Oracle recently announced that it will be creating an alternative to Microsoft Sharepoint as reported in Information Week. What many people may or may not be aware is that this is in a long-line of attempts by Oracle to break into the content management market. What would be interesting is what is the driver behind this latest attempt.
- Is it Larry Ellison's long-standing hate of Bill Gates and Microsoft?
- Is the appearance of Chuck Phillips as President and who used to cover this space as an analyst at Morgan Stanley?
- Is it fear of IBM beating Oracle in the database market?
- Is it a recognition that the ECM market should be a lot larger than it is and potentially larger than the DBMS market?
Government documents from the Microsoft-DOJ case (government exhibit P0035) indicated that Documentum was a prime candidate for takeover by Oracle. A subpoenaed presentation dated April 14, 2003 showed Documentum was one of a few companies strategically considered for acquisition along with Peoplesoft, BEA, Business Objects, Sybase, JD Edwards, Lawson and Cerner. The presentation stated that there were strong synergies with Oracle's installed base, that DCTM was the acknowledged leader in a fragmented space, and that it competed effectively against IBM. There was some concern over DCTM's overlap with iFS, the technology basis for the current announcement. What Oracle may not have even noticed was that ORCL was making more money off of DCTM than DCTM was.
What happened after that strategy was that PeopleSoft consumed Oracle's time and energy and let EMC buy DCTM. I had left DCTM by this point, but my understanding is that both IBM and ORCL had the opportunity to counter-offer, but that EMC's price was too rich for Oracle. I have to wonder if Oracle regrets that decision.
Clearly, Oracle still wants to get a foot into this market as the current announcement indicates. I suspect that somebody as smart as Chuck Philips knows the potential of the market. IBM's strategy is also to fund and develop the unstructured information side of DB2. IBM sees content as the future of its DB2 platform and Oracle knows they must counter that. Given the analysis done in April 2003 and the dogged attempts to get into the market, they know that they must play catch-up.
Unfortunately for Oracle, they probably don't have the platform that will attract users, despite aggressive pricing. The iFS system derives from a project started in the mid-90s and has been slow to develop. In fact, it may have its roots even further back in time. When we started Documentum back in 1990, we were competing (successfully) for talent against Oracle who were trying to build something very similar to Documentum according to the candidates we interviewed and hired. Every 3 or 4 years Oracle would come back with another attempt and get completely slaughtered in any deals that we would compete against.
Going to Oracle's web site for the latest release, you can see that the 10.1 release is only available on Linux and Solaris platforms at the moment. If your register and click through, you can see that the release is 3 Gigabytes in size! I can't be bothered to download something that large and I would expect that would be the case for most users. Going through the documentation for the Collaboration Suite 10.1, you can see that the docs are twice as big to download as the entire Alfresco system.
I was on a panel at Gilbane's European Conference with Rich Buchheim who runs Oracle's content management group. Nice guy. Based upon his comments, I could guess what functionality would be in the new content management system. He said it was important to make using content management as easy as using the shared file drive. We couldn't agree more, as the functionality of the system looks very similar to Alfresco's having looked through the overview. It looks like they require a client installed in order to achieve the shared file system access. Also, much of their workflow functionality requires installing their BPEL engine. This brings into question how many other extras one has to buy to get it going. Still, you can't beat free and open source software.
If I were Microsoft, I wouldn't be too worried about this announcement. Although Sharepoint has more than its share of problems, this comes down to installed base versus installed base. It's not like people are going to download the system given its size and complexity. There still is not the breadth of functionality to beat an EMC Documentum either. Oracle will be chasing its installed base to gain a credible market share.