Exo Document Collaboration Portal Blends In Social

Open source document management tools now joined by social collaboration features on Java portal.
Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
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Aerospace firm Sonaca began working with the open source Exo collaboration platform because it needed a customizable portal for document management, but now is among the first organizations to also adopt it for social collaboration.

Exo follows in the tradition of portals that use the Java-based portlet model for customizations and extensions, but now also will support the more lightweight social software style of adding components at the user interface level, with modules written in HTML and JavaScript. The base Exo platform also now incorporates the basic elements of social collaboration, such as profile pages and activity streams.

Portals and enterprise social networking products "at some point wind up going in the same direction, but both come from different directions," said Benjamin Mestrallet, founder and CEO of Exo, which offers both a free community edition and a paid enterprise edition of its software. By itself, an enterprise social network is a "light portal," but combining it with the enterprise integration strengths of a Java portal provides "the best of both worlds," he said. The LifeRay Java portal has taken a similar approach to adding social features.

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Mestrallet argues it makes more sense to start with a solid portal platform that is already used for enterprise applications and add social components, rather than starting with social apps and trying to build a platform to support them.

This approach matched the path Sonaca took to social collaboration. The Belgian firm, a specialist in engineering the leading edge of airplane wings, works with Airbus, Embraer, and Dassault Systems.

The company originally turned to Exo as part of an effort to improve a complex document management and workflow process related to tracking sign-offs on engineering documents, which was previously implemented using Documentum, said Luc Detollenaere, the project's technical leader. "It was very difficult to maintain the applications inside of Documentum, and there was also the problem of cost, so we decided to try open source."

Based on the success of that project, Detollenaere said he got the approval to build on Exo as a broader collaboration platform for use across the company. Since late fall, Sonaca has been encouraging the use of Exo for all internal communications.

At this point, the technology is in place, but adoption is just beginning, Detollenaere said. Some employees who were comfortable with email are left wondering why the organization is pushing them to use something else, he said. "The young generation is quite happy, but in a company like ours many people are 50 or 60 and do not use Facebook and things like that."

The advantage he sees is that group emails often go to people who don't want to receive them, or miss people who would be interested in a message, whereas social threads make it easier for people to follow whatever interests them or affects their jobs.

The Exo platform incorporates Apache Shindig, an implementation of the OpenSocial standard, a set of social media interoperability standards, which means it can incorporate Google Gadgets and other compatible social software widgets. Shindig is one of 10-15 open source products Exo aggregates as elements of its platform. Others include GateIn, a portal framework developed by Red Hat and JBoss.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

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