Alfresco: Open Source Enterprise Content Management

Finding and Controlling Information

Every organization manages information. In many file formats, and in many places. The bigger the organization, the more difficult it becomes to recover and maintain all that data.

That is why ECM systems exist. Organizations use them to structure and maintain information. It becomes easier not just to retrieve information, but also to control the lifecycle.

Systematic Storage and Maintenance

These days, information is spread across many different file formats. It’s not just about text, spreadsheets and presentations. More and more documentation is distributed as PDF. Images, videos and audio files also contain information, with often only the filename giving an indication of the possible content. On top of that, many employees use their e-mail not just as a means of communication, but also as a storage system, which can cause serious problems in case of holidays or illness.

All those files are scattered across the company network in department folders, project folders or personal folders, sometimes in multiple versions. With Enterprise Content Management that kind of unstructured information can be stored and maintained systematically within an organization. It becomes easier to give the right employees access to correct, complete and up-to-date information. Which in turn saves time, money and many mistakes.

Lifecycle

ECM is a generic name for multiple types of components. It can refer to website content which needs to be tracked, to digital contracts which need to be registered, or to scanned incoming mail which needs to be forwarded. But in each case the files need to be maintained. ECM takes care of the lifecycle of electronic documents, from creation to deletion or archive.

Open Source

Alfresco Enterprise Edition is an ECM system based on open source technologies like Spring, Hibernate and Lucene. Alfresco itself is an open source system as well. This means that the authors made the source code freely available. Open source is often free of charge, but not always. In the case of Alfresco Enterprise Edition, for example, your do not pay for the license.  You only pay for support through a Service Level Agreement (SLA). In addition, the software is also available as service (SaaS), and as trial version to try out the software free of obligation.

Alfresco was designed specifically for heavy use in production environments of companies and government organizations.  Each new version is put through an exhaustive series of real-life tests. As a consequence it is extremely stable, and only available through certified Alfresco partners like Qualogy. The system offers integrated central storage for all kind of content, from video to text, and from audio to e-mail. Basic principle is always the purpose or function of the content. For example, an image can be used on a website (web content management), but it can also be a scan of incoming mail (image management) or a scan of a contract (records management). The most important content functions of Alfresco are explained below.

 

Document Management

Maintaining and processing electronic documents, scanned or otherwise, is indispensable in every organization for effective collaboration between different staff members and policy advisers. Employees can maintain files in Alfresco through a web browser or Windows Explorer.

Collaboration

Alfresco offers the possibility to define extensive workflows, which allows different users within an organization to cooperate seamlessly. They can send a document to multiple employees in a row. Each of them can change the document status and send it along to the next. The reader can use that status, for example, to determine if the document is still under development (concept) or final. Documents can also be added as an ad hoc task.

Web Content Management

In most cases this is implemented as a web application, or it is used to create, control and maintain large collections of web materials like HTML documents and corresponding images. Web content management is especially suited as a maintenance tool for non-technical administrators and web editors. For example, an administrator can assign to an editor the task to change a particular web page. This starts a workflow which finally returns to the administrator, who can evaluate the changes in a ‘sandbox’ prior to publication. It is even possible to import entire existing websites.

 

Users such as web editors can change and maintain existing websites without technical training. They save time with the user friendly interface. HTML codes are hidden by WYSIWYG editors, so they can focus on content without bothering about the layout. Visual presentation and design is defined in templates, allowing that type of changes to be made in one place.

Developers also benefit from the advantages of Alfresco, for example scalability, reliability and the standards used. It has a Java architecture, is based on standards like J2EE and supports data exchange. Furthermore, Alfresco internally uses caching and supports metadata. All repository content can be searched using web scripts (XML, (X)HTML, TXT and JS-ON).

Records Management

Alfresco ranks as one of the first open source systems for records management. A record is information entering (or produced by) the organization, and which serves as evidence for a legal obligation or transaction with another company. It is about registering actions in an organization, with two main goals:

  1. To register formal communication and events, like letters, e-mail and conversations.
  2. To track and trace all actions regarding communication and events.

Examples of records are birth certificates, medical X-rays, official documents or e-mail archives.

Image Management

By digitizing (scanning) documents such as incoming mail as much as possible, the organization can put an end to manual, paper based document handling. It also takes up less space than paper versions. Alfresco offers an integrated central storage (content repository) to maintain all content formats: also images, videos and digitized documents.

Search

With its extensive search options Alfresco makes it easier for the user to search ánd find documents. The fast and effective search function is based on the well-known Google search engine. The Alfresco database contains ‘metadata’ necessary to find the documents and to create relationships between documents (filing). Documents can be searched not just on standard criteria like format of creation date, but also on category or author. Of course it is also possible to search within the documents themselves.

Archiving E-mail

This function makes it possible to save the stream of e-mail messages to and from a mail server on a central location. Because not all incoming e-mail is relevant (spam) it is also possible to use filter criteria. In this way it is always possible to retrieve all important e-mails. The latest Alfresco version even incorporates a separate mail server, enabling e-mail to be sent and received within Alfresco.

The Role of Qualogy

The new ECM paradigm touches on the business processes of the organization, and therefore also on the way people to their job. This may cause a cultural shift, and requires good preparation and guidance.

As the only Alfresco System Integration Partner, the highly trained and experienced people at Qualogy can offer you support and consultancy to implement Enterprise Content Management, for example to integrate it with Oracle products or during migration projects. We also offer expertise in case it is necessary to change or enhance Alfresco functionality. Our employees are certified Alfresco consultants who know the ropes. The system is already in use at companies like KLM and ABN AMRO, and government organizations like the city of Maastricht.

More Information

That was Alfresco in a nutshell. You can contact Qualogy Suriname for more information, or take a look at www.alfresco.com.