Alfresco is best known for large-scale content management, document syncing, and collaboration inside the enterprise. While Alfresco offers Android and iPhone apps, I spent some time using Alfresco Mobile on an iPad with Alfresco in the cloud.
Unlike many platform providers these days, Alfresco prefers to call themselves a “BYOD enabler” rather than a platform play. This plays well to the company’s open source and workflow roots. They have customers who use their product right out the box and others that spend a great deal of time customizing a solution to meet their requirements.
Alfresco in the cloud offers 10GB of storage space for free, so it’s easy to test their solution right out of the gate. They also offer an on-premise solution of Alfresco. If you don’t have a solution in place for securing corporate documents and collaboration for BYOD users, sometimes an out-of-the-box solution is the way to go in terms of how you invest your time and resources (at least in the initial stages of a BYOD initiative).
The intriguing point about the Alfresco cloud and on-premise solution is that you can use a hybrid-syncing model, where your documents and data residing in your on-premise Alfresco can sync to Alfresco in the cloud. Your BYOD users could have full access to Alfresco in the cloud without ever having to enter your firewall.
Using Alfresco Mobile
After writing about Harmon.ie for BYOD and top SharePoint apps for the iPad, I like what I saw in the Alfresco app in terms of usability. In fact, the more I tested Alfresco Mobile, the more I saw it as a robust competitor. Accessing Alfresco in the cloud felt speedy over Wi-Fi and LTE. If your organization is cursed with a poor SharePoint implementation, then that makes Alfresco an even more appealing cloud choice. Figure A shows Alfresco Mobile open to an Alfresco site:
A site open in Alfresco Mobile.
Viewing and editing documents with Alfresco Mobile
Alfresco permits the syncing of your favorite documents for offline viewing and editing. This is a necessary feature for mobile workers and even commuters on public transit these days. Alfresco has a clean and uncomplicated implementation of syncing. Tap on the Star at the top right corner of the app, and you’re prompted almost immediately if you want to sync the open document to your iPad.
When your documents are offline, you can view and edit them with apps like Quickoffice HD. In fact, Alfresco supports the excellent Quickoffice Save Back function, which is a quick way to open, edit, and save documents back to Alfresco Mobile.
The Alfresco app supports the full range of Microsoft Office file types, PDFs, videos, and images (Figure B shows a document open natively in Alfresco Mobile). Unless you have CAD drawings or something in an obscure format, you’ll be fine.
A document open in Alfresco Mobile.
Depending on security privileges, your BYOD users could have access to multiple sites and Alfresco repositories. This type of control works well if you want to segregate BYOD users out of a particular Alfresco site.
With Alfresco Mobile, you also have tools for viewing document metadata. You can view dates, authors, and even map locations of geotagged photos (Figure C). While metadata may not be important to every organization, if you support BYOD users who need this feature, then Alfresco is a strong contender in this area.
Metadata in Alfresco Mobile.
Collaboration and mobile community
The security and design of Alfresco Mobile makes for easy-to-use document workflow. There’s an activity feed from collaborators with links to updated documents that should be easy enough for even novice users to follow and interact with each other. This can help lay the foundation of a mobile community for your BYOD users. I’m personally intrigued about the potential of Alfresco and Alfresco Mobile as tools for feedback about BYOD policies and procedures.
With Alfresco Mobile, you can also create a task or send documents to another Alfresco user for review and approval (Figure D).
Review documents using Alfresco Mobile.
Alfresco and security
Since Alfresco Mobile and Alfresco in the cloud can be out-of-the-box solutions, it helps that the app is easy yet secure for end users. If you’re already an Alfresco shop, your users can use their existing Alfresco credentials to login from their iPads. Optionally, the app can be setup to save your password or to authenticate the users for each session they initiate.
BYOD users can exchange data with Alfresco in the cloud over HTTPS. Depending on the version of Alfresco, data protection uses AES-256 encryption.
Alfresco for BYOD
When I was first approached by Alfresco for a briefing, I was a bit skeptical, because my previous experience with them was as a large-scale enterprise content management system during a contract earlier in my technical writing career. However, Alfresco takes the best of their enterprise knowledge into a mobile solution that’s surprisingly secure and robust for managing corporate content access by BYOD users.
Does your organization use Alfresco Mobile? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
TechRepublic and ZDNet delve deeper into this topic in a special report page: BYOD and the Consumerization of IT.