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Alfresco is a Disruptive Force in the ECM Industry

At Blue Fish, most of our business is related to either Documentum or Alfresco. Our clients that use Documentum are all companies you recognize – Wells Fargo, Southwest Airlines, Bausch + Lomb. Many of our clients that use Alfresco are great companies that you may not have heard of before – American Bureau of Shipping, Nanston Dental Group, Drilling Info.

Why is that?

The answer is that Alfresco is bringing the benefits of Enterprise Content Management to companies that don’t have millions of dollars to spend on ECM solutions. It’s also bringing ECM to smaller business problems that can’t justify big money to solve them.

Alfresco is a disruptive force in the ECM industry, similar to the way that SalesForce.com disrupted traditional CRM vendors like Seibel. Let’s look at how the two compare.

At Blue Fish, we use SalesForce, and we would never in a million years use Seibel. For a sales team of only 2 people, it’s just not worth it. But SalesForce gives us a world-class CRM solution for a price that we can afford. SalesForce isn’t just for small shops, either. Dell uses SalesForce, and they have one of the largest sales teams in the world. That’s true disruption, and it all but put Seibel out of business.

SalesForce did this by using a SaaS business model to dramatically lower the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of CRM solutions.

  • SalesForce is cheaper for me to acquire (its per user pricing is less than the competition)
  • SalesForce is cheaper for me to operate (I have no servers to maintain and no dependencies on databases, etc.)
  • SalesForce is cheaper for me to support and maintain (no backups, no servers crashing, and I don’t have to do any upgrades myself)

Now, SalesForce’s customers don’t care about the cloud, SaaS, or any of that business model stuff – they just want it to be cheap. It is, and that changed the world of CRM.

Alfresco is doing something similar in the world of ECM. They are going about it differently, but they are shooting for the same result. Alfresco uses an open source model that lets their customers try before they buy and do so without ever talking to a sales rep. Eventually, companies who rely on Alfresco for their critical business data will want to buy an Enterprise subscription with a support agreement, and that’s how Alfresco makes their money.

But that’s not really disruptive (it’s a clever marketing strategy, but it’s not truly disruptive). What’s disruptive is the price of their Enterprise license – it’s dirt cheap. You can get a fully supported version of Alfresco that can support hundreds of users for less than $20,000 a year. Compare that to the traditional players like EMC and IBM who would charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for a similar solution, and you start to see what I’m talking about.

Alfresco is also cheaper and easier to operate and maintain than traditional ECM solutions. Because of its open source heritage, it can operate on an open source stack, with open source operating systems, databases, and application servers. That reduces the cost of the infrastructure required to run it.

And Alfresco is easier to implement and extend. Because it has come to market recently, it uses modern application development and deployment technologies. Alfresco runs in a Java application server, so you don’t have to learn new deployment or monitoring procedures. Developers extend it using web services and lightweight web scripts, which are easier to learn. And most importantly, you have access to the source code (even for the Enterprise Edition), so it’s a thousand times easier to find a defect and fix it or to follow Alfresco’s patterns when developing your own extensions.

There are places where the big traditional ECM players still make sense. If you want to run your ECM solution on a mainframe, IBM is the only game in town. If you are a pharmaceutical company with regulated content, Documentum is the strongest bet. If you’ve standardized on Microsoft throughout the company, SharePoint might be for you.

But if you are looking for the best value – a full-featured ECM solution that won’t break the bank, Alfresco is the best bet.

As a result, companies that never considered ECM solutions are looking at them for the first time.

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