Alfresco 3 Records Management – Book Review

April 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Posted in Book Reviews | Leave a comment
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Packt Publishing sent me a review copy of Alfresco 3 Records Management, one of a number of recently published Alfresco books. Since I’ve previously worked on a large RM project plus I’ve also been on the periphery of a number of RM efforts I was interested to see what Alfresco had to offer.

Chapter 1 starts of with a good primer on Records Management generally. The book is aimed at Records Managers, Business Analysts and Software Developers and I think it covers the ground pretty well. Chapter 2 gives you a quick start on installing an Alfresco instance and I was able to follow the text and install a development system in less than 30 minutes just by following the text.

Chapters 3 and 4 cover some of the core Alfresco concepts such as the metadata model and the Share action and then chapter 5 onwards covers RM specific topics such as File Plan, Disposition, Filing and so on. Most of these chapters follow a standard format of introducing the RM concepts, show you how to perform or action the concept in Alfresco and finally a ‘How it works’ section takes a deep technical dive into the internals of a part of Alfresco. The ‘How it works’ sections in particular are very impressive, providing you not only with code details showing how something is implemented but also showing you where in the installation to look for code to customise. The author shows real understanding of the issues involved in understanding and customising applications. If you want to see for yourself Packt have a sample chapter for download.

Chapter 5 (File Plans) is where the weak points of this book show up. The File Plan, and the assumptions that it embodies, are among the most contentious in the business of record management. There are all sorts of issues you come across in RM projects such as the fact that different terminology might be used in different parts of the business, not everyone agrees on what is important, the lack of flexibility of typical taxonomies, the need for many documents to be findable in more than one place. The issues are well covered in a Joining the Dots post. It’s pretty clear that Alfresco Records Management takes the very specific DoD 5015.2 approach to RM. This is actually a pretty constricting feature set and the author simply tells you how to do things the DoD-way.

If you are looking for a book on how to ‘do’ Records Management then this is not it. It’s about a particular software solution, one that buys whole-heartedly into DoD 5015.2. If you understand exactly what you are trying to achieve with a Records Management solution and know where you stand with regards to DoD 5015.2 then this book will help you mould a powerful open source product to your needs. On the other hand if you don’t know what DoD 5015.2 is or you think it’s a good thing because it’s ‘best practice’ then this book can’t help you. Chances are you are going to end up as another failed Records Management project and will probably blame the software.

So given my Book Review Rating scheme how should I rate this book? It’s a big book (488 pages) and around 150 pages are dedicated to hard-core Alfresco internals. These are excellent and in addition some of the more technical chapters such as Ch 7 Filing Records have great pieces like ‘Troubleshooting CIFS’. If you really want to get the inside track on Alfresco (and not necessarily just for the Records Management piece) then this really is the book you need. However when it comes to stepping outside of the technicals the book is more perfunctory and in places (e.g. in the File Plan section) less than needed. I got the sense that what the author wanted to write and was really passionate about was the technical details of how Alfreso worked.

Editorial note – in the eBook (at least) all diagrams are mono-chromatic. References to ‘The red circle with a white bar…’ don’t help, this should have been picked up by the editors.

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Book Review – Documentum Content Management Foundations (Pawan Kumar)

September 12, 2007 at 8:56 am | Posted in Book Reviews | 4 Comments

I was very pleased to see that Packt Publishing have started producing Documentum books (they also have released ‘Web Content Management with Documentum’). There really is a crying need for good quality Documentum books to help explain what is often a complicated suite of products.

This book is styled as a Study Guide for ‘EMC Proven Professional Certification Exam E20-120’. In addition it is intended to act as ‘a handy guide and a quick reference’ to the technical fundamentals of Documentum. So how well does it achieve these goals?

The book follows a typical certification exam study guide format of each chapter starting with text explaining concepts followed by typical test questions. The text is highly readable and is accompanied by clear and useful diagrams. At the end of the book there are 2 Practice tests that cover all the material (answers to these tests and the chapter tests are provided at the end of the book). My impression was that the questions are well thought out and effectively tested understanding of the concepts. The only improvement here would be to have even more test questions. Actually Pawan also maintains a website (http://www.dmcram.org) where further test questions can be found along with tips and resources to support the book.

Occasionally I thought that it would be useful to have more worked examples. For example object security in Documentum is reasonably complicated when first encountered and a wider range of example scenarios would help to make the subject matter stick. One area that doesn’t seem to be covered at all is Jobs and Methods. I would be surprised if this wasn’t tested at all in the exam and someone using just this book would be underprepared in this area.

Most of the technical information in the book seems to be accurate and I was certainly surprised by how many little details I didn’t know (e.g. the rather confusing way Documentum numbers branched versions). There is one major error in chapter 4 which looks at the Architecture of a Documentum system and how the components interact. The fundamental communication pattern describes DFC on the client communicating with DFC on the Content Server. This is just wrong – there is no server-side DFC involved. Yes, DFC will be installed on the Content Server but it is there for clients running on the server. If you removed DFC from the Content Server, remote DFC clients would still work in the same way. Even more confusingly the diagram that accompanies the description shows a communication pattern involving both DMCL and DFC on the Content Server. Perhaps it is best to refer to my description of the Communication Pattern. However this was the only significant error I found.

[Update 13 Sept 2007: Pawan has pointed out that the book text is based on the diagram and description contained on p52-53 of the Documentum System Development Guide. That is certainly true. The only thing I can say is to repeat the following advice given to Cary Millsap by his father at the beginning of every school year

‘There are two answers to every question your teachers will ask you while you’re in school. There’s the correct answer, and there’s the answer that the teacher wants. I expect you to know them both.’

(taken from Optimizing Oracle Performance, Cary Millsap with Jeff Holt);]

All in all I would recommend this as a useful aid to someone studying for the exam. Well done to Pawan and Packt Publishing for producing this book; let’s hope that Packt will invest in a further improved and extended edition and indeed further Documentum books; and let’s hope that this encourages other publishers into the sector.

Update: you can check out any corrections or updates on the Packt Publishing site at http://www.packtpub.com/support

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