Out and About – More Questions than Answers

By Mike Alsup posted 06-07-2013 18:22


Today, I was inspired by Laurence Hart (Life of Pie) and his review of what has been happening in ECM over the last 6 years.  Also, John Mancini pointed to an important CMSWire summary of what is happening in ECM.  I haven’t been blogging much lately because I have been out and about at a bunch of ECM industry events.  May is a big month for these events – Gartner Portals and Collaboration Conference, EMC World, SAP Sapphire, the Managing Electronic Records (MER) Conference, and assorted events online and on-premise hosted by Microsoft, ARMA, AIIM, Box, etc.  This post summarizes what I learned at these events and the big questions that remain, if only for me. 

The vision of Cloud-based ECM is ubiquitous and simple

Laurence Hart described it as Omnipresent Content Management in 2009.  The current vision of Cloud-based ECM has essentially been defined (for me) by Box.  It is a “bring your own device” (BYOD) vision where executives with their iPads can access all of their documents and do all of their work from their beach houses.  What I see in the field is that people are confused, but mainly they want to use their familiar Office applications on their tablet.  Don’t get me wrong, they like the games and books and email and internet access and movie viewing on their tablets, but lots of them are hoping that Windows 8.1 with Intel’s next-gen Haswell processor gives them iPad equivalent capabilities with Microsoft Office applications and better battery life on their combination laptop/tablet/whatever device.  I want one of those too. 

Additional observations:

Box and Dropbox have huge market momentum.  When Dropbox went down for a couple of hours last week, I got emails from several wannabe vendors in the next day touting how simple it would be to convert to their platforms away from Dropbox.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. 

Box clearly understands what it will take to do Cloud ECM.  Their leadership and board is packed with big league venture capital talent.  Their enterprise group is led by Whitney Bouck who learned the ECM game at Documentum and plays it very well.  Their acquisitions in the last month of Crocodocs and Folders makes their ambition to evolve from their legacy of Cloud-based file sharing to define and solve the challenges of Cloud ECM crystal clear. 

What I saw at EMC World is that Syncplicity is differentiating from Box and Dropbox in ingenious ways.  They want to be like Box, only extended by the trust that users have in their EMC infrastructure.  EMC is integrating Syncplicity with the EMC Information Intelligence Group (IIG, a.k.a. Documentum) solutions and delivering some innovative applications for partner collaboration and information delivery.  Jeetu Patel is doing a great job at their helm.

SkyDrive is inexorable in many SharePoint shops, but at this point, SkyDrive vs. SkyDrive Pro is still confusing for some users.   SkyDrive is Dropbox-like in its capabilities, and SkyDrive Pro, included in Office 365, is a more modern version of SharePoint My Sites.  My expectation is that there will be room for both of these approaches and many organizations will also continue to use the various Cloud file sharing alternatives. 

What the Box and Dropbox platforms currently lack are the rich object models that Documentum and Open Text and SharePoint provide that allow for enterprise-scaled content governance.  This is important because the richer object models allow for the construction of solutions within the platforms that enable them to be so much more than Share Drives in the Cloud and address the requirements for records management, for example. 

Is it Cloud or SaaS or Both?

This month, Andrew Chapman has an interesting blog post on the differences between Cloud and SaaS.  His view is that “Cloud vs. SaaS” is defined through some examples:

“Cloud only: Amazon EC2 is delivered via the cloud with the expected pay as you go, self-service, etc. but it’s not software…OK, it is software but it is platform/mid-tier software as opposed to consumer application software.”

“SaaS only: EMC’s Documentum OnDemand is a single tenant, hosted application managed as if it was a cloud solution but it doesn’t have those features generally associated with the cloud like multi-tenancy, self-service, etc.”

“Both: Salesforce.com is software delivered as a service in the cloud. It has everything that you’d expect from a combination of these two things: software, pay as you go, self-service, elasticity, etc.”

In the world of Cloud ECM, this is important because the legacy ECM vendors are emphasizing their Cloud-based capabilities, but they are mainly SaaS only.  Box, Office 365, and SpringCM are examples of products that trying to be both Cloud and SaaS.  This is important because the multi-tenant applications enable scaling to millions of users within a single solution, instead of provisioning a virtual machine for each solution. 

Whether SharePoint is gaining or losing momentum is controversial and confusing

One of the leading ECM Analysts told me last week that many companies he talks to are recoiling from how hard it is to deploy enterprise SharePoint and that SharePoint’s reputation for being easy to implement on an enterprise basis has been challenged.  He said that SharePoint has been judged as too hard to implement on an enterprise-wide basis by some large and sophisticated companies.  On the other hand, many of the largest companies we have ever worked with are standardizing on SharePoint to the detriment of the legacy ECM Suites.  What we have seen is that the companies that have struggled are the ones that have not anticipated that enterprise SharePoint ECM deployments take similar levels of effort as enterprise deployments of the Legacy ECM Suites.  As SharePoint has incorporated more capabilities, it has been more important to plan and architect enterprise deployments, whether in Office 365 or on-premise. 

What is not confusing is that SharePoint has full enterprise potential.  The introduction of SharePoint 2013 blurs the distinction between Cloud and ECM, because SharePoint in Office 365 is truly multi-tenant and scalable.  It was built with a Cloud First strategy.  The business logic that was previously hosted inside SharePoint on-premise now needs to be moved off-server to Azure or another provider if it is to be migrated to the Cloud.  Azure and Office 365 are gaining momentum as Cloud solutions and SharePoint continues to be adopted en masse by many organizations both in Office 365 and on-premise. 

The new dimension of this for me is that Microsoft Office 365 licensing may be interpreted to give users SharePoint licenses for free.  What I mean by this is that Microsoft is battling Google tooth and nail for enterprise email licenses, and one of their pitches is that the Client Access License (CAL) can bring their customers everything else in Office 365, including SharePoint, as part of the deal.  Additionally, it was pointed out to me that SharePoint in Office 365 is available and can be used by corporations or consultancies to try out SharePoint records management in the Cloud for free for 90 days.  This becomes more important as more solutions become available for Office 365 that extend records management or other SharePoint features.  Why not go for a free test drive? 

Business Solutions are the focus of customers and ECM Suite vendors because they are the focus of CIO’s

One thing that was clear at EMC World and in my conversations with the other leading ECM Suite vendors is that they are driving hard into business solutions and are less focused than before on “pervasive content governance”.  Many companies are not buying enterprise content governance right now because it is too confusing and too difficult a problem to solve at an enterprise level when you consider how much content is spread across the environment in social media, in the cloud, in email, in shared drives, and elsewhere.  20 years of disaggregated and disconnected information system deployments has made our infrastructures unruly and unmanageable.  Why not let other companies solve the problems first?

Forrester had am important research piece this quarter on a new category that they are calling “Smart Process Applications” (SPA) that included collaboration, BPM, ERP, and repositories of record.  This category groups vendors like Kofax, Salesforce, SAP, Pega and EMC in a single Forrester Wave.  Forrester estimated the size of this market in 2015 as $34 Billion.  Everyone in the SPA category gets new powerful competitors, but it is a big category. 

Business solutions can be an important catalyst for enterprise content governance because they solve a business problem with a return on investment (ROI) while bringing governance into the overall solution as a critical cog in the bigger machine.  There are very separate markets and buyers for business solutions and content governance.  Vendors like the content governance market, because it is an enterprise purchase, but most of their customers prefer business solutions, because they can solve specific problems with an ROI.  Selling business solutions that solve the business problems and include a platform for additional content governance can be a winning strategy.  This was the lesson many of us learned as consultants with FileNet in the 1990’s and also with Documentum and Open Text and Hyland in the 2000’s. 

The Hybrid model is ascendant for governance

One of the conclusions from several recent AIIM studies has been that buyers expect Hybrid Content Governance to persist in their organizations for the foreseeable future.  That is, they expect some of their processes and documents will be stored in the Cloud, but their archiving and records management will mainly take place on-premise.  Several of our clients have expressed the view that Office 365 is compelling, but their records will only be stored in their data centers.  This is important because organizations will need mechanisms to manage the lifecycle of content across multiple platforms in the Cloud and on-premise, at least in the near term.  This requires simplifying assumptions because the task is too big and too hard to address otherwise. 

My List of Open Questions 

My big open questions for the second half of 2013 as a result of these discussions are:

Is it realistic to expect enterprise content governance solutions will be either included in or federated into the Cloud ECM/file sharing vendors’ products?

Everyone recognizes the need for governance to extend to all of the required repositories.  But many organizations are looking for a single governance ring to rule them all.  That is, a single platform to own the enforcement of information policy across multiple platforms.  It seems unlikely to me that governance can be federated into all of the required environments, because we’ve been down this road before.  We tried this with Venetica and Documentum years ago.  The legacy records management systems we are trying to connect with have not changed that much, nor has the ability to connect with them.  But RSD is everywhere convincing buyers that they can do it all.  Google is adding features to do it.  Open Text has new solutions in this area.  Does this federation work on an enterprise basis?  Who wins?  Is there just one winner?

Does a truly multi-tenant Cloud ECM solution (like SharePoint) change the historical ECM paradigm to the detriment of Legacy ECM Suites?  Another way of asking this is “does the legacy ECM model get replaced by a Cloud app model?” 

If you can’t link from a Cloud ECM site to an on-premise repository of record, how does an enterprise information lifecycle get enforced?  Let’s not forget to address the basics.

Could SharePoint win outright or is the winner a multi-repository best of breed story? 

The argument to standardize on SharePoint are straightforward.  (Cost, ubiquity, integration with Microsoft Office, etc.)  The arguments not to standardize and continue with multiple best of breed solutions are also straightforward.  (Too hard to consolidate, too expensive, current solutions work fine, etc.)  The bifurcation of SharePoint into Office 365 and on-premise complicates this story in many organizations based on their ongoing SharePoint investments and implementations.  What happens?  We’ll see. 

How can organizations achieve unified SharePoint, Email and Share Drive content governance and defensible disposition?”

This is still the burning question for many users.  Including additional ECM platforms in this content governance is a bonus, but not the core question we hear most often.  How can we integrate these three environments into a single, simpler enterprise solution?

If hybrid content governance is the future, how do we do it?

This is a high priority architectural question in many clients, especially in the largest organizations.  We are investing in the cloud, but we aren’t storing records or even business critical content there.  How can we integrate our Cloud and on-premises ECM environments into a single, simpler enterprise solution?

#ElectronicRecordsManagement #SharePoint #InformationGovernance


07-13-2013 13:45

Praise from John Mancini is always good.
I agree with Bud's point that most companies aren't worried about these issues. I bring them up because they are the issues I am most interested in and the AIIM Communities are, for me, a really good place to have a running dialogue about the issues confronting ECM. Sometimes the dialogue is within the comments to a post, other times it is across posts, but it is a respectful place to participate in a community.

07-05-2013 16:43

Great post and a great summary of the current issues facing the ECM industry. With regard to governance, records management, and defensible disposition, as burning issues, while we may think these are OUR industries issues, I don't think all companies are too worried about it and are willing to kick the can down the road, actually knowingly ignore the issue, or most likely, not even know it is an issue.

06-19-2013 09:03

Nice job, Mike. Very thought provoking.