Alfresco is a leading open source based enterprise content management system. This article introduces readers to Alfresco, and highlights its key features that would benefit business users, technical architects and developers.
With so much content generated each day, going paperless has become an important goal for every organisation. This ever evolving content surely needs to have a robust, scalable, easy-to-use, secured and powerful content management system (CMS) to make it easy to capture, store, manage, preserve and deliver the content on demand. When it comes to enterprise content management (ECM), the range of options is wide and includes proprietary solutions as well as open source implementations. However, open source and open standard based ECM alternatives seem to be the preferred choice of organisations rather than the closed source or proprietary counterparts.
Alfresco is a leading open source based ECM thats been available in the market since a decade now, helping enterprises maximise the value of their content by providing the content management solutions with an open source and open standards based technology stack. Because it is easy to customise and extend, as well as to integrate with other applications, Alfresco is a preferred choice as an open source enterprise ECM for business users, technical architects and developer groups.
Alfresco is available in three different flavoursthe Alfresco One enterprise edition, the Alfresco Community Edition and Alfresco in the Cloud. Alfresco One is an enterprise-ready, fully tested edition. It is fully supported by Alfresco and provides additional capabilities such as high availability, analytics and so on. It is ideal for organisations looking for an ECM with enterprise level scalability, high availability and full support from the ECM vendor. Alfresco in the Cloud is a SaaS based edition of Alfresco One (without additional Alfresco One modules). It is ideal for smaller teams, which are distributed at multiple locations, and avoids the hassle of managing the servers on the premises.
Alfresco Community Edition includes community driven development and contributions. It is developed and maintained by Alfresco with the help of Alfresco Community members across the world. The Alfresco product engineering team periodically does provide fully stable releases of the Alfresco Community Edition. Small to medium businesses can use this in production in non-critical applications, bearing in mind that it needs to be self-supported with the help of community resources. If this edition caters to your business needs, then it is the most cost-effective solution.
With any of these editions, you will find that Alfresco is a complete document management solution for your content needs. Lets get to know the basic capabilities of Alfresco. Here are nine key features that will help you get the most out of your content using Alfresco.
A perfect collaboration tool
While working in a team, it is essential to collaborate effectively in order to get better productivity. Hence, the collaboration tool plays an important role. Out-of-the-box Alfresco installation provides a UI interface called Alfresco Share, which comes with an easy-to-use collaboration platform to effectively collaborate within a team using the wiki, blog, calendar and so on.
Workflow capability to simplify business processes
Capturing or creating content without any approval process may lead to content chaos, with unwanted content getting added in the repository. Hence, it becomes necessary to validate the content being added to the repository. Alfresco, with the integrated workflow engine, makes this possible and allows users to define approval processes to validate the content before making it available for general use.
Secured access to content with robust permission modelling
The content repository may have a large amount of data residing in it. There may be different types of users such as content creators, content reviewers, internal team members, customers and so on who will be accessing the repository. Not all content can be accessed by everyone. One should only be able to access what one is allowed to. Hence, providing appropriate permission to content is a must. In Alfresco, with the robust permission modelling, it is easy to provide secure access to the content based on requirements.
Content on-the-go with an effective search mechanism
In a large-sized repository, what if you want to access some specific content based on your requirements? Manually going to each folder to locate the required content is not a desirable option. What if a robust search mechanism is available which will get you the results based on your search criteria? This makes your life a lot easier. Yes, Alfresco does provide search capabilities based on metadata of the content and also from the body of the content, allowing you to easily find what you are looking for.
External applications can be easily integrated with Alfresco
Just in order to understand integration capabilities with Alfresco, lets take a look at some available options. It may be that you already have a frontend application and you just want to use Alfresco as a backend repository. REST APIs and CMIS make it easy for other applications to interact with the Alfresco content repository in a secured way. Also, it is easy to configure Alfresco with authentication systems such as LDAP, Active Directory and so on. Being able to integrate external systems with Alfresco in a hassle-free manner is also one of the reasons why it is a preferred choice amongst technical architects.
Transformation of content from one format to another
One of the key requirements while working with content is to transform content from one form to another. For example, while drafting a contract, the document which is in a Word format will undergo a review by the legal team, the finance team and so on in a well-defined workflow process. At the end of the review process, the contract becomes active and you will want to convert the Word document to a non-editable PDF. With content transformation capabilities, this is easily done in Alfresco.
Versioning capability allows users to maintain different versions of content
In a well-defined workflow review process, your content may be reviewed by teams of experts and by you, and while adhering to their review comments, you can make modifications to the content. With Alfrescos versioning capability, you can create new versions of the content and easily keep track of every version.
The ability to specify business rules
Business rules help users perform some important actions based on some predefined conditions. For example, based on the value of some metadata like the status of a contract under review, you may need to move the content to the Review folder, and if contract status is active, move it to the Active folder in order to effectively classify the content. Alfresco allows users to easily set up such business rules.
Auditing the content
Along with secured access to the content, it is equally important that you know who accessed what. This is easily tracked with the auditing capabilities provided in Alfresco.
These are just a few basic features of Alfresco to familiarise you with its capabilities. If you are looking for an open source ECM for your business and are evaluating various alternatives, then Alfresco must be explored.
The author has 10+ years of overall IT experience. He has extensively worked on Alfresco for the past 6 years and has designed, architected and implemented business solutions using Alfresco for various customers across the globe. He has also authored a book on Alfresco titled – Learning Alfresco Web Scripts published by Packt publishing. He is an active contributor to Alfresco community forums and generally writes blog about alfresco at www.ecmtree.com and his twitter handle is @ecmtree.