Alfresco Targets Economic Pressures With Open-Source ECM

Jul 07, 2009

The concept for the latest version of Alfresco’s open-source enterprise content management system — Alfresco Community Edition 3.2, a.k.a. the “Credit Crunch” — came about during the first major storms of the current economic maelstrom. Beating the recession through better content management shouldn’t simply be about slashing prices, according to Alfresco co-founder and chief technology officer John Newton — although that’s certainly part of the package Alfresco hopes to deliver.

“This is the third or fourth recession I’ve been through in my career,” said Newton, who, after having helped found Documentum in 1990, came together with several other content management pros in 2005 to form Alfresco. Besides cost, he said, “it always comes down to things like compliance and productivity — trying to address the factors that got us into this in the first place.”

According to Newton, Alfresco is angling to provide an accessible, open-source alternative to enterprise document management and collaboration systems such as Microsoft’s SharePoint. While some companies turned up their noses at the open-source option in the past, he said, the latest nationwide wave of budget belt-tightening has many companies coming around to Alfresco’s point of view.

Alfresco’s interface is designed to look and interact just like SharePoint, the way open-source document systems mimic the Windows Office suite. However, by building on an open-source platform, Alfresco 3.2 aims to offer users enhanced functionality and compatibility with other information management systems, without the enterprise-sized price tag that comes with more proprietary offerings. Alfresco isn’t just trying to copy SharePoint, though — it’s trying to outdo it, and at a fraction of the price. Newton said: “It’s reworking the entire value chain of software when you go to an open-source model.”

Greater mobility was a key goal for Alfresco 3.2, Newton said. To that end, the new system is now fully compatible with iPhone and other smartphone designs. Users can access, create, edit, and manage documents from their mobile devices. Screen displays are specially designed to conform to the smaller pixel size and touch-screen functions common on mobile business devices. The system opts for web-based accessibility that gives users the option of logging in wherever they can get online.

Alfresco 3.2 aims to improve record-management efficiency, especially in the all-important email arena. Instead of forwarding emails to coworkers, users can share messages with a drag-and-drop function, and the virtual IMAP email repository offers access to corporate communications from out-of-office locations. Alfresco 3.2’s email server also automatically archives and scans incoming messages and attachments to extract key information and classify according to attachments or key metadata.

Incompatible information, whether it fails to meet internal requirements or cannot compute with outside systems, can be a frustrating speed bump on the road to maintaining profitability, Newton said. The new Alfresco system is built with full support for version 0.61 of the Content Management Interoperability Services specification, and its new web-content deployment system should make it easier to send and publish content across multiple platforms, according to Newton.

One of the few major information sectors actually growing right now is the government, says Newton. To address those needs, Alfresco 3.2 will, beginning in September, offer document- and record-management systems that are fully compliant with the Department of Defense’s 5015.2 standard. According to Newton, Alfresco 3.2 users will be able to manage the full content life cycle in compliance with corporate Governance, Risk and Compliance Management standards, including metadata, email, and auditing requirements.

Users can download Alfresco 3.2 for free, which, after factoring in customer-service charges through Alfresco, adds up to a tenth of what traditional licensed enterprise management systems cost, Newton said. Implementation across companies both large and small typically clocks in at under a month, and its intuitive interface cuts down on the time employees need to come up to speed with the new tools, according to Newton.

Newton said he believes that this recession — like the ones before it — will force innovators to take even more daring leaps in order to bring down costs while improving efficiency. Alfresco is hoping that its open-source approach to enterprise management—with emphases on mobility, compatibility, and compliance—will be one such winner. “It’s not just a reaction to what we saw,” Newton said. “It’s thinking about what companies really need at this moment.”


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