Tuesday, October 27, 2009

EMC 'consumes' Sharepoint, saving IT from becoming backoffice cleaners

The SearchStorage channel on TechTarget (Australia) reports EMC's drop in sales in its Content Management and Archiving (CMA) division, due to what some may call uncharacteristic tardiness on the part of EMC when it comes to technology acquisitions. If you didn't know about EMC's CMA division, you have probably heard the names Documentum or DiskXtender, so just think of it as the banner for that stuff and anything else that consumes documents and emails at a software level. In general I try to avoid talking about the dynamics of corporate M&A on this blog, since it is the technology strategy (and therefore customer solutions) that companies eventually develop from it that really interests me. So I'll stick to the strategy and what it means for companies that may never even speak to EMC.

There is nothing really exciting about the SearchStorage story, apart from the stuff going on between the lines: 'corporations are back on the defensive, worrying about compliance, governance and litigation'. EMC and OpenText have been hit by Microsoft's Sharepoint, since the latter has given organizations a rapid and more cost effective way of deploying content management systems that were previously extremely costly (I'm ignoring the many hidden licensing costs of Sharepoint for now). In doing so, as Microsoft succeeded in selling Sharepoint in all directions, little silos of high value documents, data, wikis and blogs have popped up across the enterprise in standalone Sharepoint servers, barely recognized by IT, but causing insomnia for Legal.

Imagine this scenario... a particularly aggressive competitor, or aggrieved customer or partner of Company X wishes to inflict financial and operational pain on that company. They design a well placed lawsuit to support subpoena of documents across the enterprise (especially many of those Sharepoint servers). This turns Company X's IT team into little more than backoffice cleaning staff for weeks on end as they search under desks and in rarely vacuumed back offices, dusting off Sharepoint servers and other file storage assets.

This is what EMC is playing catch up on. The eDiscovery game got bigger when Sharepoint made the ability to find all the information related to a customer, partner, contract, product or whatever, so much more difficult by enabling employees to unthinkingly spread it around the organization on servers often unmanaged by IT. A bit of a boon to the employee, since finally they got a server with their department's name on it to put stuff in, but a nightmare for anyone trying to find information. EMC has worked out, a little later than its competitors, that understanding and consuming data from Sharepoint is a good thing, if you can make it easier to find stuff. Enterprise search, the ability to Google content across all sources inside the firewall, is a good start, though nothing new (Autonomy has been doing it for years, and Microsoft bought the technology to do it). As we all know, 'Search' is not 'Find'. eDiscovery demands Find, because the lawyers will ensure you do.

EMC are visibly playing catch-up to get the fundamentals in place for managing documents they don't control. As they know, the key to solving eDiscovery is ensuring that all documents and data are classified when they are created so that there is a perfect understanding of what the documents contain. An alternative is ensuring that an unclassified the document ceases to exist (the Mission: Impossible self-destructing message). Putting controls around ad-hoc documents becomes essential. Preventing documents (e.g. contracts) from leaving the organization that have not been classified and stored securely becomes important (one draconian and highly effective approach is to block all attachments from outbound emails). Automatically working out how to classify all data that exist already and isn't in the ERP is equally important.

Whatever EMC is doing behind the scenes (and I hope they are doing something big, or they are losing their touch) just reflects one thing: whether you are a huge multi-national or a more unique mid-sized business, having the information around your customers, partners, contracts, projects and employees, available for access, without having to hunt every corner of the organization, can save you big if lawyers come knocking.

Rather than waiting for the giant software vendors to work out some magic for automating the handling of random, ad-hoc documents, there is another approach. Give employees a system to communicate with organizations outside their own four walls in a controlled and tracked manner. Removing the need for email, Word and Excel can boost efficiency and accuracy, and even better can be done today with targeted business solutions, simple business processes and automated workflows.

A post from the Improving It blog

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