Open Source Knowledge Management Software: Open Atrium (Part 1)

Several days ago I shared news on how a large organisation (US State Department) uses open source software to facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing among its personnel.

Their reasoning for this choice of platform essentially shared some of the points that I outlined in a guide early last year on using WordPress and BuddyPress to create a social network within any organisation:

While the agency considered using a proprietary solution, Hayes said it settled on using the open source WordPress platform, which it was already using for its online communities. Open source cuts down on cost and development time, but Hayes said it also allows the agency to take advantage of constant improvements by the open-source community.

?Like many organizations, much of our information in the State Department was siloed, and we were trying to get away from that,? he said. ?What we wanted was open and collaborative.?

The combination of WordPress and BuddyPress is ideal for creating a social network, but what about the alternatives? What if you want something more oriented towards building communities as well as facilitating project management? As always, there is an open source solution: Open Atrium.

What is Open Atrium?

In brief, Open Atrium is free/libre and open source collaboration software that enables organisations to securely connect their teams, projects, and knowledge. Using Open Atrium, you can better communicate, educate, and inform your organisation by creating solutions such as an intranet, social collaboration platform, web portal, or learning management system.

Open Atrium was originally conceived and built by Development Seed to achieve an ?intranet in a box,? combining discussions, notifications, issue tracking, and calendars in a first-of-its-kind open source solution. Today, it is backed by Phase2 as well as the wider open source community.

Which organisations use Open Atrium?

Open Atrium has an extensive list of organisations that use it for knowledge sharing and collaboration, including The White House, PBS NewsHour, the World Bank, and Intel.

Which is better, Open Atrium, Microsoft SharePoint, Huddle, Yammer...?

Putting aside any biases, the best advice here is take a scientific approach: explore each platform, and test, test, test. Only you and your users will be able to decide which solution is best for your needs. The worst path is to default to any software without fully examining the alternatives. That being said, avoiding vendor lock-in and licensing fees, while having the freedom to customise with the backing of community innovation - are just some of the many benefits of using open source software.

How do I get started with Open Atrium?

As Open Atrium is based on the Drupal content management system, it shares the same requirements of a Drupal installation. The more technically able can install the software on a local or remote server, keeping in mind the heavier database memory and resource demands of such collaboration platforms. For simple installations, there are hosting companies that provide an optimised infrastructure for Open Atrium and offer one-click installations. For more complex or major projects, Phase2 also offer their professional services.

Once installed, we can then take a look at the many beneficial features of Open Atrium.

In part 2 I will review the architecture and features of Open Atrium, together with its capabilities for supporting knowledge management and collaboration.

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