Alfresco, the commercial open source alternative for Enterprise Content Management, has been offering (among others) document management and collaboration solutions since 2005. At the end of 2014, Alfresco officially published its fifth major release of the enterprise edition: Alfresco 5.0.
In this new version, Alfresco renewed or added a number of features which can be classified under one of three major themes:
- user adoption;
- security; and
- open architecture.
In the security and open architecture pillars, we find content encryption (security-pillar) and upgrade to Solr4 (open architecture).
Alfresco is paying a lot of attention to the user's side of its platform, Alfresco Share. In this blog, I will focus on the innovative features that were introduced on the user's side in Alfresco 5.0; those are the features that were categorized under “User adoption”:
- user interface;
- search experience;
- document preview;
- interaction with Outlook and Microsoft Office; and
- analytics and reporting.
User adoption: a crucial success factor
User adoption, the willingness of someone to use a system, is a crucial success factor in any project. There are two important aspects that influence the degree of user adoption:
- the user interface; and
- the available features.
The user interface within Alfresco is called 'Alfresco Share'. I always considered it to be a pretty nice user interface: it’s clear, it’s flashy and it's not cluttered. Apparently, Alfresco agrees: the company didn’t change a lot visually (well ok, in the background they started using a new framework).
That leaves the available features. I must say, Alfresco 5 offers some new great possibilities for the daily user: an improved search experience and document preview in Alfresco Share, additional integration with Microsoft Outlook and Office tools as well as reporting features.
New: polished search experience with live search and filtering
Three major elements were added to the search functionality of Alfresco Share:
- the search-box in the toolbar is now dynamic, meaning that when you start typing your search-term, a live search is executed and shows the results in a drop down;
- in the advanced search-page you can use facets to filter your result-list. There are a couple of default filters but you can also define your own filters based on custom metadata. You can even specify site-specific filters; and
- you can add dashlets to your personal dashboard which contain saved-searches.
This page also does auto-suggests (e.g. to correct misspellings) and search-term highlighting.
Document preview in HTML 5
Until Alfresco 4.2, the Alfresco Share platform used Flash to preview documents. We all know Flash is on its way out, so the Alfresco Community decided to create an HTML 5-preview. The company incorporated it in the enterprise-edition, and for good reason. We now have a normal text-preview and not just an image of text. That opens up a lot of possibilities such as:
- searching in the preview;
- search-term highlighting;
- copy-pasting text from the preview; and
- linking to a specific page in the document.
Seamless interaction with Outlook and Microsoft Office
Of course Alfresco Share is not the only interface users want to have in order to interact with Alfresco. For decades Outlook and Microsoft Office have been the tools users spend most of their time in. So Alfresco spent a lot of time developing solutions which interact well with those tools.
The Alfresco Outlook Integration allows the user to save mails and attachments in Alfresco without leaving Outlook. They can search and browse the Alfresco-repository from within Outlook and even use documents stored in Alfresco as attachments in the mails they want to send out. Users can even start workflows from within Outlook and manage their tasks. So for many users, Outlook is a client-application equally as important (or even more) as Share.
Alfresco Office Services (AOS) is a major evolution of the SharePoint-Protocol used in previous versions of Alfresco. It allowed to edit content directly in Office-tools without needing to check out the document and check it back in after editing it. AOS adds a number of extra features like a wider browser support, but the real killer addition is the possibility to edit the document’s metadata from within Office.
The last two features, the Outlook Integration and AOS, are fine examples of putting the content where the user is. And as you can see, that doesn’t just mean providing mobile access to your content.
Analytics and Reporting Module: the days of custom reporting are over
Reporting and analytics is something that has long been overlooked by most document management systems - customers and partners were forced to develop custom reporting solutions. Those days are over. With the Analytics and Reporting Module Alfresco provides one of the nicest ECM reporting tools on the market today. It uses Pentaho in the back-end and, I must say, the result is amazing.
You can drill down in charts, bring up the information you really want and uproot bottlenecks that slow down your processes. The reports are dynamic, meaning you can selects bars, or parts of a pie-chart to generate new reports and go more into detail.
In order to fully appreciate this, you should take a look at the Alfresco product keynote of the Alfresco summit from last October:
The functionalities that have been added in Alfresco 5 are a reflection of the priority user adoption receives from the company, and this is also very clear from their roadmap.
Alfresco users will profit from the upgraded search experience and document preview, and extra integration with Microsoft Outlook and Office tools. An added bonus is the Analytics and Reporting Module. As I am very impressed with the changes that have already been made towards a better user experience, I am eagerly awaiting what they have in store for us the next couple of months/years.