Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Alfresco is fresh but cool!

Today, I had the opportunity to attend to a presentation given by the top guys of Alfresco and, yes, it is pretty cool. It is still a little fresco, dub it too early for prime time for complex ECM needs, but in a six months time, it is bound to become a great piece of software. These guys know what they are doing, most probably because they have done it for more than a decade, but also because they sure are smart.

The same way JBoss has commoditized J2EE application servers, Alfresco will do the same to ECM business and, in a couple of years, Documentum will have to try to reinvent itself or simply rely on their maintenance fees to survive.

But Alfresco will not simply focus on ECM and will soon attack the WCM market, which makes sense. Here they will probably hit a little more competition from affordable and/or open source solutions (like Jahia). But hybrid solutions will emerge, with Alfresco providing content management (through web services or JSR-170 connectivity) and other systems providing the web interface.

All this is pretty well known and expected but there is this one feature they have demonstrated today that, I think, has the potential to disrupt another market, the market of ad-hoc document related applications.

This feature is called "space templates" and allows to instantiate some kind of a workspace with storage areas, discussions forums, rules and workflow definitions inherited from a template. Now, if you bear in mind that they will add a solid workflow engine to the system (most probably jBPM), they would only need to add a full fledged rule engine to support the creation of powerful templates that would solve what expensive ad-hoc applications do.

Here I am thinking of fields like legal and contract management. Take the case of intellectual property management: you could define a space template for, say, Patents, Designs or Trademarks, have all the relevant storage created (related correspondence, official forms, pictures), have the workflow related information in meta-data (country, classes, application & renewal dates) and you would get a user-oriented solution, where her daily work (which is mainly document related work) would drive the whole process.

These guys are clearly not only creating business for themselves but they are opening brand new fields. Who will dare exploring them?