I was talking to a Life Sciences client that was looking to move away from Documentum for Document Control and they were asking the logical question “Why haven’t more companies moved to Alfresco and Open Source?”  For this post, I will try to address some of the reasons as well as present some background on how best practices for Document Control with Alfresco.  From an informal discussion with my peers here at TSG, some of the main reasons include:

  • Documentum Investment – the effort and risk to move away from a multi-year Documentum effort, in regards to business interruption, cost, updating SOPs, training and development efforts is a major obstacle to changing platforms.  Regardless of any animosity because of a Documentum Audit or other pricing, relationship or product issues, the costs of a “big bang” migration can  be burdensome, expensive and difficult to justify in a down economy.
  • SharePoint Investment – While Open Source solutions like Alfresco have a certain amount of momentum, SharePoint as a collaborative tool  has been very successful at most companies and, rather than Alfresco, can be easily viewed as a Documentum alternative.  Experienced Documentum users need to see more than just the interface in regards to development environment (Java versus .Net), Server Infrastructure (UNIX/Linus/Windows) as well as the subtle differences in regards to renditions and other common Document Control functions.  See previous post on SharePoint for Document control.
  • Open Source Concerns – Understanding Alfresco’s model (Commercial Software that is released as Open Source – only paying for support) is difficult to understand for most companies that think of Open Source as only community developed (Apache) efforts.  We typically spend some time getting Alfresco users to understand that ex-Documentum employees architected and developed the solution but are releasing it under a different sales model.
  • Should I be first? – Industries as a whole more on each other’s success or avoiding each other’s failures.  Leading an industry with a different platform can seem risky and something to avoid in an economic downturn.

Document Control Functions and Alfresco

For the remainder of this post, I will address common Document Control functions in Documentum and the ability of Alfresco or other add-ons to address all of the functions needed for Document Control.  Many of these add-ons are TSG products as we have developed our solutions as Open Source for either Documentum or Alfresco.

  • Document Templates – Alfresco can support either Word or XML or other types of templates, very consistent with Documentum.  We typically recommend to clients to leverage templates that leave room for header/footer/signature overlays on the approved/released documents.
  • Document Properties – Very consistent with Documentum.  We typically configure/customize this screen for clients based on value assistance, required values, generated document name, cabinet/folder location as well as integration with external systems.
  • Document Versioning and Lifecycle – Versioning/Lifecycle is slightly different in Alfresco than Documentum.  While this post won’t get into the specific differences, both solutions can address the Document Control needs for numbering, version labels and automatic promotion via approval.
  • Security – making sure that security in regards to Consumers, Approvers and Authors are reading/working with the correct documents can be easily handled in either package.
  • Search – Alfresco has robust capabilities for attribute and full-text search.  TSG’s HPI interface can access either repository and is a common add-on with our clients.
  • Document Viewing – TSG typically recommends PDF as the default consumer file format.  As mentioned with templates, both solutions can add headers/footers/Overlays.  TSG’s OpenOverlay, based on iText, is an open source option for either package.
  • Change Package and Workflow – We typically recommend to clients to group the workflow approval into a change package that contains
    • Include one or more documents for approval
    • Instructions/Documentation on why the change is happening (Description, Reason, Justification…)
    • Allow flexibility in selecting reviewers and approvers
    • Include internal and external supporting documents
    • Capture Electronic Signatures on approved documents

We have leveraged the Active Wizard for our Documentum work in regards to Change Package.  We plan to have the Active Wizard on Alfresco and JBPM by the end of the year.

  • Document Redlines – Markups supported within the Document (typically Word) for both solutions.
  •  Annotations – TSG’s OpenAnnotate offers support for both Documentum and Alfresco.

Overall Thoughts

TSG feels strongly that clients to DCM/Document Control on Documentum and looking for alternatives should strongly consider Alfresco as an alternative based on:

  • Consistency with server (UNIX/Linux) and development (Java) environments
  • Capabilities of platform to perform common Document Control functions with open-source add-ons
  • CPU based support with no purchase price

For more information on Document Control best practices, leverage TSG survey presentation from Midwest Documentum User Group meeting.


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