Alfresco Content Services is our pick for the best document management system for collaboration. The software is designed to facilitate teamwork on documents stored within the system. As much a content management platform as it is a document management system, Alfresco Content Services is ideal for teams that regularly create and update content, especially in a collaborative manner.
View all our recommendations for document management software on our best picks page.
One feature we especially liked is the system's custom workflow templates. These templates can be configured to establish standardized workflows that match the way your team works together, keeping documents organized and accessible to whichever team members need them at each point of the process. The system also makes creating and editing documents easy thanks to built-in integrations with Google Docs and Microsoft Office, combining already-familiar collaboration tools with its own workflow automation to help your team run more smoothly.
Alfresco Content Services is open-source software that is highly flexible by nature. It comes with many useful, pre-built integrations and can be further customized to suit your organization's specific needs. These aspects of Alfresco Content Services make it suitable for growing businesses and large companies, because it is inherently adaptable to many different needs and use cases.
Pricing and plans
Alfresco Content Services is part of a larger digital business platform. However, each module within the platform can be purchased individually, including its document management solution. Like most software applications we evaluated, Alfresco's price varies depending on the size of your organization and your specific requirements of the system, especially if you need to extend it to include additional capabilities.
Alfresco offers three different tiers:
- Starter edition: Supports up to 100 named users and offers business hours support. Includes support for Microsoft Outlook integration, records management and Salesforce CRM integration.
- Business edition: Supports up to 300 named users with the option to add more. Includes support for the same add-ons as the Starter edition, plus Alfresco's media management tool, document transformation engine and media transformation engine.
- Enterprise edition: Supports up to 1,000 named users with the option to add more. Includes support for the same add-ons as the Business edition as well as Alfresco's index engine and content encryption tools.
According to an Alfresco whitepaper, the cost of a system configured for 100 users includes a server and test server at a cost of $18,500 for the year, or roughly $15.50 per user per month. However, Alfresco notes that pricing is tailored on a case-by-case basis, so consider this price a baseline when determining whether Alfresco Content Services is right for your business.
Pros and Cons
Alfresco Content Services offers a flexible and adaptable architecture that can be tailored to meet any needs or integrate virtually any third-party application. Its collaboration tools and workflow automation functions are second to none. However, there is a slight learning curve associated with the program that users should be aware of.
- Highly customizable: Alfresco Content Services is open-source software, meaning the system is easily extended to include additional capabilities or to integrate virtually any third-party applications you might need.
- Collaboration tools: Alfresco's collaboration tools are its most prominent features, including integrations with Google Docs and Microsoft Office. It has an effective versioning tool and an audit log that tracks user activity and changes to documents.
- Workflow automation: You'll find robust workflow automation features with the software, including content capture approval and custom workflow processes that automate the assignment of certain tasks to specific team members or roles when certain criteria are triggered.
- Lack of transparent pricing: Alfresco Content Services does not publish its pricing on its website. Other document management companies we evaluated base their pricing on custom quotes as well but had other pricing tiers listed and were more forthcoming about their pricing. Since pricing varies from customer to customer, we viewed this as a minor inconvenience rather than deceptive marketing.
- Ease of use: Alfresco Content Services is not the easiest document management system to use. While the user interface is not the most intuitive and often takes some clicking around to complete tasks, the learning curve is not insurmountable. Once users become acquainted with the system, its strong arsenal of collaboration and workflow tools should pay off. However, be prepared for a slower-than-average adjustment period for new users.
- Focused on enterprise businesses: The smallest number of users this application supports is for 100 individuals, making it prohibitively expensive for most small businesses.
The pros, however, for Alfresco Content Services outweighs the cons, which are easily mitigated by contacting the company and training employees on how to properly use the software. Businesses seeking the best collaboration and content management tool in the document management space may want to put Alfresco Content Services at the top of their list.
You get a lot of features with Alfresco Content Services, especially when it comes to collaboration tools and workflow automation. It supports optical character recognition (OCR) and document imaging. Here's more about the best features the software offers:
- Imaging and OCR: Alfresco Content Services combines document imaging from your scanner with an OCR function that analyzes the text of any document you upload into the system. OCR allows for better categorization and organization of your documents within the system.
- Search: The search feature leverages the metadata tags and labels applied to your documents, both those generated by the OCR function and information entered by your team, to help you easily locate needed files. Search can be conducted by keywords, file names, document titles, descriptions and the date the file was uploaded.
- Versioning: Versioning keeps track of all changes to documents, as well as who made them, while retaining legacy versions of those documents for reference if needed. Alfresco's versioning feature creates a living timeline of active documents on the system, a must-have for teams that are churning out and updating content regularly.
- Permissions: Administrators can tailor permission settings to suit a user's specific role. Only users who require access to sensitive documents can see them. For example, an HR manager might require access to all employee contracts throughout the organization, while a manager only needs the information related to their own team.
- Collaboration tools: Alfresco Content Services makes content creation in a collaborative setting easy. With integrations to Google Docs and Microsoft Office, familiar applications can be accessed without ever leaving the program. Task workflows allow users to initiate action items such as "send documents for review" or "request document approval" and assign them to other team members, who are notified accordingly. This streamlines your internal processes and maximizes efficiency among team members.
- Workflow automation: Alfresco Content Services has some unique workflow automation functions, in addition to traditional features found in document management software. For example, like many systems, you can create custom templates, which allow admins to set automatic workflows to keep documents moving and team members on task. Alfresco, though, has a content metadata tool that allows admins to further automate the metadata collection process by specifying certain triggers that cause the system to automatically apply certain tags or labels to documents when certain pre-set criteria are met.
- Customization: As an open-source software application, Alfresco Content Services is highly flexible and able to adapt to virtually any use case or to work with any software. This is a huge benefit to organizations with dedicated IT teams and in-house developers that need software that fits the company's specific purposes.
Alfresco Content Services can be more difficult to use than some of the other leading document management systems we evaluated. While it employs a cabinet, drawer and folder approach (like many other applications), the user interface is plain and not always intuitive, and, sometimes, it can take quite a bit of clicking around to complete a task. Still, the learning curve is not insurmountable, and the time it takes to get used to the navigation is nothing compared to the efficiencies the software can bring to your team's collaborative efforts.
Alfresco Content Services is also primarily focused on enterprise content management – the minimum number of users for its Starter plan is 100 – which makes it largely prohibitive to small businesses.
Finally, the lack of transparent pricing is another limitation we encountered in our review. To receive an accurate price quote, you'll have to call the company sales department and offer specific information about your requirements. While Alfresco Content Services isn't the only company that didn't publicly display its pricing, other companies in our review did. The lack of posted pricing adds another step in the procurement process.
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