Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reflecting on ECM

Russ Stalters at BetterECM was good enough to write me an email wishing me good luck in my new role at Global 360, as well as asking for some reflection on how ECM vendors like Vignette might survive the Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server (MOSS) 2007 opportunity/threat.

Here are the thoughts that I shared with Russ, and thought that with a little editing they were good enough to be make it as a blog. None of these thoughts represent an insider view of what Vignette is doing, instead they just represent what seems like good practice to me.

I truly believe that Vignette has some great technology. Unfortunately, like any independent software vendor that has acquired a lot of technology they probably have too many products in the portfolio to keep them all ahead of the game - the investment required to retain leading technology in every product through R&D is beyond what Wall Street wants to see from independent software companies. I would suggest that ECM vendors may need to rationalize what they offer by repositioning some products into a support role for the primary products (leaders) in the portfolio, thus not needing to compete directly with the competition on feature/functionality on every product.

Open Text may, for example, struggle keeping the multiple products offering the same capabilities alive for any length of time, let alone the second tier of unique products they have. Leading with every product into a vast set of sales opportunities does not seem smart to me. But having the huge range of capabilities in support products in the portfolio will allow deals to be won where a wide range of boxes have to be ticked.

Selling infrastructure is not going to work long term, although I think that an Enterprise play is still something that Microsoft will struggle with convincing CIOs of in the short term. I wrote a post a while back (in response to one of Russ's) that addressed this: ECM in a post Microsoft World. This was before the FileNet acquisition, and what I believe is IBM's play to capture the whole enterprise infrastructure market: IBM platform for massive systems reengineering

I think that smart independent ECM companies with large portfolios need to look at what they do best and focus on that. Too much time is often spend trying to chase every deal. The approach I would choose is to find a market segment where they have specific experience and expertise already, and can offer solutions that are a good fit for the business requirements. Hyland are still playing well, with a strong and effective focus on Healthcare and Stellent seems to be doing well in compliance and governance. The sales of these solutions probably makes them more money than trying to sell technology alone.

Finding ways of embedding ECM software into organizations where others have failed to penetrate is likely to be the next wave of ECM success. This will only be done (I think) if the vendors can find a way to make this happen, and I believe that a strong business requirements (as opposed to technology) focus is essential; in the past the technology sale has not got ECM much further than the website and focused operational installations when led by IT.

I'm looking forward to watching the ECM vendors as more of an outsider. My view is that BPM is core to really addressing business problems in many organizations and has great potential to become more pervasive. Content and BPM technologies are complementary, so I'm sure that I'm going to enjoy my future in Global 360.

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Colin said...

In my experience having used Vignette in my group for 4 years now, I think they have problems. I look at the ease with which I enter posts into my WP blog, and then watch the team work in Vignette with multiple windows popping up, and incredibly quirky behaviour betwwen windows.

Sharepoint is smoother, but its still an app that doesn't feel like content managment, rather a document sharing system that is being retro fitted as content management.

I think the content management space is still open.

Phil Ayres said...

That is interesting feedback. I think I agree with you that the content management space is still open - but it is likely to become a lot more closed with the next release of Sharepoint. Although the Sharepoint Portal is still not going to be a good, easy way for users to get content published on the intranet without significant IT support. It is cheap and cheerful though, and IT will probably accept its deficiencies because of this.

Out of interest, which Vignette application were your group using?