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Book Review: Alfresco 3 Records Management 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.
Alfresco 3 Records Management
author Dick Weisinger
pages 488
publisher Packt
rating 8/10
reviewer ecmguru
ISBN 1849514364
summary Provides a good mix of records management concepts and technical details for developers
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.

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Book Review: Alfresco 3 Records Management

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  • by xeno ( 2667 ) on Monday May 09, 2011 @05:53PM (#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 h

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