Alfresco 1.4, Podcast, Commoditization of ECM

A number of interesting things in the Open Source ECM arena over the last week or so.John Newton, the Co-Founder and CTO of Alfresco, posted this excellent blog entry on the commoditization of ECM and the thinking behind Alfresco’s strategic direction. In the post, he argues that “the scene is set for real standardization in content management and commoditization to the point of real replacement and swap out of existing systems.” The strength in Alfresco’s corner is its basis in open source: “Facing an aging, commoditizing Enterprise Content Management market, Alfresco has used open source to provide a new approach to ECM. This open source platform accelerates the development of an ECM solution and can ultimately outdistance the ECM laggards. I have no fear for our future.”

He goes on to describe the various open source frameworks they leverage (including Spring, Hibernate, Lucene, EHCache, jBPM , Chiba, Open Office and ImageMagic) and the functionality they’ve used those frameworks to deliver. It’s really an outstanding read as an example of the compression of development time and flexible customization possible through an open source approach.

Additionally, Alfresco last week released the community preview of version 1.4 of their ECM suite. The focus in this version is on Business Process and Lifecycle Management, though functionality increases show up in a number of areas.

Finally, there’s also a podcast in which Newton discusses the release.

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  1. #1 • Sal Darji said on September 11 2006:
     

    John,

    Thanks for the post/links. I would love to get your opinion on ECM and its role within an organization. It seems to me that there is a ton of overlapping functionality between ECM and other network software functionality. Everything that the demo shows can be done using file system tools and workflow software. This makes for a very confusing Venn diagram.

    In addition, Vista and the new Office suite (presumably with Groove functionality) will be released soon. Do you think that that open source ECM will stay competitive with Microsoft’s offerings? Or is this arena doomed to be a monoculture in the next few years?

    Sal Darji

  2. #2 • John said on September 11 2006:
     

    Hey Sal – good to hear from you.

    (Sal is one of the authors at Digital Business Strategy which is well worth checking out.)

    The “overlapping functionality between ECM and other network software” comment is spot-on: from one perspective, Enterprise Content Management is really just Enterprise Data Management or Information Management. In other words, ECM is really just IT. Of course, you’ve got to squint your eyes just right to see it that way, and I’m not sure what it ultimately gets you. ;)

    I think of ECM as the core repository, plus the various means for getting content (documents, but also other content types) into it and out of it. That means (federated) search, access controls (authentication and authorization), publishing mechanisms (for multiple formats, to multiple audiences), and workflow tools which control who can submit, revise, and publish bits into the repository or out of it.

    Not sure if that makes for a less complicated Venn diagram or not, but basically ECM to me is the combination of a core repository plus various applications for accessing content that lives in that repository. (Those applications are sometimes highly structured, sometimes loosely structured or barely-at-all structured in terms of their workflow, of course).

    In terms of Microsoft’s impact on ECM, I see the real core of their offering as being Sharepoint 2007 rather than Vista or the Office Suite. (Office applications might submit content to or get content from repositories via a workflow, but in my ideal architecture they are one client among many).

    I don’t think Sharepoint is a compelling enough story to create a monoculture.

    ECM, to be effective, requires deep and broad integration points – lots of open standards and cross-platform, cross-architecture interaction. Sharepoint may enable MS to play in that world but I certainly don’t think it will dominate in it.