In the four years since I last took a good look at the eXo platform, quite a bit has changed. Back in the day when I was a web and intranet consultant, eXo positioned itself as the premier open source web content management (WCM) platform -- a more extensible platform than out of the box applications like Drupal. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Patrice Lamarque, vice president of products for eXo and we discussed eXo's new premium cloud offering, its new marketing focus and the changing enterprise software market.

 

Evolution from Web Platform to Enterprise Social Platform

EXo have changed their tag line and their marking focus, now labeling themselves as an enterprise social platform

The eXo mission statement now reads, “Harness the power of social to build the connected, collaborative and secure workplace for employees, customers and partners.”

I asked Patrice what prompted the change in direction. Patrice explained that since eXo's founding in 2003, the enterprise software market has changed; the enterprise portal and WCM segment is now a highly mature market heading toward saturation. The enterprise social platform market is a more recent phenomena, with considerable potential for growth and even more importantly, it is capturing the imaginations of customers in a much bigger way. T

People shouldn't consider the social functionality added to eXo as “add ons” though: elements such as user profiles, activity streams and enterprise social networking are fully integrated elements of the core product. The screen shot below shows a quick poll embedded into the activity stream:

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Poll embedded in the eXo activity stream.

EXo retains a full portal framework, so it’s not a case of abandoning one market to chase another -- I see it as more of an integration play. You could think of eXo as the true open source alternative to Microsoft’s SharePoint 2013 -- a platform that delivers easy to use of out of the box functionality, but also provides a portal framework, APIs and tools to extend it through development of custom “apps.”

This slide from eXo conveys the thinking behind this change:

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Using eXo to Put Your Company Intranet in the Cloud

If you have read my articles before you may remember previous investigations into platforms that would allow me to move a large corporate intranet to the cloud. I wanted to discuss this area with Patrice, and it lead us toward discussing eXo’s announcement of a new cloud offering.

The eXo platform is available as an on premises install, and being open source, there is a Community edition which you can download for free to play with and get to learn the platform. The Express edition brings support, updates and directory services integration for a low starting price and the Enterprise edition adds further features.

EXo’s first foray into the cloud -- released earlier this year -- puts the Express version onto Amazon’s cloud infrastructure, delivering a social intranet experience in a Software as a Service (SaaS) mode. This is a freemium offering aimed at the SMB sector and at business units within bigger enterprises, but without WCM for building sites it focused on the social collaboration scenario. More details are available here.

Today eXo launches its Cloud Premium edition. For $36 per user / per year, a customer now receives all the features and functionality of the Enterprise edition in a scalable hosted SaaS offering, with a starting point of 1GB per user and the following features:

  • Activity Streams
  • People Directory
  • Spaces (work spaces)
  • Documents (document management)
  • Google Drive Integration
  • Wiki, Forum and Q & A modules
  • Calendars and Dashboards
  • Polls
  • WCM -- for building out intranet “sites”
  • Mobile Apps

EXo will now concentrate on this new Premium cloud offering, working on further integrations (e.g. Box, SalesForce) and on features such as full sync with an on premises Lightweight Directory Access Protocol / Single Sign On solution.

I work in the financial services industry, so I had to ask Patrice the “awkward” questions that arise when it comes to cloud based solutions: issues around regulatory compliance, e-disovery, etc.

As the eXo platform is based on the Java technology stack, these underlying technologies can provide the solutions required to meet many of these complex requirements. Content storage is via the Java Content Repository (JCR) standard -- JSR170 or the later JSR283.

In other words storage in either a file system or relational database is abstracted -- so as far as my non-programmer brain can figure it out, you can leave encryption to the database or file system software -- thus potentially meeting compliance based requirements for “encryption at rest” (and I am more than happy to be contradicted in the comment section below, by those who are more clued in to such deeply technical subjects). The JSR 238 spec includes improvements for interaction with Records Management systems, providing the ability for setting retention policies and dealing with legal hold requirements, etc.

Mobile Social Collaboration

One of the other big reasons to look to cloud platforms is often the ease of use in providing mobile access to information and social collaboration functionality. EXo provides iOS and Android clients, which can be connected to multiple eXo instances, for example being used to connect both a cloud instance and an on premises instance. So you can use your iPad or your Galaxy Note to access your activity stream, read documents, and more.

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Social Intranet in the Cloud?

Does eXo provide all the functionality required to build your social intranet, hosted in the cloud? After talking with Patrice and having a good dig through the eXo website, I would say it depends on your specific requirements, but the answer is probably "Yes."

If you’re an unregulated company in the small to medium business category, then the eXo Premium cloud platform may well meet your business needs completely with its out of the box functionality.

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The inline editor in eXo, an example of the WCM functionality.

If you have internal Java expertise, or want to outsource the work to one of eXo’s many implementation partners including big names such as Accenture and CAP Gemini, you could potentially meet the most stringent compliance based security requirements for a cloud solution.

Or you could even go all conservative and run the eXo platform internally, on you own servers.

The bottom line is that the eXo platform has come a long way since I last took an in depth look at it. With major investment, big name customers and a clear strategic direction to build a leading social collaboration platform on the very solid foundation of a portal framework, with good WCM capabilities, the new addition of the Premium Cloud offering rounds out the portfolio nicely.

Despite what some vendors will tell you, there is no silver bullet, but I would say you should definitely have a look at eXo and decide for yourself whether it could meet your requirements in a cost effective manner.

If you’re an eXo user, please let us know of your experiences in the comments section below.

Editor's Note: Read more from Jed in his The Modern Intranet: A Mobile, Social, Collaborative Decision Support Platform