At TSG we get questions all the time in regards to “How are your consulting engagements different between Alfresco and other ECM offerings like Documentum, FileNet/IBM and SharePoint.” For this post, we will explore how we have been successful with Alfresco Consulting initiatives and point out some of the differences to commercial ECM consulting.
ECM Suite and Open Source
One of the major differentiators with open source is the difference in the community of developers and the effect of open source. For our commercial ECM efforts, each add-on product is from a specific vendor and requires a purchase and maintenance agreement. As an alternative to commercial, open source provides for a rich environment of a variety of tools that can be added on to Alfresco at no charge. While we (TSG) provide open source tools for both Alfresco and Documentum, the open source model is rare in the commercial (Documentum, FileNet, SharePoint) world. In the Alfresco environment, open source is more the rule rather than the exception and supports a wide degree of alternatives.
Traditional ECM customers tend to want all the solutions to be either “out of the box” or only leverage the suite of products from the ECM vendor regardless if these products are truly best of breed. Alfresco consulting engagements seem to better understand the open source environment and integration options and look for creative alternatives. Instead of the suite being all products from one vendor, Alfresco provides more of an integration/connectivity option to include a variety of tools.
As a consulting firm partnering with Alfresco, we (TSG) need to know as many of the different alternatives for scanning, PDF manipulation, OCR and other technologies to be able to best match our client needs with that of the different alternatives whether those solutions are open source or commercial add-ons.
Interface Designs and the purchase model
While Alfresco and other ECM tools all provide a variety of different interfaces, the approach clients take to evaluate interfaces is very different. We find that commercial ECM clients consistently want to prove that the standard interfaces don’t work before looking at alternatives. Some reasons for this approach might include:
- We paid for this product and should look at it first
- We will get better support from the vendor if we are going through their interface (not always true)
- This is the “next generation” technology (or whatever the sales rep pitched)
Many of the arguments are somewhat invalid as they imply that paid software will always be easier to support or worth more than open source. For many ECM solutions, we have found the opposite to be true.
With our Alfresco clients, the use of Alfresco interfaces are evaluated versus other options including a custom SOA approach or leveraging one of our TSG interfaces. Working with an engineering firm, the desire to have more of a transactional interface versus a collaborative interface led to the selection of HPI rather than one of the Alfresco interfaces. The client evaluated both interfaces and determined that while Alfresco Share had some great features for a collaboration approach, HPI was better suited for their particular implementation for engineering and project related documents.
This is consistent with some of Jeff Pott’s Alfresco postings including a recent on Alfresco as a platform.
Alfresco clients tend to get the “platform” approach better than our traditional commercial clients that may be stuck in an interface evaluation mode. As pointed out in Jeff’s post, interfaces are only one small part of the overall stack.
Lastly, we have found that open source partners tend to be less competitive when it comes to supporting each other efforts via consulting
or software solutions. One of TSG’s most popular add-ons for Alfresco is OpenMigrate. As customers migrate from one ECM or file system to Alfresco, OpenMigrate provides the ability to move the content.
Zia Consulting contacted us to leverage OpenMigrate for one of their Alfresco clients. TSG was happy to provide support as well as the source code for Zia to make modifications for their client effort. The effort was successful and TSG and Zia are working on additional opportunities to partner to make Alfresco clients more successful.
Alfresco Consulting and open source very different than our traditional ECM consulting. Differences include:
- Community Development, integration versus a “one-size fits all” suite approach
- Open Source pricing and interface options
- Community Support
If you have any thoughts or comments, please enter them below.