The Open Source Option

Open source solutions for ECM are emerging in an increasingly commoditized enterprise environment.

Open source is a loaded term on many levels. At its core, open source implies free software that?s built by a community. When it comes to open source solutions in traditional ECM?imaging, document management, records management, collaboration, and workflow?open source solutions is an emerging frontier. But most bets end there: there?s no firm user profile of open source ECM, in part, because many enterprises adopt open source applications on their own. Others rely on the fee-based support services of open source providers with commercial offerings and system integrators. Adoptees of open source ECM solutions vary widely from small enterprises and non-profits to government sector and corporations, and even in highly regulated areas like financial services. Craig Le Clair, senior analyst in information and knowledge management with Forrester Research, a technology consultancy, points to a 2005 Forrester study that showed open source middleware and infrastructure software?including application servers, Web servers, database servers, and frameworks?are playing a growing role in enterprise application development. ?Open source is a reality today for these software categories and will be increasing for applications associated with ECM,? Le Clair says. In fact, open source solutions in traditional ECM applications have only been around for the past couple of years, says Tony Byrne, founder of CMS Watch. He characterizes open source applications as built by techies to appeal to techies. ?Open source tools tend to get selected when technology people have the predominant power in the selection team,? Byrne says, noting complex open source packages can require a lot of customization and thus are a poor match for small, underfunded companies without the IT resources of larger firms. On the flipside, though, if someone has built a customization, there?s a value to donate that to the community, says Seth Gottlieb, director of content management at Optaros, Inc., a systems integrator. ?When you donate an improvement back to the community, you are no longer the sole maintainer of that code. Other programmers can improve upon your contribution further and ensure compatibility with software upgrades.? Ian Howells, Ph.D., chief marketing officer at Alfresco, an open source solutions provider, draws an analogy to what happened years ago with SQL, now the standard in database applications. ?JSR170 is the standard now used by many open source and proprietary solutions. With JSR170, you can build applications on top of content right away, as a single repository for all types of content: repository documents, records management, imaging, and Web content. These will run on systems from many different vendors.? Howells notes a key driver of open source content management systems is flexibility and ease of use directly on the PC. Many proprietary applications, he says, simply don?t get used. He gives the example of popular compliance applications. ?Most people use a shared drive for content management. When people take this approach compliance is compromised because the rules that are stored in the applications are not being used. That?s why we put the rules in the server so everyone gets the same levels of compliance, irrespective of how they access content.? And because open source solutions use service-oriented architecture SOA- and Web-application services, they are easily scalable. ?Anyone using Windows can use it.? Many mid-size and large companies in the publishing, education, government, and financial services sector have adopted the Alfresco platform. E-Trade and a couple of investment banks are among the large firms entrusting their document and content management to Alfresco. The emergence of open source ECM stems from an increasingly commoditized marketplace in the face of accelerated industry Source and full article: www.edocmagazine.coma>