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5/8/2006
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Analysis: Should You Consider Open-Source Content Management?

Most open-source content management products mimic commercial offerings rather than offering new functionality, yet they are being used in innovative ways.

I have never been a big fan of open-source software. As a born cynic, I never quite bought into the altruistic model of development. I do, however, buy into open-source pricing models and have little doubt that in five years' time it will be the standard means of purchasing software. In short, you get the software for free but then pay an ongoing maintenance fee that includes upgrades to new versions.

In the world of content management, Nuxeo, Alfresco and 80:20 have successfully adopted the open-source model, and it makes sense for anyone buying enterprise content management (ECM) technology to consider these vendors. Some ECM buyers are even using this new alternative as a powerful bargaining chip in their negotiations with conventional ECM vendors.

I would not consider an open-source option simply because it is cheap. These vendors may claim near functional parity with commercial vendors such as EMC/Documentum and other well-known ECM vendors that charge $300 per seat or more for their software, but you have to take those claims with a pinch of salt. The open-source vendors do offer professional-quality software at a price that is difficult to match, but most of these products (in both the ECM and Web content management mold) mimic commercial products rather than offering new, better or, in some cases, complete functionality. That said, open-source systems can be configured and deployed in innovative ways.

Boise Cascade illustrates the point. The paper manufacturer is using Alfresco to index and store large volumes of documents as a replacement for a much more expensive legacy mainframe-based system. Boise configured an easy-to-use approach to managing orders, bills of lading and invoices, and the company now delivers required documents to business systems using e-mail, fax and print distribution lists. Associated metadata and list information is stored in DB2. The deployment has also enabled Boise to retire a number of legacy records management systems.

Customers of Nuxeo have used its open-source software to develop a variety of site-specific as well as some very complex intranet and portal-like applications. The future for both of these vendors is likely to be in providing highly configurable toolkit approaches to ECM that can operate seamlessly in heterogeneous environments with plenty of power and sophistication.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe is Principal Strategist and ECM Consulting Practice Lead at Wipro. Prior to joining Wipro he was vice president and research director for the North America region of Ovum. Write to him at Alan.pelz-sharpe@wipro.com.

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