TSG recently responded to a client’s questions regarding using Alfresco versus Documentum or other solutions for Life Sciences. The questions were the next step after a demonstration of Alfresco and TSG solutions for controlled documents. The demonstrations are available in the learning zone.
This post will share those questions and responses while preserving the client’s confidentially.
1. From a client’s perspective what are the competitive and market advantages of Alfresco over other solutions, such as Documentum and Trackwise that a client would value?
The biggest competitive advantage of Alfresco over other Enterprise Content Management solutions (like Documentum) is the Alfresco cost structure. Alfresco supports a “maintenance-only” subscription model so the cost and return on investment is significantly better than that of Documentum. We find, even for our Documentum customers, that the cost of switching to Alfresco is often cheaper than the cost of upgrading and continued maintenance of Documentum. For new customers the cost difference is even greater.
Often clients get stuck in a “well if it costs less, it must do less” mindset, which is very untrue. Alfresco, as a younger company, actually has a more complete and advanced ECM offering than Documentum due to the leverage of Open Source versus in-house developed solutions, another competitive advantage for clients.
In regards to Trackwise, we often see them brought up in discussions at life science companies as they, like Documentum, have a significant market presence. Most clients view Trackwise as in a different space than ECM, more of a reporting and tracking of actions (for example CAPA – Corrective Action Preventive Action). Trackwise doesn’t have the robust document control and versioning that comes with a typical ECM solution. We have multiple clients that use ECM for management of document changes and Trackwise for CAPA. We are often brought in to help integrate ECM with Trackwise. For example, pulling documents from ECM repository to support an action in Trackwise.
2. Does this software provide auto fail over and disaster recovery capabilities?
Alfresco, as an enterprise software package, supports a variety of fail over and disaster recovery options. We could work with your team to find the right mix from a cost/benefit perspective. One thing many of our regulated industry Documentum clients implement for business continuity is the idea of a “published” consumer interface. You can read more about it in this post. For our pharmaceutical or nuclear clients, this approach provides a way to have access to approved documents from a variety of locations even if the ECM instance is unavailable. This approach would be simple to integrate with your solution.
3. What scalability does Alfresco afford?
Alfresco is as scalable as any other ECM solution. I have linked the Alfresco Scability Blueprint from Devcon 2012 for additional technical details. We have one Alfresco client that currently has 15 terabytes and is targeting 4 petabytes when complete.
4. What kind of reports can be generated from the document mgmt system? Are they customizable reports?
For our solutions, often clients have included a component of search/export for some reporting needs. For example, a search for all the documents approved for this site this month would be a great example of an easy adhoc report that could be exported to Excel. For other clients, we have seen clients develop jobs to execute a search and email the results monthly or weekly to a set of users. Other clients have asked for more advanced reporting with integrations to tools such as IBM Cognos.
5. Can document approvals be serial or parallel? Are they user customizable?
Active Wizard supports both serial and parallel workflows. As we pointed out in the demonstration, the user can customize the workflow either by selecting approvers/roles within the form or by setting up custom rules within the administration screens.
6. Are there any language translatable software available with Alfresco?
We have seen language issues discussed in multiple ways. In regards to storing documents in more than one language, Alfresco support storing all different types of languages both in the content and metadata. Regarding automatically generating the new document from one language to another language, clients have implemented both automated and manual solutions but all were implemented outside of the ECM repository. Alfresco does not provide any language translation tools natively.
7. In documents, policies and procedures for example, many terms are used over and over. Since our documents have a definition section, is there definition storage capability such that when an author is creating the document they can get a drop down box to use the definition in the library?
Typically most ECM tools rely on the authoring tool to provide the capability defined above. The tool can store a standard definition document for availability but we would have to work with you on how to display those definitions when creating a new document.
8. Are all documents created outside of Alfresco?
We would recommend that documents are created with tools that users are comfortable with such as Microsoft Word. We would recommend using templates that are stored in Alfresco and leverage for this initial creation of the document.
9. Are there any methods to track document workflow at the different stages so that you can evaluate how long it takes to route and approve documents? Can you regulate how long different stages in the workflow should take?
While the answer to this is yes we are always advising clients to think about what are they looking to accomplish. Evaluating document review and approval based on time can be difficult given work responsibilities, working hours, weekends and travel. We would share what other clients have found successful.
10. What capabilities exist to integrate or interface with other systems.
We see a variety of interfaces to training, manufacturing and other types of systems. We helped Alfresco build integration with Salesforce.com.
11. What happens if we acquire the system, and then there is a software upgrade while we are trying to expand the scope of the software to another region? Will the two versions be compatible or will we need to upgrade the original software too?
We work with clients all the time regarding timing of additional roll out as well as upgrades. Alfresco and the TSG software have been very consistent in avoiding incompatible versions that would make upgrading difficult.
12. Is it possible to have documents that have hyperlinks to forms & other related documents?
Alfresco supports document relationships much like other ECM systems. While you can have links internally to other documents within the documents, it is often very difficult to maintain as the hyperlinks often have links to specific file locations. We try to leverage easy searches with proper metadata, full-text search and repository relationships rather than hyperlinks.
13. Can different departments at one site each get our own “section” of this?
Yes – that was what we were calling “tracks” in the demo. All the documents can exist in one Alfresco repository but security and interface configuration can make it seem to the end users that departments have their own subsection. In this manner, users that have access to both departments and can see all documents where users that might only have limited access can only see documents in their department or section.
14. Will we be able to still standardize our templates/documents?
We highly recommend standardizing your document templates as well as leveraging controlled headers and footers on PDF versions of the document.
15. How do different sites communicate and share globally through the system?
Typically we recommend global access to the system from a central location. We would want to work with you regarding your specific network bandwidth and security requirements but we have a variety of customers that implement ECM/Alfresco globally for their user communities.
Please post your comments or thoughts on our responses below.