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....


Phil Ayres said...

Seems like an odd choice to me. I'm not sure I really understand the use cases for structured BI tools in unstructured content. And selecting acquiring companies purely based on size, rather than fit, is something that I hope we don't see as a trend.

Admittedly, real-time analytics like Aungate
provide an interesting take on BI for unstructured information. BI alongside content management seems better when looking at structured metadata, especially when linked to BPM data. But that works nicely as a partnership if the analytics capabilities exceed what is available in the content management suite.

I strongly advocate getting information out of unstructured form if it needs strong BI. Strong analytics need suggests that the data should be freed from the spreadsheet constraints, while providing more control and repeatability around the data. Maybe I'm behind the times!:(

John Newton said...

I agree that it is unlikely that BI vendors will buy ECM vendors. Despite having common friends in both camps and observing some people moving from one field to the other, it doesn't happen often and there is little shared perspective going from a very numeric world to a very content world.

When companies try to bridge the two worlds, as small vendors have attempted in the past, they find that rather than bridging a gap, they fall into it. Generally, IT is called into evaluate the solutions and there world view has been set either by the BI vendors or the ECM vendors. The question comes up, can't Documentum do that or can't Business Objects do that?

If a major BI vendor like Business Objects were to buy a major ECM vendor, like OpenText (since its one of the only ones left), you would get heart burn on a scale that hasn't been seen since ASK bought Ingres.

alan pelz-sharpe said...

I agree with you both!

I do believe there is some hope of unity on the horizon as the DB players move into the ECM space.

(any chance Alfresco will utilize an Oracle or IBM DB for a repository soon?)

But its a long way off - yet it worries me in the same way as people buying search tools to sort out their document mess.