Alfresco – Activiti Workflow Thoughts

In a previous post, we discussed how Alfresco compares to Documentum for managing Controlled Documents.  A big part of the controlled document process is the workflow engine used for review and approval.  This post will go into more detail on Activiti, the workflow engine used in Alfresco 4.0.

Activiti was first announced in May 2010 by Alfresco.  While Alfresco officially launched Activiti, the product is managed independently and is completely open source, licensed under the Apache License. What this means is that not only can you leverage Activiti as part of Alfresco’s ECM platform, but it can also be used as a BPM platform on it’s own.

For our Controlled Documents proof of concept, we successfully launched Activiti workflows using  HPI and Active Wizard running against an Alfresco repository.   During the project, there were a number of items that impressed us about Activiti:

  • Activiti is pure java, which is nice for us given that most of our development is Java-based.  Activiti also has great integration with Spring Framework, which makes configuration easy.  This means that if we need to customize tasks, auto activities, etc., we can rely on Java APIs to get the job done.
  • Activiti is based on the BPMN 2.0 standard.  Relying on a standards-based product is a key to having a choice of many different 3rd party tools for items such as process modelers, as well as integrations into other 3rd party systems.
  • Activiti utilizes XML-based templates.  This is nice for the Active Wizard, given that we need to generate a workflow template based on the rules evaluation process.  It’s much easier for us to generate the template in XML, versus using a proprietary API.
  • Activiti can be clustered for robust scaling.  If you’re using Activiti embedded within Alfresco, Activiti will scale right along with your Alfresco instance.  If you’re using Activiti as a standalone workflow engine, it can be scaled just like any other J2EE web application.
  • Activiti provides nice reporting tools that detail workflow templates, in-flight workflow processes, outstanding tasks and more.

Given the results of the POC, clients that are using Alfresco should check out the TSG Learning Zone.  All of the demos that show workflow review and approval could be applied to an Alfresco repository as well as Documentum.  Given that Activiti can be deployed as a standalone product, our Documentum clients looking for advanced BPM capabilities should evaluate Activiti as an open source alternative to EMC’s proprietary BPM product contained within xCP.

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