Friday, May 16, 2008

Alfresco and E2CM

Alfresco has been tearing up the newswire recently with announcements and interviews related to their evolved vision that incorporates an Enterprise 2.0 style mash-up/social approach to Enterprise Content Management. For lack of a better term, lets call it Enterprise 2.0 Content Management or E2CM (a new term! you heard it here first).

Unlike the old ECM that was all about monolithic applications to support large, structured, and formal business processes (like check processing or FDA approval), E2CM supports the small, informal, ad-hoc interactions that the average knowledge worker engages in every day. With its flexible, open, and extensible architecture, Alfresco is well suited as a foundation for building and integrating with all sorts of simple tools that facilitate sharing, collaboration, and community.

My only concern is that Alfresco is priced high as a framework for building custom applications. To get the Enterprise Edition (required for support and access to certified integrators), you will probably be looking at an annual subscription fee of well over $60K. In the age of free frameworks, that is pretty steep. However, when you look at Documentum and FileNet licensing, it doesn't look bad at all. I guess it all depends on where you are coming from.

All this attention to E2CM (when you come up with a new term, you need to use it aLOT) may be at the expense of the traditional WCM functionality in which Alfresco has lagged. It takes too much customization to build a simple, semi-dynamic website on Alfresco. View the source on most of the certified integration partner websites and you will see that they are running on WCM platforms like Joomla!, Plone, and Drupal. Also, two very senior people from the WCM team (the architect and lead developer that came over from Interwoven) have left. Fortunately for Alfresco, they put in place the core infrastructure like the dependency management, deployment, and virtualization. There is also a good start on some UI improvements that will work towards market parity.

It remains to be seen whether Alfresco sees traditional WCM as being a market they want to pursue. Given the competitiveness and price pressure in the market, I understand why they would not want to. Their advantages as a framework for assembling and integrating E2CM applications outweigh their strengths as a turnkey WCM business application and it makes sense for Alfresco to play to their strengths.