Last week I spent some time with Alfresco in New York for the ‘Analyst Day’ that marked the 2016 Winter launch cycle for new versions of the Alfresco One Enterprise Content Management (v5.1) and Alfresco Activiti Business Process Management (v1.4) products. The evolution of the Alfresco strategy was also in evidence.
When I last wrote about the company (in 2015’s MWD report On the radar: Alfresco), I commented that it was “in transition”. A transition in terms of its product and platform development (i.e. the burgeoning ECM / BPM integration of Alfresco One and Alfresco Activiti, and increasing forays into cloud and hybrid deployments); and also a transition ‘culturally’, in its attitude towards open source. It still retains a commitment to open standards / open core, but has much more of a business focus on its enterprise editions.
Six months on and, some of the roadmap features I was able to trail last year are starting to see the light of day now. There’s Alfresco One’s Smart Folders (born of Alfresco Workdesk’s virtual folders). These are metadata-driven ‘playlists’ which can present content in virtual views based on search queries, independent of the underlying folder structure of where it’s actually stored. The whole metadata-based ECM is something M-Files has been trading on for a while too (as I reported in the MWD report On the radar: M-Files last year), but Alfresco’s ever tighter integration of ECM and BPM capabilities means that there’s potential for the latter’s capabilities to be put to use in a variety of content workflow scenarios.
The company has also enhanced its Alfresco Share collaboration environment to make it easier to use. It’s still no full-on social collaboration tool (as noted in last year’s report), but still provides enough capabilities to enhance how users can work together with their content.
Some of the wider questions I had about Alfresco’s strategy last year are also on their way to being answered. We’re firmly in the era of the ECM / BPM integrations with ever more use cases for case management – and Alfrecso Activiti’s role in the company’s platform portfolio is now much stronger. It’s more than just the bundled-in BPM engine which happened to shared a stable with Alfresco One. Version 1.4 brings integrations with sync-and-share services to process content in the cloud; and improvements to how it handles forms and process models.
In short, Alfresco is firmly betting its strategy on focusing efforts to bring together a single content and process solution through tighter integration of capabilities across its platform. Case management is more than just ECM with BPM, though. And some of Alfresco’s competitors are throwing analytics into the mix (either their own products, or third-party integrations) to make the workflow smarter still. Whether or when Alfresco chooses to follow-suit isn’t clear from the current crop of releases (they’ve focused more on bolstering Alfresco Activiti’s process credentials across the Alfresco One ECM product). But to anticipate and respond to evolving customer use case requirements for content in context, and “play where the [hockey] puck is going, not where it is now”, will require the company to look beyond its heritage products and fold in it some additional data-driven capabilities that give its suite more of a ‘content intelligence’ feel.