“We are focused on large enterprises as the CIOs are ready for ECM”

Vivek Pai, Country Head-India, Alfresco

Tell us about Alfresco.

Alfresco is now an 8-year-old company. It was formed in 2005 by 2 people, ie, John Powell and John Newton. John Newton founded another ECM company called Documentum which was leading ECM provider in the early 2000 and John Powell was the COO of Business Objects before it became a SAP company and Documentum before it became an EMC company.

So, EMC acquired Documentum. So both the Johns, who have a very solid heritage in the enterprise space came together to form Alfresco in 2005. We are privately held, we have not gone public yet. We are A UK based British company; we are based out of a place called Madden Head which is where all IT startups are located.

We also have our US operations and Asia Pacific operation. In the Asia Pacific region we are based in Australia, India and Japan. We are currently present in 180 countries in 8 years, we have 3,000 enterprise customers and our business model is commercial open source.

We are a much smaller company than the EMCs and the Documentums of the world but we are a company which sells only to large enterprises as these companies have a lot of content to manage. The main sectors are public and natural services sector as these two sectors have the most content and documents.

In India, we have been there since 2010. We have about 50 large enterprise customers in India. We are a partner centric organization; we work very closely with our large system integrators. Our SIs are TCS, Mahindra Satyam, and Accenture.

What are the changes you are witnessing in the enterprise content scene?


Today enterprises are evolving. Gone are the days when a person believed  everything behind the firewall is my enterprise, that’s no more there. The other change that we are seeing is around mobility. You have people now accessing content on any devices and hence there is a social angle to it. In the past, you and I worked on Microsoft, Adobe, Excel, Powerpoint etc. so that content was defined. That content is now changing because now people have mobile devices for taking pictures; they are uploading videos so the content type has changed. It’s no more about the traditional document, now it’s about videos and pictures. When you look at videos and pictures, the context around that is also important.

For example, if I was a insurance company and I was doing general insurance for automobile and there is an accident claim that comes up and I have been to the accident sight, taken a picture of the damaged vehicle and because most cameras today have geo tagging capability so the context around that picture is that it was taken in that surrounding at that timing and if I am allowed to write a comment on that picture, that was the context on that picture.

Now if you want that context to start travelling with that picture, you need life-cycle wherever it goes ..it might go through the insurance claim process where whatever comments that insurance claim person may put has to travel.In the olden days we used to call it metadata for documents, now it’s the context around the videos and pictures.

The other thing I would like to focus on is that everybody likes to like content so you are somebody who is very senior in the company and I am a new hire and I am following you within the enterprise and when you upload content I want to know what that content is and I like it then that content becomes referral which mean you can now start looking at that content on popularity rating. So there is a lot of relevance to that content now.

Lastly, the IT infrastructure is changing because when we started working ther was PC’s and servers and everything was behind the firewall. Today there is 3G servers and there is cloud and cloud is here to stay as much as you want to argue that its old wine in new bottle. The fact is there will always be the collective stuff within the server and firewall within the enterprise. There could be a private cloud or a public cloud which is on an Amazon cloud but the fact is that all three will co-exist and you need to start having all of it managed.

So, how does Alfresco help manage all this?

We also have Alfresco in the cloud so as an enterprise you can start transferring your content on the cloud and allow people outside your enterprise to come and collaborate on that content, get that content back and once the work is done remove it.

I can wipe off all that information which is on the cloud so the content stays with me on the enterprise. I gave the capability to the user to collaborate outside the enterprise but the rights remain with me. We are the modern ECM not the legacy ECM player, the future of ECM.

So if you look at what Gartner is saying, Gartner is saying that cloud is going to be a reality from 2014-15 and the new thing is hybrid ECM, which means I will have a content management solution inside the firewall and in the cloud, those will talk to each other.

Now if you talk to OpenText and Documentum, their traditional old architecture does not allow them to do this. They were built for traditional ECM when everything was behind the firewall, converting papers to digital format that is the traditional practice.

In India, there might be many challenges that a CIO faces before he says this is fine for me. How do you convince him?

A lot of it is awareness building, if you talk to any of the firms then they will tell you that every company today has invested in some or the other of enterprise content management solution.

It’s a very mature market and has been there for 20 years. You can’t go to a bank ask if they need an enterprise content management solution, they already have one. Sharepoint has ad hoc collaboration capabilities which are a privilege for large enterprises.

So there is the ECM vendor, Documentum, FileNet or OpenText then you have SharePoint and now comes Alfresco as the third option. Companies today will have minimum two ECM providers or maximum even 3. But what use cases each of these solution provides is going to be different.

We don’t get into a situation and tell the customer – “indicate what you have”; what we tell the customer is continue with what you have. So if a pharma company is using Documentum for their FDI regulations in R&D division continue to use it but use Alfresco for the newer use cases and we will co-exist with whatever you have within your enterprise. So we come in with a solution that we will collaborate and work with what you have.

Our success comes from the fact that you have companies who have these issues, who have people who are bringing their own mobile devices, who have a supply chain more outside their enterprise. They have to collaborate outside their enterprise as they don’t have a choice. They have to be competitive and for them to win customers they have to let people outside work with them.

For example, if you are a retail company, your content is not Microsoft word and powerpoint, excel sheet, only. Videos and pictures is a part of your content and this content type has to be managed. Your traditional ECM is not able to do that for you.

If we go by use cases, there are some industries that don’t recognize that this is a pain area so it’s hard to go and give them this value proposition because for us it’s unlocking that value.

We don’t go and say OpenText has 10 features, we have 15 features that’s why you need to choose us, that’s not our thing. We look at what is the content problem you are trying to solve that Alfresco is best quipped to solve.

So are there any technical problems that arise while co-existing with the other providers?

We don’t have a problem because we are a open platform, unless there is some very strong proprietary technology that doesn’t want to talk to us but that is also not a problem anymore because all the large vendors have now arrived at a common standard of content interoperability which is called CMIS Content Management Interoperability Standard.

That is a global standard, we were the one who pioneered for it and pushed harder and made most contribution to that standard but that standard now is adopted by Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, OpenText everybody.

Everybody now conforms to that standard. So for example Sharepoint and we collaborate completely. So we don’t go into an account and say will it be Sharepoint or will it be Alfresco. Share point has its own uses, Alfresco has its own use case; which perhaps Sharepoint is not best suited to do.We are working with customers to now be referred.

What are your plans now, what about tie-ups?
We are focused on large enterprises as the CIOs are ready to plunge in this center. We are focused on natural services sector and public sector. In the financial services sector MasterCard, E-trade, BNP Paribas are large customers for us. We also have a company (client) in the IT space and they will use us for their legal division. India based customers are on our list to be referred soon.

We have tied up with Salesforce. Salesforce users have the opportunity to use Alfresco on the cloud as the back-end repository. We have tied up with other solution providers who do something that we don’t do but are the best at what they do. For eg Co Fax, largest scanning and capture solution provider. We integrate with SAP, Microsoft on email and exchange, Sharepoint etc.



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