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Confluence Cloud is becoming the dominant Confluence option, which means it’s increasingly important to understand how to set the platform up for document management.

Document management is one of the cornerstones of a quality management system. This typically involves uniquely identifying each official document, approving new versions before they become effective, removing obsolete versions, as well as some other good-governance factors. In medtech and pharma, this is also called the “controlled documents process.” 

In this post, I’ll be focusing on how to get your Confluence pages officially approved in Confluence. This by no means covers everything you’ll need, but it does address a very significant part of the story. 

We’ll cover other aspects of document management in future posts.

The Gist

Here’s the bottom line (in case you want to skip the long version):

If you’re a happy user of Comala on Server or Data Center, then your best option would be to wait a bit, probably until mid-2022, before moving to Cloud. By that time, we expect that the migration process to Cloud will be stable, with a more complete set of features.

What if you’re not migrating document management from the server? If you’re a small or medium sized organisation who wants to get going quickly with approvals, you’ll want to take a look at the solution from Phase Locked Software. If you’re a larger organisation, or expect that you’ll need a more elaborate / multi-step approval process, and have someone who can spend time learning an app, then check out either the Comalatech or AppFox solution. The differences between them are just a matter of taste.

How do you configure Confluence to allow official document approval?

To process Confluence pages through an official approval, you’ll need to use one of the Atlassian Marketplace Apps. At the time of this writing, there are no less than six (!!) options to choose from.  

Before diving into the details, there is one critical point to keep in mind: the marketplace for cloud apps is far less mature, and much more dynamic, than the marketplace for server. Because the approval app you choose today will “stick,” you’ll want to choose one based on current features as well as how it will evolve in the future. To that end, I would say that an app’s future trajectory is actually more important than its current demonstrated features. 

What is the right document approval app for you?

Luckily, the six approval apps can be divided into three categories, based on vendor. For vendors with more than one app, the apps are basically the same product, with some added features in the higher-end versions.

So, this is how the landscape looks today, including pricing for comparison. The price listed here is the monthly fee for 200 users. For multiple apps from the same vendor, the price difference mainly reflects the differences in the feature sets.

the right document approval app for you

The “stickiness” of an app largely relates to its vendor. So, for example, if you go with the basic Comala Document Approval, then it’s pretty easy to upgrade to either higher-end option within the Comalatech family. The same goes for both AppFox apps. 

Therefore, because we’re comparing options from the three vendors, the actual comparison is between three different solutions, and not between all six products. 

Do you use Comala Document Management on Server or Data Center?

Some historical perspective is also important here. 

Comalatech is the de-facto standard for document approvals on Confluence Server and Data Center. Their server apps have been around since 2007. The other two vendors, AppFox and Phase Locked Software, are coming out with “cloud first” apps. And while “Approvals for Confluence” does have a Server and Data Center version, “Workflows for Confluence” does not.

This means that Comalatech is currently focusing on the massive effort of moving their established app, with all of its sophistication, into the Confluence Cloud. This is no easy technological feat, but they have big shoulders and loads of experience, so we assume that eventually this will happen successfully. At the moment, their cloud apps are still not fully comparable with their server variations (see complete details).

Beyond just moving their app, Comalatech also needs to help their customers move to cloud. At the time of this writing, the earliest that such a migration would be possible is Q4 2021 (see their reference).

Based on our review of the three app families available in cloud, If you’re a happy user of Comala on Server or Data Center, then your best option would be to wait a bit, probably until mid-2022, before moving to Cloud. By that time, we expect that the migration process to Cloud will be stable, with a more complete set of features.

What if you are not migrating your Document Management from Cloud?

For those who aren’t migrating a legacy approvals system from Server, the field is wide open. With the R&D on all apps going full steam, we don’t dare attempt a feature by feature comparison, as things become outdated pretty quickly. However, the direction of travel is established, and here’s what I see:

  • Comala Document Management (by Comalatech) and Workflows for Confluence (by AppFox) are basically targeting the same audiences and use cases. The difference between them will eventually come down to the details of the execution: who creates the superior user experience with the product and with the service. With my experience using Comala Workflows (on Server and Data Center), when I experimented with Workflows for Confluence, I needed only a quick adjustment to run with it. At the moment: there is no clear winner between the two apps, and I recommend that a new user try both and choose the one that seems more friendly.
  • Document Control for Confluence Cloud (by Phase Locked Software) is targeting a different use case. It does not have a workflow concept at all, making it the simplest app. What it does very, very well is correctly capture a use case in which you need one set of site-wide configurations for controlled documents, and “no frills” review and approval. It also has one very important feature which at the moment doesn’t exist  in any of the other apps: it can show, on the Confluence page itself, the history of approvals. This is such an important feature and it makes this app stand out. Comalatech and Appfox currently offer an approval history report on a separate page – not the same as showing it on the same page. The key benefit from this feature: when exporting the page, the signature information is part of the export.

So: if you’re a small or medium sized organisation who wants to get going quickly with approvals, you’ll want to take a look at the solution from Phase Locked Software. If you’re a larger organisation, or expect that you’ll need a more elaborate / multi-step approval process, and have someone who can spend time learning an app, then check out either the Comalatech or AppFox solution. 

What is still missing?

If I could influence the priorities of all app vendors, I would tell them to implement a decent API. An approval app is just one part of the configuration to achieve a fully functional document management solution. 

For example, we still need a solution for indicating official version numbers and other document metadata. Currently none of the apps provide an adequate API – one that enables you to retrieve signee information, for example,-so that we can have another format of reporting than the one provided by the vendor. 

If you need assistance or advice in setting up a document management system in Confluence Cloud, Radbee can help. Contact us to find out how.