Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Why ECM is a must have in Enterprises

Just a couple of years ago it was really hard to find any enterprises who took the issues around ECM & ERM seriously. Sure many had implemented something at a departmental level, but looking at content strategically across the enterprise was on nobody's agenda.
Well it may just be that Wipro's clients are ahead of the curve, but everyone I meet with now has this very high on the agenda. They may not always be talking ECM - often it is unstructured data in the context of a broader enteprise architecture strategy, but it is there and it is urgent.
And the biggest issue facing them appears to be, knowing where to start.
In some firms it's forms and reports, in others its the Web, in yet others it's the issue of bringing order to the chaos of local and shared drives. But why is it now urgent and just a few years back not of interest at all?

Well I think at least part of the reason is that particularly in large firms in the US we have moved very swiftly away from tenure and 'tribal knowledge', the expectation that people will stay a long while, and always be there as a resource. To one of downsizing, outsourcing, partnering and high turnover.

In this new world of ever changing employee dynamics - relying on somebody to be there who understands the process and carries the important information in their head (or the location of the important information!) is no longer feasible.

In some respects its KM all over again - but this time its more pragmatic. At core what most firms want to do is simply know what information they have and make it available (more difficult than it sounds), on top of that they are looking at enforcing and standarizing working processes.

To a large degee its the BPR movement of the late 80's thro 90's all over again, except that just yet nobody is bringing in armies of business anlaysts to re-engineer their business processes. But the need and urgency is there - and I do wonder (things always go much slower than we expect) if in a year or two's time we will be BPR'ing (probably under a different acronym) all over again? Life is a little like a carousel at times - you pick your horse to ride, but we all go round the same circuit..

In the meantime - strategy for ECM is essential, for without a strategy and thorough assessment either nothing gets done as nobody knows how or where to start, or you find yourself at the mercy of major ECM vendors. Some of whom have sold massive ELA's (enterprise licence agreements) to clients who have little clue how to use or deploy this stuff. Its a potentially ugly situation that will come to a head.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

BI Vendors buy into ECM?

The new (ex Butler Group) analyst at Ovum, Mike Davis is co-name checked alongside me in a piece on the ECM consolitation conundrum in IT Week today written by Martin Veitch.

Mike posits the thought that BI (Business Intelligence) vendors will look to ECM vendors as potential acquistion targets. It is not something I had considered happening before, and frankly I am not convinced that this will happen. If it does then the BI vendors could be in very deep water quickly. One only needs to look at Hummingbird for lessons on why this is not a good idea.

Hummingbird acquired a firm called Andyne some years back - at the time a leading BI and Analytics vendor, they then acquired PC Docs (who owned the then leading search vendor Fulcrum) - and now in 2006 after failing to set the world alight they are being acquired by arch rivals OpenText.

Their vision was good, but they found out just how difficult and different the worlds of structured and unstructured data are. Not only technically is this a tough nut to crack, but to date it has proven to be a very difficult commercial nut to crack also.

Some progress in bridging the gaps has been made - particularly at the database level, but even here though we may manage everything in a DB2 Database, an Oracle 10g or whatever, the instances and structures are in reality very separate. If anyone is to crack the structured/unstructured divide then it is likely to be either Microsoft, Google, Oracle or IBM - outside of these powerhouses I suspect the roadside will be littered with casualities.

Search & BI have more in common, but then again the only thing really in common between a BI tool and a Search tool is that they are both designed to deliver answers to questions. But in the case of a search tool, it is tasked with finding a specific piece of information (content) , in the case of a BI tool it is tasked with undertaking table analysis and calculations to deliver a report of some description to the user.

There is no doubt that in some basic cases the two end up doing similar jobs, and at a basic level the lines between both will, and already are starting to blur, but this line blurring is most likely to be successful through heavy development initiatives rather than cludging two tools together somehow.

It should also be noted that the cost of acquiring an OpenText or Stellent or Intewoven to a company the size of Cognos or Business Objects could also be crippling, with zero room for adjustment should something go wrong.

Who knows what will happen, if the past is anything to go by, nothing much for a while - propably one or two more acquistions in the next year. More importantly for the industry I hope for some innovation in the market. I would particularly love to see some new applications built off the Oracle and Microsoft stacks (as OpenText is threatening to do), more vertical solutions maybe (I can't just keep namechecking Cimage and Spescom there have to be others!) - more entries from 'intelligent content' players etc...But not a BI vendor buying and ECM player, not just yet, as I think that could all end up in an ugly place....

Thursday, August 10, 2006

FileNet to be acquired - first thoughts

First one then the other - IBM moves to acquire FileNet. Probably the most expected acquisition in software history! Yet one that raises questions.

At the end of the day for major imaging projects there were two clear leaders IBM & FileNet, with EMC making up an admirable but clear cut third place (Hyland coming up fourth in the Mid Market). Now there will be only be one clear choice, and though IBM says they will run both product lines, there is simply no business logic in doing that over the long term. One set of products by definition will have to run its lifecycle and be replaced by the other.

IBM have always been the elephant in the room for ECM, as for many years they have held first or second place to FileNet in terms of leadership postion (by revenue) and only in the last year has EMC moved ahead of them. Combined IBM & FileNet will easily be the dominant player, and without doubt IBM will do well from the deal.

  • They close out their number one competitor
  • They gain some nice pieces of technology to compliment or replace their own
  • They gain a substantial and lucrative client base

Lee Roberts CEO (and ex IBM'er) will also do very well - but I am not sure I would be too happy if I were a FileNet customer, or for that matter a member of FileNet's staff.

Its worth remembering that most people who bought FileNet's products also had IBM on the short list, so for the customer base it must seem like they chose FileNet over IBM - but now they are given the vendor they rejected....Of course nothing is concluded till the shareholders vote, and though that is expected to go through positively - there will certainly be some interesting questions to be asked of the FileNet board, top of the list being.

  • Were there other approaches (certainly the industry was rife with rumours that HP, CA and Oracle had all shown interest)

The other question for me is what does this mean for the industry as a whole? The ECM Suite vendors are document centric vendors (Web Content Management remains a parralel but separate market) and now we have two very large players dominating (IBM & EMC) - behind that we have OpenText, and behind them Interwoven, Stellent etc. We also have a lot of infrastructure vendors looking to take a slice of the growing pie (HP - Oracle - CA - Microsoft etc) and I guess the question is who will be next? And who can challenge these two - the market is big enough and has more than enough growth in it to encourage others to enter - most likely it will be an infrastructure player via the acquisition path, but which one is the question.

On a personal level I am really quite sad - though it was inevitable and the pending acquisition was of open discussion in the industry - FileNet represented the heart of document management. They literally invented Workflow - they were the first Imaging company (and pretty much invented that sector) - and they dominated for years. Though in the last couple of years they had become a little more aggresive and edgy (with the recruitement of new Sales management), it was always to the outsider a great technology company, friendly, and wonderfully located in Costa Mesa with directors who liked to surf before work in the morning. The total opposite to the equally likeable but much more 'A Type' Documentum in Northern Cali. I certainly wish all the wonderful people at FileNet well - and hope that they are well looked after by IBM (as they will certainly be in demand elsewhere if not!)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Farewell Hummingbird!

It has been announced that OpenText have entered into a definative agreement to acquire Hummingbird and that the deal should be closed in the next few months.

Hummingbird was always an interesting one to watch as an Industry analyst, and now they will be no more. Its sad really but probably was inevitable in such a fiercely consolidating market. I will always remember Hummingbird as innovative with strong technology, and some very loyal customers - but never very successful in marketing themselves.

I first came across Hummingbird around 98/99 when they were PC Docs looking to acquire the cutting edge and market leading enterprise search firm Fulcrum (not sure what happened to that technology!). They did this and promptly fell off the map - again not sure what really happened but boardroom battles were allegedly bloody and brutal. Then Hummingbird came along and picked up the fighting groups and folded them into the larger Hummingbird company. This appeared to many as a very odd partnership - as Hummingbird had no previous history or interest in document management and search, and in fact focused on connectivity products (with a side on data mining if I remember rightly).

Out of this came the new Hummingbird - made up now of many differing pieces! But some very exciting early technology did come out of the situation, I think it is fair to say that Hummingbird pretty much invented (or at least delivered) the very first Portal product for the Enterprise; and possibly more importantly always understood the need to manage (at least from a user perspective) structured and unstructured data together.

How they will fare under the ownership of OpenText is open to question, but OTX do seem to be rebounding strongly and pitching strongly for a leadership (behind EMC) position in the ECM arena. Hopefully they can take the strengths of Hummingbird and build on them further, and also act descisively and potentially spin off some of the overlap or non-core elements of the business quickly.

Speaking in Europe

In the fall I will be keynoting at cmf2006 in Copenhagen and at the ECM Plaza in Rotterdam. The themes in this blog (including the consolidation of the vendors) will likely be picked up there, and as always if you read the blog and plan to be at either event do say hello !

Monday, August 07, 2006

80-20 Formula and ECM

The 80/20 rule is one of the most consistent (though baffling as to why it is consistent) formulas in existence. In ECM we have always looked at the 80% unstructured vs 20% structured data split. But that is a bastardization of the formula which is really more along the lines of 80% revenues to 20% of the players type deal.
Its been the case for some years now that the top 10 vendors take well over 80% of the ECM revenues, but it seems that even more consolidation is on the way. It is still not totally clear who is going to win the battle for Hummingbird, but OpenText appear to have the deal in hand at present. Of course I am biased toward OpenText as they are a fellow ECM firm with I believe a lot of synergies. But we/I do need to remember that Hummingbird is more than and ECM firm, with other product groups such as connectivity to think of. We shall see what happens there, but rumour has it that there are at least 2 other acquistions in the works elsewhere, so the consolidation continues.

But as the consolidation continues, I think it opens the doors for many more to enter. The big enterprise who have huge volumes of seats and complex workflow requirements will always typically go to the market leaders, but the success of open source WCM products shows us that there is still a vibrant sub market (much as Wired Editor Chris Anderson portrays in his Long Tail book) that is both profitable and sustainable, a sub market that is based on specialization to niches and sub niches.

However the issue with ECM is that everyone currently wants to be a suite vendor - and in the world of suites highly specialized vertical offerings are difficult to deliver and continue over time to support. What seems to be happening now is that the OS WCM model is starting to happen in more document and record centric tools (though to a smaller degree as this is a much more mature area), and its a trend I hope continues. However the market dynamics for document centric solutions is very different from Web Centric tools so quite how it will work out is a guess as much as anything.

Side note on Bangalore

Sometimes its the little things that really make an impact on you. The big things do to - like driving past the outdoor market each day and looking at the amazing mountains of bananas and oranges on display, alongside the vibrant flower garlands ready for the Lakshmi festival. But the little things hit you deeper at times.

We drove past lots of shops of course, and the thing that is most noticable is that even though open for business they often don't have their lights on. And never have their lights on if there are no customers inside the shop. Likewise if a scotter or motorbike is stopped even for a minute or so in a traffic jam the rider will turn the key and switch the machine off. I even noticed Apoorv do this in his car whilst on the way to lunch. In the week I counted 7 occasions when the electricity failed - and on a few occasions it seemed to me that I was the only one who noticed, everyone just carried on with whatever else till the back up kicked in.

Whether people consciously realize it or not, in India there is a recognition that power (be it gas or electricity) is a precious commodity - that it enhances life but is not neccesary for life.

How very different to our wasteful ways in the West - I have been stuck for 30mins plus regularly on my drive into Boston and cannot even start to imagine what abuse would be hurled at me were I to turn off the engine at each extended pause in the journey. I suspect if I did it two or three times in a row whilst plodding down Route 3, the police would pull me over.

You can look at this two ways - the people don't earn as much and the power supply is unreliable in India. Or alternatively (my way of viewing it) in India they have a more realistic and sensible attitude to precious resources and one that we may have to adopt sooner rather than later, whether we like it or not.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Bangalore - Center of the Tech Universe

I think I shall post a couple of separate notes to sum up my visit and thoughts. I has been a wonderful week - truly memorable both work wise and personally.

I remain totally fascinated by the Indian Offshore business, for despite its flaws (there are many and they are huge) it is nonetheless an incredible engine for success. And the success to date is so palpable - its really in the air. I experienced (as a frequent visitor) the boom and subsequent bust of Silicon Valley, and the feel in Bangalore is identical to 99 in California.
I say that because I worry that India may face a bust at some time soon also. Not very soon but in coming years, and it seems to me that in some ways it is totally unprepared to deal with the brutality of a bust, and in some ways may be better positioned than the US was.

The thing with India and Indian people is that as a foreigner I can never fully understand the country or the people. I figure by default that I probably know more than some Westerners and I am completely comfortable in India and have Indian friends, some of whom I count as my closest and longest. But though we can converse on many levels, we will never converse on all.

Take for instance the simple issue of saying no and dealing with a confrontational situation (discussed many times this week!). Its just not something that most Indians are comfortable with. Yet many in the West (myself included probably) thrive on the tussle of a tough negotiation - priding ourselves on giving little or nothing but walking away the winner.

The reluctance to be involved in such situations can lead to low margin business model, as you typically come out with a less than optimal deal. Of course the other side of that in context of Indian offshoring is that if the volume is sufficient then small margins are just fine.

Differnet attitudes are also very evident around risk - in the West (particularly the US) we take this as the price of success. Yet in a city of some of the brightest technologists (if not THE best in the World) few will take the innovative leaps due solely to the risk.

Again the twist to that is that India has come out of long period of semi socialist goverment that did little to build the economy. In some ways it is fair to say that the India economy didn't really start (in the modern era till 1991) - so maybe a more cautious approach to risk is the right thing for the country.

I know a good number of senior tech people visit this blog - I urge you to visit Bangalore (or Hyderbad or Chennai etc) and see for yourself what is happening. The reason I urge you is that although alot of tech people visit the region, currently it seems too hands off an arrangement - and I think much more exciting and valuable things lie down the path (beyond calls centers and hosting work!) that mutually we can explore. Far too often there is a sub-contractor type relationship between US companies and service firms in India - and though this makes sense up to a point, it can fail to realize the depth of relationship that delivers real breakthroughs in both technology and efficiencies.

India is a place of contrasts and Bangalore is no exception - poverty is in full view, alongside the gleaming apartment buildings; there are cows in potholed streets obstructing traffic and high tech campuses that would rival anything in San Jose - but if it is those contrasts that meet you, its the vibrancy and depth of culture, the high level of intelligence and capability and the unending friendliness that you will likely leave with.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

ECM in Bangalore!

I can't sleep properly and don't know whether it is night or day - but other than that the trip is going well, and as expected I am learning much about the reality of ECM & Outsourcing, as well as what a great bunch of people Wipro employs :-) I will try and write a more fulsome post at the end of the week - but for now I just thought I would note something in particular (may seem completely out of context with India the home of the sweet lassi and mutter panner - but it has cropped in two conversations already and was nagging me as an issue before flying out here):-

Rendering: it is for me one of the key reasons to use an ECM tool. You store everything in native format, then render out in what ever format is required. So for example I store a multi-page TIFF file, but render out a PDF to the user - or an html page - or an XML document for publishing, or whatever.

Amazingly hardly anyone uses this functionality - even after spending literally millions on ECM tools, that come bundled with these tools. I think for Document Management implementations many of the key 'performance issue' complaints can be traced back to this. If you store something as a 2MB file and always deliver it that way, then performance will be affected. But if you deliver it (render) just to the screen dpi initially with full download an option, then performance and retrieval times are boosted enormously.

I know that many ECM pro's who come to this blog will consider this a no-brainer, but it would seem many of our/your customers just don't understand or appreciate this stuff. Which is frustrating as often it is the simplest things that improve an ECM system, starting to use rendering functionality isone those things.

On a seperate note I am reading "The World is Flat" by Tom Friedman, a book I am sure virutally all the readers of this blog have already read. I bought it with two others at Heathrow (2 for one deal!) Freakanomics and Blink (more books that most readers of this blog will have read). Finished two off on the flight over (hence the sleeping issues I am now facing) and I am now reading through The World is Flat - and it seems pretty odd to be reading this whilst I am actually in Bangalore, the location for so much of the book. Friedman talks about how India is changing and the pace it is changing at. I was here in Bangalore only a year ago and it has changed noticably even in that time. The traffic isn't much better, but Western style Malls (and impressive ones at that) are springing up, and though its still distinctly India the place is becoming much more westernised. And frankly I am not sure if that is a good thing. I also think I am now safe in saying that this is the new Silicon Valley, not just Indias version of it. The scale of R&D going on here, in addition to core hosting and typical downstream work is immense - and the people seem to have an appetite for much more yet. Bangalore is the center of the Worlds technology sector.