On February 9, Alfresco announced that it was "aligning our ECM and BPM solutions" to "advance the integration of content, people and process." We tried to parse the announcement, which requires peeling off heavy layers of marketing jargon.
First, remember that Alfresco made a name by offering an open-source, cheaper and simpler document management solution than the key players (IBM, Documentum, EMC and later on Microsoft with SharePoint). Of course, "document management" is a bit too mundane, and Web pages have become as important than traditional documents if not more, so these solutions are now called electronic content management (ECM).
In 2010, Alfresco launched the Activiti open-source project to add a business process management (BPM) engine to its offerings. Until now, the main ECM product, Alfresco One, and Alfresco Activity were evolving separately. The recent announcement says that the two products will have synchronized updates... and gives zero information on what forms of integration will be provided to benefit customers.
Now, the fact that most business processes involve documents, and that there should be some integration between the execution of the workflow and the management of the documents isn't exactly news. This is, for example, why you can relatively easily construct simple workflows based on SharePoint "out of the box" (using permissions and views). Thus a simple interpretation is that Alfresco is catching up and trying to counter the aggressive commercial message from Microsoft and its workflow add-on partners like K2, Nintex, Bamboo Solutions and many more.
But in the end, the part that concerns us most is that there seems to be no awareness that when you combine people, process and content, what you should really aim to achieve is not just managing workflow documents, it should really be
knowledge management. After all, a lot of the knowledge that needs to be retained and shared in an organization is precisely knowledge about processes. If Alfresco wants to resist the Microsoft bulldozer, it needs to have a clearer vision than it is currently showing.