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Book Review: Alfresco 3 Records Management

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

Book Reviews 31

ecmguru writes "My first impression of the book was that the author did an excellent job in presenting records management (RM) concepts, describing how Alfresco implemented the RM features in Share, and how you could customize this features if necessary. I was somewhat excited about reading this book because I am currently working on an RM project." Read on for the rest of ecmguru's review.The author begins by introducing RM in layman's terms, then details how to install an RM module and describes the RM features built for 5015.2 DoD certification for Alfresco. One big thing to note – Alfresco RM module is FREE. This may not be a surprise to typical Alfresco users or developers, but having access to RM functionality without having to pay a fortune is very appealing. He then talks about the Alfresco Content Model. RM content model is generic; there is DoD content model that follows 5015.2 DoD spec. There is a good diagram on model-view-controller application process flow and affected RM files.

If you are not familiar with what a File Plan is, the author defines what a 5015.2 File Plan is: three-level folder structure that contains Series, Categories, and Folders. Each object type in the File Plan has to follow specific RM rules. Series can only contain Categories; it cannot contain Folders and Records. Categories can only contain Folders and has support for disposition schedule. Retention rules are inherited by all Folders underneath a Category. Folder may contain records and non-declared records.

The author mentions benefits of developing a formal file plan. It helps with consistency when filing & retrieving records, enables compliance, provides an audit trail, and supports predictable disposition of records. There are several means of creating a file plan: 1) follow company organizational chart, 2) develop a file plan that maps to functionality or activity of the organization, or 3) a hybrid of both. #1 is simpler to identify, but generally not recommended since records for a group or department may have different retention & disposition values. #2 allows modeling based on process, activities and transactions, and enables clustering of similar types of records. #3 is typically the best approach. Use organization structure to define series, use processes to define categories, and finally use entity or time periods to define folders.

He next talks about Disposition Schedules and how they work in an RM module. The author does a good job in describing the details without making it too dry. Disposition normally includes retention, transfer, and destruction phases. The lifecycle of a record before it gets disposed can be described in the following fashion:

- When a document is moved into a File Plan, it's still an undeclared record.
- When all mandatory fields are completed, only then can it be declared as a record.
- Declared records located in a File Plan are automatically associated with a disposition schedule, which is inherited indirectly from Category
- Once a record is declared, the content cannot be changed; only metadata can be changed.
- All changes in metadata values are audited.

There are some complexities about disposition that the author tries to explain, but if you are not a records person, the topics seem esoteric. For example, there are 5 types of disposition steps and three main disposition rules:

- 1st step must be Cutoff or Retain
- No two steps can be of the same type
- No steps can come after Destroy

Here is another rule about disposition — if disposition occurs at folder and folder contains no records or undeclared records, folder will not be Cutoff. There can only be Cutoff if and only if there is at least one record. Most of these statements seem logical, but they do not really help me understand more about disposition.

The best chapter in the book has to be Chapter 9. If you only have time to read one chapter, this is one that you need to read. The author reviews various RM concepts and then describes various scenarios and what-if situations that a record can be in. Other topics include: freeze/hold, unique record ID that Alfresco creates for each record, and the two cron jobs that the RM module uses to support RM functionality.

The author concludes with how Alfresco RM supports searching, auditing, security, and configuration settings. The author provided a list of all RM features as it maps to RM groups/roles that are pre-configured in RM module. You can disable/enable features per role using the role editing UI. This feature is not in Alfresco Share.

In summary, I really liked this book. It provides a good mix of records management concepts and technical details for developers. My only suggestion for the author is that it would have been nice if he provided a fictitious use case that could be referenced throughout the book. Other Alfresco books that I have reviewed include such samples and I feel that it can be very helpful to readers who are trying to pick up a new concept.

You can purchase Alfresco 3 Records Management from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Soon I'll be hoping for... (1)

mysqlbytes (908737) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074120)

packt loss.

Re:Soon I'll be hoping for... (1)

SeNtM (965176) | more than 3 years ago | (#36075600)

second that.

Rules for Book Reviews (3, Insightful)

CarsonChittom (2025388) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074122)

Can we make it part of the FAQ that there are some rules for writers of book reviews? On second thought, we only need one rule:

  1. Don't assume the reader knows what the !@#$%^& you're talking about.

Re:Rules for Book Reviews (1)

berashith (222128) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074248)

The review was probably written and edited by the morons at Packt, therefore most useful information is overlooked.

No, Reviewed by Johnny Gee (3, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074360)

The review was probably written and edited by the morons at Packt, therefore most useful information is overlooked.

Nope, seems to be Johnny Gee who was asked to review it [wordpress.com] by Packt. Not a bad thing, I've been asked to review things for Slashdot and have, at times, refused because the book was garbage. Right now I'm fiddling with an Arduino and a couple XBee Pros in order to review a book for O'Reilly. It's a good book but the Arduino is proving to be too fun to fiddle with so I'm having a hard time getting around to the review.

I am a little confused as to why Johnny gave the book 8/10 here on Slashdot but 5/5 stars on Amazon with a similar worded review [amazon.com] . Does he add a Slashdot bias to his scores here?

I myself take a lot of heat when I review a book that has content which is already available online and I would have to question what this book offers in addition to Wiki information [alfresco.com] and the nicely formatted guides and manuals [formtek.com] . I also downloaded the code examples from Packt and found a couple spreadsheets and a very sparse tomcat file tree. Wish the reviewer would have commented on this stuff.

Typical open source failure (1)

jabberw0k (62554) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074632)

I love free software, but the Alfresco site is a typical failure. There is no explanation anywhere of: If you are a business owner, here's what Alfresco does for you... Instead I am bombarded with buzzwords. I just want to know what it does, people... how else are you going to win customers?

Re:No, Reviewed by Johnny Gee (1)

berashith (222128) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074820)

It seems a lot of Packt reviews mention the facts that you mention ... the information is often available already, and is just reformatting and pretending that there is new information being published. I was just being cynical because the usual gaps weren't mentioned and the rating was just too high for me to believe.

Book Review: Alfresco Blpstkapth Freemjaboodinal (1)

zooblethorpe (686757) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074368)

At least, that's rather what this review read like to me.

Can we make it part of the FAQ that there are some rules for writers of book reviews? On second thought, we only need one rule:

  1. Don't assume the reader knows what the !@#$%^& you're talking about.

Indeed. What's this stuff about the DoD? What's the big deal about RM? Just reading "records management" makes me think it's about a database, which is kind of old hat. Or is it about record retention rules and auto-expiring data? I dunno.

tldr

(too long and confusing; didn't read)

Cheers,

Slashcode... (1)

zooblethorpe (686757) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074550)

That was supposed to be tl&c;dr.

Re:Rules for Book Reviews (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36074390)

Not all books are for beginners. If there are a lot of words, acronyms, phrases, etc... you don't get, it may just be you don't have the right background for this book. However, that is not the case here.

This is obviously just an advertisement. The review being a template filled in by some cheap labor that mostly likely cut and pasted in some passages that they themselves do not understand.

Re:Rules for Book Reviews (1)

CarsonChittom (2025388) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074516)

Also, can we fix Slashdot so that ordered lists actually work?

Even if it's a shill (1)

jabberw0k (62554) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074574)

Indeed. Instead of writing, "The author begins by introducing ____ in layman's terms..." I might actually be interested in the book if you told ME what this is, instead of telling me that the book tells me what it is. Why should I be interested in this book? I haven't a clue what it is even about.

STOP WITH THE PACKT SHIT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36074152)

Are there really no other books in the world worth reviewing besides something from Packt? Can't we get reviews of some O'Reilly books or something ot mix it up? It's like 95% of book reviews these days are Packt and then amongst those it's almost 50% for old versions of Drupal.

Can we RM this review? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36074244)

I don't think it needs to be retained.

Sounds interesting (1)

chebucto (992517) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074298)

I've been looking for some kind of records management system, off and on, for a few months now. I'm in a small company (most of our work is in writing technical reports), but we regularly have shared projects that have dozens of static & versioned files associated with them. I don't really know what I'm looking for, but I expect it will track changes (keep multiple versions of the same file), allow for comments on changes, and be relatively painless to use on a day-to-day basis.

The review was good to see but a little hard to parse for a neophyte. Does anyone have advice re: software I should look at, or questions I should ask?

Re:Sounds interesting (1)

Keruo (771880) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074428)

How about SVN?
It's not really intended to be used with binary files, but it works with them.
You can keep multiple versions, track changes, insert comments on changes and it has multiple nice end user clients available.

I've tried to implement alfresco couple of times to do that kind of things, but honestly its simply too much hassle to configure to get running.
The alfresco share concept is nice, but it doesn't work properly with windows 7 unless you force it to use degraded share security levels.

Re:Sounds interesting (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074830)

How about SVN?

Did that for a few years, switched to GIT. Much better handling of file renames. Also decentralized means you keep working when disconnected, and every clone is kinda a backup. I like having many backups.

Disadvantage is some of its system concepts mystify some smart programmers, so you can expect absolute chaos from the middle and left edge of the bell curve. Expect to see funny things like people embedding dates into filenames inside a VCS, people asking you to destroy historical commits to cover things up, etc.

Re:Sounds interesting (1)

eat bugs (529223) | more than 3 years ago | (#36075154)

Why don't look at Apache's jackrabbit ( http://jackrabbit.apache.com/ [apache.com] )? Afresco costs money and it does necessarily any better than Jackrabbit on what you needs. You may also find http://jackrabbit.elookinto.com/ [elookinto.com] useful.

Re:Sounds interesting (1)

jeffasselin (566598) | more than 3 years ago | (#36076774)

Alfresco's Community version is free. It's not updated quite as often, and can be a bit of a pain to setup, but it's free.

Re:Sounds interesting (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#36082468)

Alfresco's Community version is free. It's not updated quite as often, and can be a bit of a pain to setup, but it's free.

Why would this matter to an Enterprise level organisation?

Re:Sounds interesting (1)

RicRoc (41406) | more than 3 years ago | (#36076290)

Definitely take a look at the Alfresco Community Edition, which is free but without support: http://wiki.alfresco.com/wiki/Download_and_Install_Alfresco [alfresco.com]
Just install it and try it out, it's an easy install and quick to learn, but full of the options used in enterprise document management systems that you can master when you need them. We use the Share interface to manage the documents in each of our projects.

Re:Sounds interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36078550)

SharePoint Foundation!!

Re:Sounds interesting (1)

nusuth (520833) | more than 3 years ago | (#36080330)

Alfresco community edition is good enough. I have been using it for two years now and after initial hair loss, it is painless.

Interesting topic (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074748)

The author begins by introducing RM in layman's terms,

That would have been a more interesting topic than the review itself.

Sometimes I think /. reviewers select the most esoteric thing they can find, just to annoy us. VLM is here to review "Narrative of the Surveying Voyage of H.M.S. Fly During the Years 1842–1846" by Joseph Beete Jukes published by Cambridge University Press. That might actually be more interesting, if you like historical scientific travelogs, anyway...

Given an article about RM in general, or an ask /. that coincidentally happened to plug this book, yeah THEN once the desire is kindled, maybe I'd buy.

You gotta market to build the desire, before you market to establish superiority in that field. In this case, superiority in ... what exactly? This review implies the book might be the market leader in its market, too bad its in a market no one has heard of or pays attention to.

Re:Interesting topic (1)

Walking The Walk (1003312) | more than 3 years ago | (#36074934)

Sometimes I think /. reviewers select the most esoteric thing they can find

I suppose that depends on your perspective. Record Management / Document Management has been really big with enterprises and big government for the past decade. It's about storing and tracking information, and previous versions of that information, for as long as is legally required. Think Sarbanes–Oxley [wikipedia.org] , or google Data Retention Policy for more examples. It's not just the Americans either - the government of Canada uses a customized product to store any information (documents, powerpoints, spreadsheets, emails) that might ever be the subject of an Access to Information Request.

Alfresco: 3 Records Management: 20 (2)

Xaroth (67516) | more than 3 years ago | (#36075740)

Thanks to the new feature listing the number of posts directly after the story title, I had some trouble parsing this entry. For a moment, I was worried that sports had somehow infected our site, like:

Alfresco: 3 Records Management: 20
Records Management: 7 Manchester United: 4

missing info on Alfresco (4, Informative)

xeno (2667) | more than 3 years ago | (#36076676)

Instead of bitching and moaning about tfa being incomprehensible to laymen, I give you The Missing Backgrounder(tm) on Alfresco:
**Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Alfresco other than having implemented a few revs of the open Community version.

What is Alfresco? What does it do?
At its core, Alfresco is an enterprise document management system (EDMS, also sometimes called “content management”). This means it lets multiple users store and share files, using what appears to be a “shared network drive” or “sharepoint-like web site.” It keeps those files organized in folders and controls permissions to folders and content. Unlike file shares or workgroup sharing systems, however, an EDMS does a few important things:
- It keeps track of versions of all files (“content”), meaning that if you or someone else overwrites the file with a new version, you can retrieve the old versions in sequential order, unless you specifically delete them. Want to search for and get the version of a file from December 15 last year, that’s been updated a dozen times since? This function is for you.
- It can keep track of file configurations (configuration control), which means you can keep “snapshots” of an entire folder structure and the current versions of all the files in the folder at a given time. Want to manage a 500-document corporate SEC filing, or a whole website, and restore its exact configuration -- with all its specific html, css, jpg/png, and linked pdf and doc files -- as of a particular date last June? This function is for you.
- It provides workflow functions without programming. For example, if you can draw a flowchart, you can use a Visio-like function in a good EDMS to draw and run a business process that requires actions on documents and decisions by people. These processes can be as simple as approval of a document, or as complex as multi-path quality control review processes with timing requirements, release by voting (i.e. when 51% of reviewers on a list respond, withdraw the requests from the remaining and proceed to the next workflow step).
- It stores metadata about each file, folder structure, workflows, and project-like collections of other objects. This metadata can be used and customized for things like RECORDS MANAGEMENT (because your .doc files don’t store data about how long they should be kept and when to be destroyed), compliance and audit (some files have special data or need chain of custody requirements), etc etc.
---------------------->>> HIGHLIGHT PROVIDED FOR PERSPECTIVE ON THE BOOK REVIEW....--------^^^^^^^^.

Is it any good? Can it handle an enterprise-scale implementation?
Absolutely. I’m a veteran of multiple mid-size (10k users) implementations of Documentum and Opentext Livelink, and Alfresco is a serious top-tier product. There are all-in-one downloads that include a dedicated DBMS, good for testing, live workgroup setups, and limited pilots of larger implementations. There are also downloadable packages for multiple platforms (win/lin/osx) and dedicated enterprise DB configurations. In my own experience, the difficulty level for installation was on par with other enterprise systems, and in use with a mid-size user base the extensibility and reliability was excellent.

Where did it come from? How does it compare to other EDMS systems?
Alfresco was basically a fork/rewrite of Documentum, one of the major decades-old players in the EDMS field, after a large group of execs and techs split off from Documentum/EMC and decided to go with an open-source model. The other major player is Opentext Livelink.
- Documentum is the Mercedes of the field, and has been the largest player in EDMS by revenue for many years. Originally a traditional client-server product, they’ve had a good web interface and stable API for a decade. Their main selling point is rock-solid reliability. Their core market has been pharmaceuticals, and a typical usage scenario is a client using EDMS to track correct versions of 500,000 pages of documentation for each drug submitted to the FDA for approval. Alfresco is as good or almost as good, and free.
- Opentext’s Livelink is/was the Cadillac of the EDMS world, and for many years was the largest EDMS player by number of seats. (Not sure how they stack up now.) While much cheaper than Documentum per seat, Livelink’s main selling point has been flexibility and security, and the end cost is often the same. Livelink was developed by Odesta in the 90’s and purchased by Opentext, back when Opentext was mainly known as a search company (in the AltaVista era). Livelink has been significantly revamped in its codebase over ~20 years, and was the first to offer web-based Visio-like drawing of workflow, with no programming necessary. Imho, LiveLink’s relatively clean n-tier architecture is the reason it’s strongly favored in large-scale security evaluations. Alfresco is as good or almost as good, and free.
- SharePoint is the dime bag of this league and not a serious player, despite a glut of bundled licenses and certain claims to the contrary. For perspective, SharePoint is basically a set of heavily-modified old FrontPage extensions that can use an enterprise-level database to help track files. However, it’s got a weak security model highly inappropriate for edge deployments, and in order to do anything interesting in SharePoint, you still need a gaggle of .NET programmers and a significant security admin budget. For example, it relies heavily on MSOffice file features (such as track-changes) for some simple things like incremental versioning, so you're SOL for other content. While it’s possible to build SharePoint systems with a large document DB and large userbases with decent security, it’s hard and expensive. Experience tells us that SharePoint lacks essential features, requires vastly more admin resources per user to run than enterprise EDMS products, tends to be very difficult to secure, and often ends up costing more in the long run. Alfresco is a better product, and free.

Is it really free/open source?
Yup. See here: http://www.alfresco.com/try/
Implement for free. Make sure it works for you. Then buy enterprise support if it’s appropriate for your usage patterns. It may end up costing as much as an EDMS, but IMHO it’s a lot lower biz risk for customers.

Hope this is of help. It works well for me, but ymmv.
-J

Paid review (1)

freedumb2000 (966222) | more than 3 years ago | (#36077490)

This is again is a review by one of those paid review Services, judging by the tone.

please, no more Packt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36079860)

Read on for the rest of ecmguru's review.

I can see that it's published by Packt, so why bother? It's crap by definition [slashdot.org] , as discussed last time they reviewertised here.

Sigh. Can Slashdot be sold again? Maybe with new ownership...

Chocolae teapot or this review (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#36081948)

Hard to know which is more useless.
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