One on One with John Newton of Alfresco


John Newton, CTO and Chairman at Alfresco, has been involved in the content management industry since 1990 when he was one of the founders and the lead designer at Documentum. More recently, he helped launch Alfresco, the open source content management vendor. Alfresco was involved with the talks that lead to the creation of the new Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) standards, and Alfresco Labs 3 already includes CMIS. I asked Newton based on his vast experience in the industry to talk about the significance of the CMIS and what it means to ECM.

FCM: Why has it taken so long and what factors lead to CMIS being adopted now?
JN: The pain of not having a standard has to be big enough for people to overcome their natural tendency to protect their own turf. That comes when a critical mass has been reached in the market. With the ECM market now at $4B, you can argue that it is long overdue.

FCM: What happens after OASIS takes control? Will there be changes and adjustments?
JN: There will naturally be changes, although the spec is very complete and very well thought out. As new participants come in, there will be a desire to expand the scope with that one "critical" feature. Still, we learned quite a bit with SAP coming on board with some great, real-world requirements around security. Though it would be nice to say that we will just punt on security until the release, it was clear we needed to introduce some way of adding policies to content.
We took the lessons learned from earlier standards, such as JCR, into consideration. This included looking at what is achievable and what the major vendors need in actually implementing the spec.  At the moment, the current specification does exactly that and has been proven in interoperability sessions in Redmond.

FCM: There are literally hundreds, possibly thousands of CMIS vendors. Do you think most will accept the standard as written and adopt CMIS moving forward?
JN: You will not know, nor will you ever hear of the vendors that failed to implement SQL. The same will probably happen to those that do not adopt CMIS. Ignoring what EMC, IBM and Microsoft do, and believing that you can do better is foolhardy. The risk for those companies that do implement it is that it makes it a lot easier to switch out. But if you don't have a competitive differentiation in a CMIS world, you will probably become road kill anyway.

FCM: How does Alfresco plan to implement CMIS?

JN: We have implemented both the REST and SOAP implementations. We will be using the REST interface in our new Share application more and probably SOAP for a number of system integrations. We have upgraded our web services infrastructure to support SOAP and used our Web Scripts and SURF platform to implement both. It was pleasing to see how easy it was to use SURF to implement CMIS and it is one of the reasons that we were able to provide the first implementation of the CMIS, available now. Then again, that is also one of the reasons we started implementing the Web Scripts infrastructure, to implement CMIS.

FCM: Will CMIS help push Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 in the Enterprise?
JN: I certainly think so. I would expect IBM and Microsoft to come out with Web 2.0 initiatives around it. I would hope that EMC will be using CMIS as part of its new CenterStage initiative.

FCM: Look into your crystal ball and tell me where you think the CMIS industry will be in a year, and in five years with CMIS in place?

JN: In a year, I would hope that customers will be confidently implementing any new initiative as a CMIS application. If we are lucky, CMIS will be an approved standard by then. It's in a lot of people's interest that it be so. However, these things can take time.
In five years time, the spec will be widely adopted and have the same name recognition that SQL did 10 years ago. CMIS will be integral to the CIOs planning agenda, some of which will be hosted or in the cloud. CMIS will probably evolve toward the people that create and consume content and expand with a set of services that add value to those processes. A multi-billion dollar ecosystem of tools, services and applications providers will exist, some of which founded by people who don't even know anything about CMIS today.

Related Articles:
One on One with Content Management's Movers and Shakers
Major ECM vendors send content sharing standard to OASIS today
When big companies cooperate, everybody wins
John Newton's blog post on CMIS