On 8 July John Newton, Alfresco founder and CTO, shared his vision on the next generation of ECM systems during the webinar "Next-Gen ECM: Why the time is right for a new approach to enterprise content management".
In a previous post we focused on the four trends that John identified as having a big impact on ECM technology.
In this post, we will evaluate the claims Alfresco makes regarding responding to those trends. John boldly states that Alfresco is unique in its ability to effectively deal with these trends, as opposed to the so-called legacy ECM systems. Let's evaluate each of his claims in detail.
Claim 1: new ways of working
Alfresco responds to the new ways of working by offering powerful yet easy-to-use interfaces for both desktop and mobile and by integrating seamlessly with MS Office and Google Docs.
At AMPLEXOR we do agree that Alfresco's user interfaces are far more intuitive than those of many other ECM platforms. Alfresco also offers complete and extensible mobile apps for both Android and iOS at no cost. And the authoring integration with MS Office is indeed a killer feature for many users.
There are, however, some obvious areas for improvement. Although the document library is a very powerful component in Alfresco's default user interface, Alfresco Share, other site components such as wiki, discussion forum or data lists are far less advanced. There is, for example, no PDF export function for wiki pages; and new data list structures still need to be defined in XML instead of by means of a front-end configuration screen.
It is a fact that configuration options in Alfresco Share are, in general, very limited. Take for instance the document details page where you typically hide some options (e.g. the 'Like' function) or some of the informational sections on the right (e.g. the 'Share' section) in customer projects. Even such frequent and small changes require coding.
Another important point is that it is not straightforward to develop multiple Share-based applications on top of the same Alfresco repository: the personal dashboard configuration, for example, is by default stored in the Alfresco database and can thus not be easily differentiated between multiple Share-based applications.
Claim 2: the extended enterprise
Alfresco offers a unique approach to sharing content and extending workflows beyond the firewall by its hybrid cloud model.
From within an on-premise Alfresco setup, authorized users can synchronize specific documents or workflow tasks to Alfresco Cloud. This way collaboration with external partners is possible without the need for intrusion of the firewall.
We can confirm that the hybrid cloud scenario is relevant for most of our customers as the 'extended enterprise' becomes the norm. In nearly all Alfresco implementations, employees need to share content with external partners, such as in the content of projects or meetings. In all those cases Alfresco offers a viable alternative to 'shadow IT' applications such as Dropbox, WeTransfer or Google Drive.
At the same time we do note some concern with our customers about the fact that there is currently no option for Alfresco Cloud hosting in Europe (only US-based hosting). In some cases this is even a showstopper when legal departments utter concerns about data privacy. It is a fact that most European companies have strict security policies about data storage locations and EU-based data hosting remains the norm.
Claim 3: content explosion
With regard to content explosion, Alfresco refers to its scalability, powerful search capabilities and support for multi-media file formats.
Alfresco is indeed very scalable and supports powerful search capabilities, but these features are quite standard in most ECM systems these days. Some smaller, local ECM vendors might still struggle with scalability and search, but not one vendor figuring in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for ECM can afford to ignore them.
Alfresco' support for multimedia formats has been added quite recently with the Media Management module and is promising but still limited. It's a nice addition for existing Alfresco customers with more advanced multimedia needs such as integrated format conversions, but it is not a full-blown DAM solution (yet).
Claim 4: technological innovation impacting IT infrastructure
Based on its open standards Alfresco claims to support easy integrations. In addition, customers have the option to deploy Alfresco either on-premise, in the cloud or go for a hybrid set-up.
It is a fact that the openness of Alfresco is a huge advantage for integrations into the existing technology stack; at AMPLEXORor we have many examples of integrations with Salesforce, SAP and even Doodle which were quite straightforward to achieve.
Although many customers still prefer on-premise deployment, we do note increasing interest in the cloud-only, and especially in hybrid deployment, options. We think, however, that there is still room for improvement regarding configuration options in Alfresco Cloud.
Compared to Office365, the configuration options in Alfresco Cloud are quite limited and often insufficient for customers. Take, for example, the lack of configuration of new content types in Alfresco Cloud.
Alfresco may state that it is unique in its ability to effectively deal with these trends. But when you evaluate the claims put forward by Alfresco in detail, however, it is clear that some caution is required.
Even though I do see the advantages of Alfresco as an enterprise content management platform (intuitive user interface, scalability, powerful search, open infrastructure), it remains important to keep the business requirements of a customer in mind.
For example: if an organization is legally required to store its data in Europe, it might be better off looking at alternatives as Alfresco's current cloud hosting does not offer EU-based options.