names and references and stored automatically.

Archetype will only run on Windows-based operating systems but there is still hope for interested Mac users.Using Terminal Services, a Mac can access, interrogate and amend the database with full functionality without any discernible drop in performance. Using the same technology, connecting remotely from home or site is simple and fast, maintaining the inherent value of the centralised information store.

Unfortunately, there are downsides to Archetype.When a new project is started, a complete set of new files is created, as all projects are kept separate. Because of this separation it is not possible to perform a 'global' search on individual people.Assume, for example, that I want to find out how many different projects Austin is working on, rather than simply searching 'Austin' and getting results from all relevant projects, I would have to go into each project separately and perform the same search. As the beauty of a database lies in the relationships between the different parts, it is a shame that it falls down in this area at the moment.

Prices for Archetype are competitive at the small-practice end of the market, rising to quite expensive at the higher limits. With a reducing cost per seat as the number of copies purchased rises, a typical five-user practice will pay just £2,225 and an annual subscription cost of £445 (20 per cent). A company with 100 people will shell out £30,000, with annual subscription fees of £6,000.

There are a host of other features as well. If your appetite has been whetted, Arup is holding a 'free' seminar (read sales pitch) on 4 March in central London. Attendance will be on a first-come, first-booked basis by contacting melanie. palmer@arup. com.

Version 6 will be presented and has some bug fixes and a cool new email handling/management tool, which automates the receipt/filing and logging of incoming and outgoing email.

Overall I warmed to Archetype. It is cute and seems to function well, and now that Arup is on the case, I expect it to improve rapidly.

Contact Joe Croser at joe@croser. net

PROS:

It does much more than Columbus and does it well

CONS:

It would be more useful if the database was more global

RATINGS

INTERFACE ***

EASE OF USE

FUNCTIONALITY ****

COMPATIBILITY ***

WEB INTEGRATION ****

PERFORMANCE ****

COST ***

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