Tuesday, February 14, 2006

First thoughts on Alfresco (ECM?)

I held off commenting on Alfresco (Italian for outdoors...?) till the buzz died down, and I had a chance to look a little closer at what they are offering. I will state here that I have not tested it - and am only looking at this from a high level. What I am impressed with is the range of platforms, databases and languages (french, german) etc that the product supports.

For an Open source and early release product it bodes well (and well in advance) of many established non Open Source alternatives. And a couple of things that really made me sit up and take notice were the support for JSR 170, and the fact that advanced functionality such as automatic tagging is included as standard. Just reading the specs makes one realise that this appears to be a pretty serious product, and the service fees are not astronomical. So for mid sized businesses it may well be a good option.

Yet the success of Alfresco and other free downloads (open source or not) such as Nuxeo, SharePoint or 80:20 depends on the amount of services these deployments generate. And ECM and RM are highly service intensive, so low cost or free software appears to be a perfectly rational way to go - my concern as always with Open Source is future upgrades and modifications. There are so very many 'dead or dormant' Open Source CM projects that its a legitimate concern. But then I for one don't be believe in the concept of a free lunch - I do though believe in a bargain, and from what little I can tell at this time, it's a bargain.

I am in truth always loathe to recomend Open Source alternatives, partly as I once got flamed for having the temerity to suggest in the press that Open Source may actually not be as free as it looks (so I clearly hold grudges). But also that I suspect those who are genuinely altruistic spend there times at Soup Kitchens and raising money for the PTA, rather than coding Open Source for the general good. Even if altruism was the origin of Open Source activity - products like Alfresco are there to make good living for the firms owners. There is nothing wrong with that, and the move to low/no cost ECM software is someting I applaud. What I do have a bit of problem with is the positioning of Alfresco the first open source ECM tool? Actually I have two problems, both are arguably trivial but anyone who reads reads blogs on RM and ECM will at least grasp what I am bothered about.

Firstly, to me the word enterprise means just that - but Alfresco appears to be focused on SMB's - Small to Medium Size Businesses, not Enterprises. So how come its an ECM tool?

Secondly, if we accept Alfresco's loose definition of ECM, then they are not the first Open source ECM player. Nuxeo claim that status, and are probably mightily miffed as a French firm that an UK one is claiming the title. You can't blame Alfresco for grabbing what publicity they can, and though I have met a couple of the founders in the past and respect them. I am a pedant and get thoroughly annoyed over pedantic issues like the E in ECM. INterestingly If one looks at Documentum, they long heralded themselves as the largest and leading ECM player, but by market share or revenue never were (historically has been Filenet or IBM), though they are probably actually approaching leader status now after a very solid last two years. I guess the founders have taken their marketing experience at Documentum and applied it at Alfresco, and good luck to them.

From what limited data I have, I like Alfresco, and having met on a couple of occasions some of the founders, I trust them, I wish them luck. I just don't buy into the politics or religion of Open Source. No flaming please.


James McGovern said...

OK, so what should us folks in Fortune 500 enterprises consider if we wanted a bargain? When would it make sense to displace Documentum for Alfresco?

What do you think in terms of features Alfresco needs to be immediately moved to the Gartner's leaders quadrant?

Greatly appreciated if you make this your next blog entry...

alan pelz-sharpe said...

I will have a shot at it James! But as you may or may not know, I never recommend Open Source options to Fortune 1000 let alone 500 firms.

Alfresco (again not from hands on experience yet) seems like a good option for those mid sized firms who cannot affort a Documentum, and are (erroneously) considering SharePoint for ECM.

As for Gartners MQ - I don't really know what it takes. But then I am not a fan at all of the MQ, and though Gartner has some smart analysts in this space - Toby Bell, Karen Shegda etc. Their written output has been.......limp, disjointed and pretty much stating the obvious.

A Fortune 2000 client of ours has asked for some advice on WCM and is considering Open Source options - thats an area that may make sense. But for ECM notyet I don't think.