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Open Source And SaaS Shake Up ECM

Alfresco and SpringCM are challenging the dominant deployment of proprietary, premises-based software.

Collaboration and interoperability are shaking up enterprise content management from the outside, but forces are also emerging from within that have the potential to reshape the market. Two companies in particular, Alfresco and SpringCM, challenge the dominant deployment model of proprietary, premises-based software.

Alfresco and SpringCM attack the two major weaknesses of ECM vendors: cost and time. It's not unusual for a company to drop $1 million on ECM software and services, and Gartner says it can take six to 18 months to deploy.

With its open source ECM platform, Alfresco offers key ECM functions, including document management, Web content management, and collaboration. It borrows from the Red Hat model by distributing its software free under a GPL license and selling a subscription for support, service-level agreements, and access to a community knowledge base. That usually means a much lower cost--assuming the company has sufficient in-house knowledge, so the savings aren't eaten up hiring consultants to implement and integrate with applications.

But Alfresco touts advantages beyond the bottom line. First is the community, which Alfresco and its customers can draw on for innovation and continued development of the software. Alfresco says it has about 74,000 registered community members, though the number of active members is about 3,500. Another advantage is that companies can run Alfresco on the software and hardware platforms of their choice.

SpringCM taps into a different trend reshaping the IT landscape: software as a service. SpringCM sells document and records management, paper and electronic documents capture, and application workflows as online services.

Look at what companies are doing with proprietary ECM deployments, and it suggests a lot of companies don't want an enterprise-wide system, contends SpringCM CEO Dan Carmel. "They're often process-specific, departmental deployments," he says. SaaS makes sense for departments that have a handful of applications that require ECM workflows and capabilities, Carmel says. Rather than deploy an on-premises platform and force it to fit different needs, departments can turn to the cloud and configure the application to their needs. One customer, Cox Communications, runs 13 different applications using SpringCM.

More important, SaaS gets a tool into end users' hands faster than with an on-premises deployment. "The demo is the product," says Carmel, meaning what you see online is what you get when you sign up. Carmel says the average consulting contract to configure the application and get it on people's desktops takes from eight to 40 hours. SaaS also means less up-front capital cost, though the trade-off is a monthly per-user fee.

These upstarts are both run by industry insiders. Alfresco co-founder and CTO John Newton was a Documentum founder. SpringCM CEO Carmel was a VP at Interwoven. Phil Beckman, SpringCM's VP of research and development, was a director at Open Text.

Photo illustration by Sek Leung

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A New Approach To Collaboration And Enterprise Content Management

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Standard Interface Will Open New Options For ECM
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