SaaS and ECM

I read with interest a recent post on SaaS and ECM. Of interest is the comments around integration with existing systems meaning that SaaS would not be a route to go for companies. Is this really true? Is there not a way in which ECM can be delivered as SaaS which also enables users to integrate the solution with their systems. I guess Alan was thinking that ECM and SaaS would be delivered through an interface which users would interact with, in which case I would agree. However if we approach this another way, where the client system interacts with the ECM software through services, then there is a case that ECM does become part of the platform which they interact with, albeit hosted remotely. Of course there are numerous challenges to this approach, too many for me to answer right now. I will have a think how this would work and post back, but we do need to be more creative in the changing times to try and meet more flexible requirements, not just functional.

Liferay

I’ve been busy over the past few weeks, combining project work, sales work and building up some capability within our group. Updates to this blog came low down on the priority list but I’ve got a few notes which should keep me with things to post for the next few weeks as a result of the work I’ve done.

Top of the list for me was an experience I have had with Liferay Portal. I was tasked to set up a small demo to showcase it as the content producing Portal for a back end Content and Digital Asset Management System based on Documentum. The integration became something of a crude attempt so not worth mentioning here but my experience with Liferay most certainly is.

Installation – okay so there are a few options for installation, I use Tomcat so it was a straight choice between the packaged or unpackaged version of Liferay; supported by MySQL. I elected to go for the unpackaged version as this would enable the product to run in the same container as my Documentum installation and from a management perspective decrease some of my overheads. However when getting into the installation it soon became clear why there was a packaged version! The installation procedure for the unpackaged version was lengthy and complex, and thus open to mistakes. Numerous config files were required to be updated within the Tomcat container and I could not find sample files on any of the, rather clunky, support sites/forums. After a much gnashing of teeth I actually gave up, I only wanted to see the damned thing running and to spend too long was not the most efficient use of my time. The packaged version was a breeze and was easy to switch between the native database and MySQL. We’re up and running. (I will return to the packaged version in the future but I’m going to need to sort out my tomcat installation first!)

First Steps – nice looking interface but I was a little confused on how to get really cracking. Played about with the basics before finding my way around, the documentation was not great here and a beginner’s guide to Portal Administration would be a great starter. Where I became unstuck next was in the management of pages, all the config I did appeared to be for my user account and not for general users. What I wanted was an Admin Console where I could create 3-4 sample pages with some Portlets on which would be displayed to all authenticated users; not possible during my initial investigation. Anyway, its a demo so what the heck, it will look right for the end product…right!?

Adding Portlets – so I’m resigned to a single account, well let’s see what these out of the box Portlets are like. First impressions are good, no wait, very good. Lots of choice of what look like mature and attractive looking Portlets. Did not like the icons used all the time and the interface looked a little awkward at times but that can be worked on. There was lots of choice in the Portlets and it was easy to change their names and customise their look and feel, for my demo I particularly like the XSLT translator. (Those in the Documentum know will get this, WebPublisher is great at spitting out XML and XSLT, putting these in the right places means I’m a big step towards a demo acceptable solution!)

Journal Content – further investigation show that Liferay has its own embedded Content Management solution, known as the Journal. There are a few Portlets for this, some to assist in the management of content within the Journal and others for the presentation of content. The simple management of HTML content was more than enough to get me going, however wouldn’t it be great if the content I author and manage in the Documentum could be pushed into this store for the publication out through the Portal. Next task is to fid the damned content, nothing stored on the file system but a quick check in the MySQL catalog finds the approriate table, although I did not look too hard there seemed to be little documentation on this structure and how to interact with it….I certainly did not find an API to interact with it. The HTML is stored within the database, as text. Things are looking better, simple publication from the more advanced Documentum store into the Liferay Journal store looks to be answer to my question. if only things were this simple. With a lack of documentation and an increasing focus on other parts of the demo I begrudgingly consigned this idea to the ‘would like to have’ tray, possibly to be revisited in the future. XSL translation it will be for the demo.

Summary – whilst I did not fully explore the Liferay Portal the areas where I had experience were enough for me to get a reasonable picture of the product. Big question first, would I use it again…..yes, undoubtedly but I woudl approach it with great care if I was looking to do something too complex. It appears great as a simple Portal solution and as a headstart to getting a Portal up and running it would be a good choice. The biggest problem I found was the lack of useful documentation and the poor support forums. I didn’t get round to developing Portlets for the Portal so cannot comment on the ease of depoyment, but if it is as complex as deploying the Portal container itself then I’m relieved! Nice small package, not one to take on the big boys when you’re looking for those complex multifunctional Portals but if its laregly content you’re looking for then have a look at this.