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Oli Sharpe

Email:oli@gometa.co.uk

Alfresco - Open Source Document Management

Alfresco as Islington's EDRM

Alfresco is an open source enterprise document management system. From November 2006 until March 2007 I project managed and got technically involved with Islington's project to implement Alfresco as its EDRM.

Out of the box Alfresco is a very functional and enterprise ready document management system. One key feature that attracted Islington to adopt it is its ability to expose the documents via CIFS (the Common Internet File System protocol) and thereby appear to users as a network shared drive. This, together with it simple web client, makes it very easy for users to work with Alfresco.

A records management configuration layer

Islington also wanted to see how far we could push Alfresco to manage the documents as formal records of business against a classification scheme. Alfresco provides simple ways to extend the metadata that can be associated with documents, together with simple scripts and templates that can be used to rapidly develop simple business logic on top of the basic document management system.

During the project I used these Alfresco capabilities to develop a records management configuration layer. This layer allows Islington to manage a 'Records Library' of documents that are held in a folder structure that follows their classification scheme, with appropriate metadata held for each record and appropriate access controls protecting sensitive records. The layer also provides an admin user interface for the records managers to manage the classification scheme itself.

The few Java extensions that were needed were developed for the project by Simon Buckle from Webteq Ltd. However, by largely avoiding any changes to the underlying Alfresco codebase Islington could be confident that the integrity of the core document repository would not be undermined by the configuration layer.

Since April 2007 the Alfresco system at Islington has been in production use, managing a growing set of records according to Islington's classification scheme.

A blog like intranet

During the project we also realised that we could use the templating engine provided by Alfresco to run Islington's intranet dynamically from Alfresco. We were therefore able to replace the Documentum Web Publisher powered intranet entirely with an Alfresco powered intranet.

Not only did this enable Islington to ensure that all documents on the intranet are well managed records, but it also significantly reduced the complexity of editing the intranet text. We were able to develop a simple 'edit this page' kind of blog like approach to editing the intranet. This almost completely removes the need for training users on how to make changes to their intranet pages.

Furthermore, the NTLM single sign on authenticaion and access controls of Alfresco make it possible to easily ensure that only the right people can edit any given page. All users are automatically authenticated whenever they view any page on the intranet. Then if the user has permission to edit the page they see an extra link titled 'Turn on editing mode'. Clicking on this link makes all content of the intranet page become editable in situ.

In 2007/2008 I have undertaken further pieces of work to help out with the Alfresco system at Islington.