Next-Gen ECM Webinar: Your Questions Answered

Written by John Newton on 30 July 2015 in Executive Insight

Earlier this month, Alfresco hosted the webinar Next-Gen ECM. More than 1000 people joined us for a discussion on the trends that are reshaping ECM requirements and a why a new approach to content management is needed.

The webinar generated lots of interest and dozens of questions. We didn’t have time to address everyone’s questions live, so I’ve answered several of them in this blog post. We are also following up individually with anyone who asked a question.

If you missed the webinar, it’s available on demand here. Registrants also receive a copy of my white paper Next-Gen ECM: Why the Time is Right for a New Approach to Enterprise Content Management.

Q: Is Alfresco being used to replace legacy ECM systems? If so, what are the typical drivers for this change?

A: Our customers want value, flexibility and accessibility from their ECM systems, and they don’t want to spend more for a big brand. Often, they keep their most sensitive and important content on premises, but want to store some content in the cloud to support collaboration. This makes Alfresco’s hybrid cloud ECM platform very appealing. Other top drivers for ECM migration are improved search and regulatory compliance. We provide the easiest, most effective platform for their requirements.

Q: How do you see Alfresco competing against—or do you compete against—file sharing services like Box?

A: We generally don’t compete with enterprise file sync and share vendors like Box, but we are often complementary. Some companies use Alfresco to manage their most important business content and Box to manage casual content that can be shared outside the organization. Although there is some overlap in functionality, our use cases tend to be very different. With our process control, high level of security, rules and rich metadata, Alfresco sits at the heart of business processes. In contrast, products like Box and Dropbox are used for more collaborative interactions. Some of our partners have created integrations between Alfresco and these services.

Q: What are the main differences in terms of ECM between Alfresco and SharePoint? Can you give us some examples of how the two applications could be integrated?

A: The main difference between Alfresco and SharePoint is that SharePoint is primarily a content portal, while Alfresco is focused on the integration of ECM and BPM. Alfresco supports rich business processes, a much richer data model, dynamic searches, much higher scalability and robustness as well as integrated records and digital asset management. In addition, users generally find the navigation and searching experience to be easier in Alfresco.

Some customers use Alfresco and SharePoint together. A partner like SeeUnity provides archival capabilities from SharePoint to Alfresco and Web Parts for accessing Alfresco content in the SharePoint portal.

Q: Is it possible to manage confidential information in Alfresco? Is it really secure?

A: Absolutely. Alfresco is trusted by organizations that require the highest level of security. Military, intelligence and civil government organizations use Alfresco to manage highly sensitive information. Alfresco is also used by large corporations to store confidential intellectual property that is subject to export controls.

Q: Large multinational organizations often face local jurisdictional rules that prohibit the transfer of information across borders. How would you handle this in Alfresco with deployment models and search capabilities?

A: Alfresco gives you a few deployment options. It sounds like you are asking the question from a central repository perspective. In this case, each part of the repository can have different access controls. Our search capability through Solr evaluates all documents for relevant security controls so that users see only the information that they have the right to access. In a distributed model, you have a great deal of control over what gets replicated from one repository to another. This means you can set up and enforce policies that only authorized content is replicated.

Q: Does Alfresco in the Cloud offer data center failover capabilities (e.g., with data centers on the East and West coasts of the U.S.)?

A: Yes. Alfresco in the Cloud uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) for data storage. AWS has multiple data centers in each region, but we also have disaster recovery in the West Region. Over time, we will add new Amazon and European regions, with government regions a high priority for us. This is contingent on our rollout of new cloud-based applications.

Q: Legacy document management systems like Documentum were hard to implement from a “business change” perspective. Can you shed any light on how easy it is to implement Alfresco? Issues like content clean up, end user training, new business processes, etc.

A: There are two fundamental concepts in Alfresco—Aspects and Rules—that make organizing information much easier. Since I was involved in the design of Documentum, I can say we made a fundamental mistake in assuming that the information architecture would be predefined. After all, that’s how a database works. But content is different. You want to load up the content and then figure out what to do with it. Aspects are like Lego-blocks of metadata that can be added after the content is loaded, so you can figure out what data is needed dynamically. Rules use content context—folder, file type, even data in the document— to apply Aspects, move content around and protect it with the right level of security. This is all done automatically, without the user having to figure these things out.

Q: How do you sell metadata to people who are used to a folder-based interface?

A: You can sell metadata as the ability to search and find things more easily. Folder Rules allow metadata to be added to content without forcing people to adopt a new way of working. When the user adds a document to a folder, the metadata is automatically added with rules to be found in searches. Using the Office integration in Alfresco 5.0, it’s also possible to add metadata directly in the Office file and pick it out just as SharePoint does.

Workflows are another great way to submit files. A simple form can capture the information you need, and the workflow automatically handles the metadata. The user doesn’t have to do anything at all.

Q: What do you think about the trend to integrate more and more content in the application? In the past, the idea was to integrate the application into the content.

A: Content is the moveable part; the application is not. There may be some context in the question that I’m missing, but it’s something I have been thinking about. Content can exist in multiple places at the same time: on premises, in the cloud, in an enterprise app or social web site, on a desktop or mobile repository, and so on. ECM is key to keeping track of content, ensuring that it’s in sync and handling conflicts.

Applications can be anywhere, and on mobile devices they will be harder to integrate into the content. But content can be moved where it is needed and transformed into a format that the application can use.

Q: What capabilities are available for personalized content delivery?

A: Alfresco supports the templating language Freemarker, which runs in the repository and has the full capability of the Alfresco data model. This allows Freemarker to modify and assemble complex, dynamic content as needed.

Q: What capabilities does Alfresco provide for indexing proprietary binary data, assuming that data structures are known or that access APIs exist?

A: We support the open tokenizer and schema capabilities of Solr and have an open architecture for metadata extraction. With these two capabilities, you can add the ability to extract searchable information from binary data. Alfresco Consulting Services can provide assistance with this, if needed.

Q: How will you interoperate with Big Data technologies like MongoDB, HBase, HDFS and graph databases?

A: The Alfresco community and our engineering team have been experimenting with Big Data technologies, particularly MongoDB and HBase. Alfresco lends itself to storing information in these technologies quite well. We are also doing some experimentation with Cassandra—although, we’ve actually been able to scale higher and have full transactional control using new in-memory relational databases. It may be a matter of using different databases for different purposes. As for graph databases, these would be used for very different purposes like keeping track of relationships and deducing connections between users and content for recommendation purposes. This is a longer-term project.