Alfresco uses FUD to gain attention, misses the real point

Every time a vendor criticizes the opposition for being "consumer-grade," a little kitten dies. And so it is with Alfresco.

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The enterprise file sharing and synchronization (EFSS) space is a cutthroat world. With a huge number of vendors (too many if you ask me) and some serious funding having been poured into the space, people are gunning to build defensible momentum. And sometimes that comes out in unfortunate ways. Case in point: a pitch I received a while ago from Alfresco.

Alfresco is an enterprise content management (ECM) vendor. Right there is a clue that something isn't quite right. While most vendors in the space talk about cloud content management or EFSS, generally only vendors trapped in a fairly legacy view of the world use the term ECM. We'll give Alfresco the benefit of the doubt, however, and see what the company has to say.

Alfresco's theme is about tying ECM to business process management (BPM) beyond way too many acronyms. What that essentially means is that Alfresco wants to wrap business process around an organization's files, which is an entirely valid ambition. Files on their own are a very small part of the issue. The real opportunity is to wrap those files into the core business process in question. It's an area that has gained prominence from some high-profile parties of late. More on that later.

Alfresco is built on top of open standards and is a product that is deployable in the cloud, in hybrid environments and on-premises. Alfresco claims that its software manages over 7 billion documents across 11 million users worldwide. Select Alfresco customers include Amnesty International, Cisco, DAB Bank, FOX, NASA, PGA Tour and Sony Entertainment.

So. All that sounds good; where did Alfresco go wrong?

With its latest release, Alfresco was keen to push a new acronym: PCM, or process and collaboration management. The new features allow organizations to wrap their files into their process flows, as I've discussed above. That is a good thing.

What isn't so good is Alfresco resorting to lashing competitors as a point of differentiation. Alfresco was keen to articulate why this release is a "further blow to the Dropbox and Boxes." In a comment that pretty much comes across as FUD to me, Alfresco CTO and founder John Newton told me via email:

“The Dropbox and Boxes of the world are still struggling to gain a foothold in the enterprise, due to a hesitation by businesses to rely on 'consumer-grade' cloud services for sharing critical content. The biggest challenge is that most companies don't want to mix their data with critical litigation and discovery content. The gaps exposed by data or security breaches are making companies worry about SaaS. At the same time, businesses operating in the increasingly digital world seek to integrate business processes into their platforms and are coming to the conclusion that these enterprise file-sync-and-share (EFSS) market leaders come up short in delivering this type of integration. Our customers tell us that Box and Dropbox are best used for 'casual' content."

This just doesn't resonate. Box has, for a year or two, been delivering what Alfresco would call PCM to its customers, both directly on the platform and via third-party providers. Huddle, another EFSS vendor, has long talked about automated and process-integrated files sharing. Pretty much every EFSS worth its salt is thinking about this problem space.

Alfresco is a great product. And the fact that it gives its customers lots of choice around deployment options is a real differentiation, at least against the cloud-only vendors like Box and Dropbox. But dropping the "consumer grade" criticism just feels like . . . the 2008 cloud wars all over again.

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