Alfresco takes a step towards maturity


It's easy to forget that Alfresco is still a young company. It was founded by John Newton, one of the people who helped define the entire content management industry, so it feels older than it is, but it is just 8 years old. And as I attended the Alfresco Summit last week in Boston, I got the feeling this company is poised to take off.

For starters, they have a high energy, assertive new CEO in Doug Dennerline, who clearly sees the potential in a company that to this point has flown under the radar of many in the industry.

Offering an open source alternative, and one that has a sound technological base, it has struggled to find an identity as a company. In fact, Dennerline, who came on board in January, told the audience in the keynote he was surprised to find that the company had $22 million in the bank. He wants to spend some of that money and invest in its future.

There were even whispers of an IPO somewhere down the road.

But for now, the company is just trying to craft a coherent message. It's open source, but it's in many ways just another traditional content management company. John Newton was one of the founders of Documentum and when he went looking for a new project after he sold his baby to EMC in 2003, he settled on another content management company, this one based in open source and open standards.

It was not a bad strategy and the company has certainly done well enough over time, especially they tell me with governments, but in spite of the open source wrapper, they are very much a traditional enterprise content management vendor at their core and they are trying to sell a variety of solutions.

And in the age of cloud, mobile and social--all trends Newton sees with the rest of us--he recognizes the company has to shift its focus a bit. To that end, along with Dennerline, they have begun to bring in a bunch of industry veterans into the fold, who can help them take the company to that next level.

And they have embraced a slogan, one that could apply to any content management vendor today. They want to be "simple and smart." What that means is they strive to give end users the simplicity they crave. They don't want to think about managing records or adding metadata, or doing any of the tasks we have always associated with content management products. They just want to do their jobs and let the software take care of all that.

But as I wrote in last week's column, there is that ever-present tension between usability and security. After sitting in a mobile session and watching a demo of an Alfresco partner's answer to security in a mobile context--let's just say the levels of authentication would likely make the app secure, but would also fly in the face of the simple part of the equation--it showed just how big a challenge the simple and smart strategy could be.

That's why they really do need to be smarter about it. Alfresco or some vendor has to solve that security issue in an intelligent way, one that keeps the company content safe wherever it travels, but doesn't get in the way of the simplicity part of the question. If it were easy, someone would have done it already.

It's a great slogan, but it's just the start, because it takes more than a slogan. It takes execution. Alfresco has many pieces. It has many smart people. It has money in the bank and it has a dynamic leadership team. It has all the pieces in place to take off and be a hugely successful company.

But it needs to execute on that vision and walk the walk, not just talk that smart versus simple talk. And that could be easier said than done. - Ron