Alfresco and Box – An Integrated Approach for Collaboration and Approval

TSG just finished a successful proof of concept for a life science company that, like many companies, uses Box for collaboration (among other tools) but wanted to add more traditional ECM capabilities like workflow approval and electronic signatures.  Alfresco, combined with TSG add-on products, provides robust workflow review and approval.  This post will discuss the proof of concept and  results.

Why Both Alfresco and Box?

Box, like other collaboration tools, has some basic current drawbacks in regards to providing high-end workflow requirements.  Some of the client’s needs that Box couldn’t currently fulfill included:

  • Consistent – Our client wanted approval for both items in Box but other items outside of Box. For this client, the idea of having one infrastructure for approval of Box content while another infrastructure for the approval of other content just didn’t make sense.
  • Workflow – Workflow is something that Box is adding in 2015 as announced at BoxWorks. Activiti is the leading Open Source workflow tool that has truly robust features available today.
  • Electronic Signatures – for life sciences, specifically 21 CRF Part 11 compliance signatures. While Box can provide add-ons like Docusign, these types of signatures are different as they need to comply to regulations and specific signature requirements.  For this client, the rendition to PDF with electronic signatures along with other approval capabilities are not provided by Box at the current time.

How to Integration

Similar to other collaboration tools, our approach relied on initiating a workflow task from directly in Box.  From any document, we exposed a custom application written with the Box API to be able to expose the content to the Alfresco repository.

2014-10-13 18_18_23-All files and folders - Box

Once kicked off, the approach:

  1. Locks the Box document in Box
  2. Uploads the document to Alfresco
  3. Captures Workflow Attributes including approvers, templates and location of document disposition in Box
  4. Kicks-off the Activiti Workflow
  5. Routes and Approves the Document in Alfresco
  6. Copies the Approved PDF rendition (with signatures) into the location in Box and unlocking the Box document (for later updates)


Over the years, we have had multiple clients ask for integration from collaboration tools to access robust ECM capabilities.  See this example from 2009 with SharePoint.

In looking at Box, while promoting that they are at 99% of the Fortune 500, the bulk of their success with their Freemium model has been in the collaboration side where end-users can add the capability for collaboration.   We blogged our thoughts of collaboration tools and ECM customer back in 2011  and we think that still holds true today.

ECM Governance does not always tie to collaboration and unique application specific needs.  We think innovative users recognize the need for an integrated approach as users will continue to want to use multiple (and new) collaboration tools as they become available.