I got an update from the folks at Alfresco recently. This company is an open source content management project, begun by a team that left Documentum some years ago. The project now has about 2M downloads and is a commercial open source company with 1,200 paying customers – mostly among those typically comfortable with open source (government, high tech, services, media and financial services). A while ago were looking at the components within Alfresco with respect to improving the component licensing – specifically to use Apache licensing. Unable to find a workflow engine that supported this license model they recruited Tom Baeyens from jBPM to built Activiti, a new BPMN 2.0 based BPMS.
Activiti is a wholly new product – they had to rewrite so they could use the Apache licensing and this also let them reconsider various design decisions. Not only are they releasing the BPMN 2.0 engine as open source, they are also releasing a modeler, a console and administration tools. The license model has helped them generate a lot more contributors for than jBPM had and with Springsource participating, it is easy for Java developers to contribute. The product has more of a focus this time on business users not just on developers. They also expect to support the building of whole solutions not just a technical environment for worklow.
One component is Activiti Cycle, which is being contributed by another company. This is designed to support the development cycle of process and rules. The tool creates an abstraction across multiple repositories – everything from files/documents repositories, the Signavio process modeler repository, software project repository etc. Activiti Cycle allows you to develop links across those different artifacts in a collaborative environment. This collaboration layer works over the various tools and from each element you can open editors as well as build links and have discussions. They are not trying to produce roundtrip engineering but collaboration. The tool will start with a small list of pre-integrated components and an API for bringing new ones in – have some consulting partners who care also and they will likely bring in some other elements. I liked the way this environment worked, as collaboration is really important when adopting decisioning technologies, and I look forward to seeing some explicit support for rule repositories and editing (Drools integration is apparently on the roadmap)
Alfresco plans to start using Activiti. This would allow, for instance, a spreadsheet of rules managed in Alfresco to be used as a decision table that drives processing in Acitiviti – this uses some open source libraries that allow the content of information in the repository to be used in the flow. This helps support a move from documents and file systems to Alfresco/Activiti without having to replace documents with databases, a nice feature as companies become more sophisticated over time.
I liked the potential of the collaboration environment to bridge the gaps when rules and process are both being used in a solution and I also liked the potential of applying content management to business rules. Interesting ideas both of them and I look forward to learning more.