Alfresco Software: Flying High in the Back Office

My colleague, Alan Pelz-Sharpe, and I spent time with Alfresco at its annual analyst event. The product updates and customer examples were interesting, and the talk turned downright compelling when CTO, founder and visionary, John Newton, took the stage to describe how AI will remake content and process automation, freeing workers who are mired in manual, semi-automated and poorly integrated systems.

Here’s what I gleaned from the presentations, break-out sessions and one-on-one discussions:

Applications versus platforms. When President and CEO, Bernadette Nixon, took the stage, she positioned Alfresco’s go-to-market strategy in two ways: 1) a platform for content, process, governance, and application development; and 2) a focus on four use cases for the insurance and government sectors:

o Citizen services

o Claims services automation

o Customer on boarding

o Predictive maintenance

At first glance, the emphasis on applications seems to mirror the track that OpenText is now pursuing (i.e., building applications in targeted industries in addition to a content and process platform) and the positioning that Pegasystems has finessed in customer service and CRM , in other words articulating the value of the platform through relatable use cases. However, Alfresco does not foresee this approach as a new revenue stream and instead plans to leverage these use cases for sales and proofs-of-concept. The company doesn’t plan to charge customers anything for their use. Think of these use cases as demo-ware; they are not packaged as process frameworks or process templates, much less COTS applications. Executives underscored that Alfresco is and will remain a platform company, full stop. Given Alfresco’s reliance on partners, this platform focus in lieu of application software is a good bet.

Business operations and operational excellence. For digital transformation, Alfresco is clearly targeting business operations in the back office. There’s nothing wrong with that strategy. However, if you want a vendor with deep expertise in automating processes that transform the customer experience, automate sales and marketing processes, and help with customer journey strategies, look elsewhere. When Alfresco targets prospects, it invariably mounts a back office sales effort and then tries to leapfrog deeper into other parts of the enterprise. Given that most enterprises’ back offices are swamps of outdated processes, old systems, brittle legacy applications, and manual work, this provides a great opportunity for Alfresco. As a result, the vendor has strong credentials in helping enterprises achieve operational excellence.

For example, take Jim Williams, the Head of Operations and Shared Services Technology at RBC Capital Markets. He heads operations that encompass trade confirmations, reconciliations, payments, clearance, tax processing, and transaction reporting. His team also manages the control technology to support the COO. Prior to automation, trade confirmation ran on many duplicated systems and lacked a common platform. To transform the back office, RBC sought a single, best-in-class business process/content system for template management, customer exchanges, regulatory archival, and integration with the tax system. By implementing Alfresco’s platform, RBC Capital Markets claims these benefits:

o Simplified the architecture by consolidating multiple workflows into a single instance across multiple geographies.

o Removed duplication in development and testing.

o Significantly reduced cost and increased productivity in system maintenance.

o Reduced risk.

o Achieved platform stability as compared to the former workflow applications.

o Bolstered innovation by enhancing reporting to improve tracking work volumes/KPI’s.

o Efficiently scaled to meet the requirements of a global business.

o Improved the user experience.

Maximizing Amazon AWS. Alfresco has a deep, well-established partnership with Amazon, as demonstrated by Alfresco’s architecture and a Q&A exchange this week with an Amazon executive. At Alfresco’s core, AWS provides a secure cloud services platform for computing, database, ML and storage. Alfresco is also placing its AI bet on Amazon by leveraging these products within Alfresco Intelligence Services:

o Amazon Comprehend (a natural language processing (NLP) service that uses machine learning to find insights and relationships in text)

o Amazon Rekognition (automatically identifies objects, people, text, scenes, and activities to support facial recognition)

o Amazon Textract (software that extracts data from documents and forms by detecting a document’s layout and the key elements on the page, understanding data relationships in embedded forms or tables, and extracting information with its context intact.

o Amazon Translate (a neural machine translation service that uses deep learning models rather than traditional statistical and rule-based translation algorithms.)

Building on Amazon frees Alfresco’s R&D resources and budget to focus on other functionality. When asked how concerned are Alfresco executives that Amazon will move deeper into the process and content services space, the short answer was that any company would be crazy to ignore competitive threats from Amazon, Google and Microsoft. But Alfresco execs said that IT organizations attempting to build content libraries and process automation exclusively on Amazon technologies (i.e. without Alfresco’s software) usually return to Alfresco in the long run because of technical issues, lack of development resources or a conclusion that buy versus build is a better approach for content and process automation.

New leadership. Alfresco clearly shows the impact that CEO Bernadette Nixon has made on the company. The company began to focus more on customers and on sales and marketing when she joined the firm as Chief Revenue Officer and the pace has accelerated since being promoted to the top position. Nixon has a strong business process and content management background and she is steering the ship toward finding prospects in specific verticals and use cases within those sectors. Until she arrived, the company had a heavy technology orientation; her focus has provided a better balance between engineering, and sales and marketing.

Alfresco deserves kudos for hiring and promoting female executives in leadership positions. Alfresco not only has a woman at the helm of the company but also employs Jennifer Smith as Chief Marketing and Culture Officer, Heather Guntrom as Customer Success Officer, and Brigid MacDonald as Chief People and Culture Officer. This more balanced approach in hiring, encouraging and promoting women executives provides inspiration for other women who aspire to become leaders in the IT industry, and should stand Alfresco in good stead with customers and prospects.

We recently interviewed the Alfresco CEO, you can hear the podcast here: Podcast

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