Alfresco Enterprise Content Management – Author Interview

9 min read


Hello Munwar. Thank you for taking time off your busy schedule to answer some of our questions.

1.      From specializing in Digital Electronics and Advanced Communications to authoring Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Implementation – talk us through the journey!

Though I completed my masters in digital electronics, my work has been always with software engineering. I worked as the chief architect and manager of engineering teams for 15 years in the areas of system software and Internet applications for customers in the United States, Japan, Germany, and India.

For the past ten years, I have been implementing various content management systems. I started with multi-million dollar implementations of proprietary software and faced all kinds of challenges including vendor lock-in, rigid code base and expensive upgrades. I co-founded CIGNEX in 2000 with an idea of making open source work for the enterprises. Since then, we have successfully delivered more than 50 CMS applications using various open source technologies and got featured in IDC.

Unlike most other open source CMS which offered only the web content management, Alfresco provided a wide range of solutions to Enterprise customers with an impressive roadmap. This excited us a lot and we started implementing Alfresco in many enterprises. As part of our implementation we also train our customers so that they are equipped with all the information required to manage their systems. I have trained many users, administrators, and developers in Alfresco.  I decided to author a book on Alfresco, based on the requests I have received from David Barnes of Packt Publishing and John Powell, CEO of Alfresco.


2.      How is Alfresco different from Documentum and some other Enterprise Content Management systems? What does the Alfresco team mean when they say that Alfresco aspires to be “Documentum fast and free”?

Alfresco is unique and different. It is the first new Enterprise Content Management system built in over five years, based on open source and open standards. There are literally hundreds of open source content management systems on the market, but none address the requirement of enterprises small, medium and large to manage, share, control and reuse content across the company.

Alfresco is different when compared to other ECM systems with the following specification:

  • Enterprise features (scalability, security and failsafe plus the power to manage any form of unstructured
    data not just web content)
  • Super fast
  • Simple (to install, to use, to customize)
  • With low costs

John Newton who is the co-founder of Alfresco, was the co-founder of Documentum who knows this space pretty well.  His goal is to build a real Open Source ECMS that is 10 times faster and free.  I think he and his team achieved the goal pretty successfully. 

3.      Tell us something about CIGNEX and Mike Walker and their contributions towards writing of the book.

CIGNEX is the leading provider of open source Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions for businesses and government agencies. 
Mike is the Vice President, in-charge of consulting at CIGNEX.  His organization is among the very first to successfully deliver ECM projects using Alfresco. Our consulting team at CIGNEX presented me the various flavors of Alfresco implementations that I would not have possible imagined, with real-life examples as they work on the Production projects. Mike (reviewer of the book) made sure that the information in the book is relevant to someone who is seriously considering Alfresco to deploy an ECM application.

Starting from our CEO, Navin to a developer at CIGNEX, everyone contributed to the book one way or the other. My sales and presales team at CIGNEX, Amit, Candace, Harish, and Jarred helped me understand what customers are looking at.  I have learnt a lot through numerous discussions with them. I am thankful to my team at CIGNEX.


4.      At CIGNEX you have trained many users, administrators, and developers in Alfresco. How much has training helped you in writing this book?

In June 2006, I have spent significant time creating Alfresco training for Users and Administrators. The training material had about 325 PAGES and 48 LAB EXERCISES, covering the latest features of Alfresco. I have got a good feedback from the attendees and over a period of time the quality of the training material improved.

Thanks to Dr. Paul Holmes-Higgin (VP of Engineering, Alfresco) for his idea of running Portable Alfresco on a USB Drive.  I created and delivered the training material in a keychain (1 GB USB drive) which attracted many attendees as they do not have to install it on their computers.

Training also helped me to define my writing style. I started by showing the reader how to do something – a step-by-step example. I explained how that process worked. Then, I explained what other options are available, and how they fit into the overall picture. I hope this helps the reader “generalize” from this example.

Now, at CIGNEX we offer 4 various training programs in Alfresco
(a) Foundation training for the beginners (b) Developer training
(c) Workflow and Customization and (d) Web Content Management


5.      John Powell, CEO Alfresco has written a foreword acknowledging your book. Were you in touch with the engineers and developers at Alfresco during the writing of this book?

John Powell was kind enough to write a foreword for this book. Everyone who read it enjoyed it. You must read it to know how big minds (John Powell-CEO and John Newton-CTO of Alfresco) think and create world’s most successful companies.

The good decision I made when I started writing the book during August 2006 is to work on the upcoming version of Alfresco (1.4 then).  This requires significant amount of understanding of the upcoming features which are not completely documented (as the Alfresco engineering team was developing it).  Thanks to Alfresco team who helped me getting the documentation and updating the Alfresco wiki.

Alfresco released 2.0 beta recently with web content management features.  Due to the extra care we took in planning the book, the content of the book is relevant to the recent latest release.


6.      Who is the book aimed at?

This book is designed for content managers, system administrators or developers who want to install and use Alfresco in their teams or businesses. Because Alfresco is free many teams can install and experiment with its ECM features without any upfront cost, often without management approval.

This book also aimed at business users to make decisions to migrate from the existing proprietary ECM to standards based open source ECM.

This book is particularly suitable for IT consultants who want or need to set up a flexible enterprise content management system for their clients, be that for demonstration, development, or as a mission-critical platform. This book gets you to that result quickly and effectively.


7.      Which chapter of the book did you enjoy writing the most? Which one do you think is most exciting?

I enjoyed writing all the chapters and the most exciting one is Chapter 13, Implementing Imaging and Forms processing.

This chapter helps you to implement an end-to-end solution by collecting the paper documents, and forms; transforming them into accurate, retrievable information; and delivered into an organization’s business applications. The information then, is full-text searchable, and goes through the various approval workflows, based on the organization’s defined business process management.

By the end of this chapter you will have learned how to:

  • Connect scanner to network drive, and map it to the Alfresco’s space
  • Specify a business rule to automatically extract metadata from the scanned document
  • Define and execute a workflow process for scanned documents
  • Bulk upload scanned documents into the Alfresco repository
  • Integrate OCR utilities such as Kofax and eCopy into Alfresco

This chapter provides solutions closer to your business requirements such as Order fulfillment, Claims processing, Underwriting, Loan origination, Contracts management, Accounts payable managing checks and invoices.


8.      Can you install Alfresco both on Windows as well as Linux Operating Systems? Have you explained the installation techniques in the book?

You can install Alfresco both on Windows as well as Linux operating systems.  You can install Alfresco to use a wide range of databases such as Oracle, MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server.  You can install on variety of application servers such as Tomcat, JBoss.

I have dedicated a chapter (Chapter 2. Installation) and included the information about the architecture, various installation options, and the key terminologies used. By reading this chapter you will be well equipped with the information to make a choice on the suitable operating system, database, application server, and other software required for your installation.


9.      In Chapter 3: Planning, you talk about Follow Best Practices to implement a project using open-source software. Give us a sneak preview about it.

Most of the Enterprise Content Management projects fail not because of technology, but because of lack of proper planning.

Planning is the most critical phase of any implementation project. During this phase, most of the decisions are made to customize specific features in a particular way. You define the security framework, custom-content types, folder structure, categories, workflow, reporting, business rules, and collaboration. During planning phase, you will scope your implementation, prioritize the requirements, and finalize the project plan. This chapter provides you information required for your planning exercise before implementing your system using Alfresco.


10.  Can you explain in brief Roles in Alfresco and its importance?

Alfresco security model is flexible and allows you to choose either built-in security or external security model defined by your organization via systems such as LDAP and Active Directory.  The following is the list of default roles supported out-of-the-box by Alfresco:

  • Consumer: Read spaces and content
  • Editor: Consumer + edit existing content
  • Contributor: Consumer + add new content
  • Collaborator: Editor + Contributor
  • Coordinator: Full Control

Apart from knowing the roles, the most important thing to know is the methods to extend the security model and to provide effective collaborative spaces.  There is a full chapter in the book dedicated to this Security Model.


11.  When can we expect yet another book from Munwar Shariff?

 This is my second book. My first book is Plonelive, a python-based open source content management system called Plone. When I was writing Plonelive, I never imagined that I am going to write another book.  Book writing is a very involved exercise and requires a lot of discipline.

I have a full-time job as a CTO and VP of Business Development at CIGNEX and I have two kids at home with whom I spend lot of time.  I am also contributing to the book’s blog site

Whenever we (as a company) feel there is big need for “documentation” for a specific open source content management system or an open source enterprise portal, we might consider writing a book. I never know when that is going to happen.

Thanks Munwar! I would also take this opportunity to congratulate you on the release of Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Implementation.



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