Open-source firm enters Web content management

Startup Alfresco Software preps final piece of its ECM software suite

Alfresco Software is readying the final piece of its open-source enterprise content management (ECM) software suite with the unveiling of a preview of its Web content management product.

The startup plans to release its Web Content Management Preview by early next week with a final first release of the offering due by year-end, according to Ian Howells, Alfresco's chief marketing officer.

Since its founding last year, Alfresco has developed software to handle the management of collaborative documents, records and images as well as e-mail archiving. The company began work on the last piece of its ECM suite, Web content management (WCM), about a year ago, but the effort accelerated in May when Alfresco hired a group of developers formerly at Interwoven, Howells said. Interwoven and Vignette are the market leaders in the WCM market and likely competitors for Alfresco in the future.

Alfresco's new WCM software uses the same repository as the company's other ECM components. The product is based on open-source components including JavaServer Faces (JSF), Spring and Hibernate. The WCM offering includes a virtualization server so users can preview what changes to their Web sites might look like online and a compliance server to audit all alterations to the site.

One of the early testers of Alfresco's WCM software is Virgin Money, Virgin Group's financial services arm, in Norwich, U.K.

The company is looking to move away from its largely static Web sites to make its online presence tailor to individual customers, according to David Scarisbrick, technical program manager at Virgin Money.

"We have had good experience with other open-source products and development frameworks and it made sense to go open source if possible for WCM," he wrote in an e-mail. "Alfresco offers the advantages of open source, open architecture and standards, but also includes a good support model making it a robust enterprise-level solution at low cost." When coming up with a list of suitable WCM tools, Alfresco was the only one that made Virgin Money's short list, Scarisbrick added.

Virgin Money isn't using Alfresco's other software, but once it's finished the rollout of WCM, the company may consider implementing the rest of the startup's ECM suite, he wrote.

As a financial services company, compliance is very important to Virgin Money. Alfresco WCM provides the ability for Web designers and applications developers to work collaboratively in a version controlled environment, Scarisbrick wrote. Virgin Money's compliance team can also use the software to review its Web site and look at any previous versions of the site and roll back to a particular day's version if necessary.

To date, the majority of Alfresco's users are enterprise-level financial services and publishing companies and governments, Howells said. The company currently has 60 paid-support contracts with organizations. In the overall ECM market, the start-up competes against Microsoft's SharePoint and more established ECM players IBM, FileNet, and EMC. IBM is in the process of acquiring FileNet.

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