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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