Alfresco: Product Brief Overview 2013

Since introducing its ECM platform in the mid-2000s, Alfresco has grown to be a go-to lower-cost solution excelling in large-scale intranet implementations, corporate file sharing services, and document collaboration. Alfresco currently has 33,000 customers whose ECM activities are enabled through on-premise, public or private cloud, or hybrid deployments. TEC looks at where the company is headed in 2013, including changes in management, acquisitions, and the solution itself.
Alfresco has been lauded as a disruptive enterprise content management (ECM) vendor in recent years, due to its introduction of a free and open source software (FOSS) ECM platform in a market of venerable proprietary vendors. These days its story is less about disruption and more about being something apropos to all manner of deployment requirements. In a well-populated ECM market, Alfresco’s FOSS licensing model helped it quickly grow to 33,000 customers. Until 2007 these were largely greenfield projects but lately Alfresco finds itself competing in situations where organizations are migrating from former ECM systems.

This is a product that deserves evaluation, especially if you’re budget conscious and need a modern approach to large-scale intranet implementations, corporate file sharing services, and document collaboration. These activities are enabled through on-premise, public or private cloud, or hybrid deployments. Let’s look at where Alfresco is heading this year

Alfresco started 2013 with some aggressive expansion moves. The company announced that co-founder John Powell would step down as CEO and former SuccessFactors president, Doug Dennerline, would take on the role. Alfresco points out that its goals for growth, which involve heading toward an IPO, were motivation to bring the Silicon Valley, US-based Dennerline on board.

This is not the only significant movement at Alfresco so far this year. The company also announced its acquisition of fellow open source vendor, WeWebU, which provides a solution oriented more toward case management requirements. This acquisition is in line with the direction Alfresco wants to head. Previously Alfresco held more of a platform perspective, where it would work with partners who developed their solutions on top of Alfresco’s offering. Now, while the company continues to offer generic solutions that can be customized or configured by partners, it will also do more with packaging its platform for specific business solutions.

This acquisition is also noteworthy because until this point Alfresco has exhibited a certain amount of pride in the fact that its product was developed entirely by the company (Including the community of open source contributors of course) and not through acquisitions as some other vendors have been prone to do. Depending on the company and the products, this may not matter much. But generally speaking, if you’re seeking a large enterprise system there is reassurance in being able to expect a seamless experience (technically and conceptually). Fortunately, in Alfresco’s case, the two companies had already been working together on joint client sites and with common partners, so WeWebU’s solution is not alien to the existing Alfresco system. In fact, WeWebU’s purpose wasn’t to be a stand-alone tool in the first place and the company had already built an integration for Alfresco in 2010.

Clients

Alfresco’s ideal clients would commonly seek ECM solutions from companies like OpenText, EMC, IBM, or Microsoft. The standard Alfresco solution is not naturally as feature-rich as some of these other products. However, when considering the features and functionality that they need, companies will want to look at Alfresco with an extended scope of what they’re considering. Alfresco partners have their own industries and special use cases that they target, and these partners develop the types of functionality which are most applicable for their target market. Alfresco acts as a consultant around areas of architectural design, best practices, and deployment strategies, but it teams with its partners for the other aspects of implementing a system. The arrangement works such that a client receives a subscription for Alfresco Enterprise or Cloud, and Alfresco’s partner handles the implementation and customization services. The client could work with the Alfresco sales team or look toward the company’s resellers and partners. Alfresco’s partners customize the application for the sorts of businesses they address; for example, an Alfresco partner may build a solution for contract management or legal case management based on the standard Alfresco core.

People typically put Alfresco’s system to use for document management, process automation, records management, contract management, invoice management, large-scale collaboration, document-oriented collaboration, secure extranet, mobile process automation, and sometimes in a WCM situation, when coupled with a system such as Drupal for the front-end.

An organization can obtain and implement Alfresco toward those use-cases in a variety of ways. The community edition is its standard open source base. In some regions of the world Alfresco’s community edition has proven to be an important factor in its partners’ work with clients.

Some organizations start with the community edition and have a good awareness of what the product can do before making a decision to move to the enterprise edition. Alfresco’s enterprise edition is essentially the same product as the community edition but Alfresco does additional testing on the distribution and includes support for things such as commercial application servers.

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