The Alfresco executive team and I have been on the east coast at a user advisory panel for our American customers here in New York. (See "Is New York the Center of the Software Universe?") That is one of the reasons that I haven’t been blogging as much. This meeting was graciously hosted by one of our customers, the law firm, Davis Polk and Wardell. The meeting room was such a contrast from our offices in little old Maidenhead with a conference room that was as big as our whole office.
We received a lot of great feedback, but it will take me a while to digest all the information. However, I can share the strategy that I presented to this group. In attendance were two large software companies, two major banks, one federal agency, one newspaper and two major games manufacturers. All of them are also customers of other ECM products, but have chosen Alfresco for new content applications. They also said that none of the other ECM products are thinking about what comes next or at least they aren’t communicating it to their customers - probably a combination of both.
I started by discussing what we saw in terms of major business trends. These included:
- Greater purchase power of IT customers
- Continued outsourcing of non-core activities and related communications problems
- More, not less regulation
- Acceptance of Open Source by major corporations
- The fruition and fatigue of implementing Service Oriented Architectures
- Further consolidation of enterprise software
- Re-emergence of B2B initiatives
- Major rewrites of corporate web presence based upon Web 2.0 concepts
Additionally, some people mentioned the move toward a more trust-based development of content, particularly things like wikis, but also pointed out the continuing need to demonstrating trust through workflow for regulated content. Others pointed out the trend for the desktop to just go away with Google taking a lead in this direction.
I also gave my predictions of what is going to happen next in the ECM market as a result of enterprise software consolidation and IBM buying FileNet. Some of this informed by Geoffrey Moore’s Stack Wars in Orchestrating the Stack, which is a great insight into the maturation of the software industry, but neglects to mention the impact of open source. We believe that open source will provide an alternative stack that will be open to substitution of best of breed parts regardless of whether those parts are open or closed.
My guess as to what will happen to the ECM market is:
- SAP will buy an ECM vendor further filling out one of the prime stacks in Geoff’s Stack Wars
- OpenText continues to look for a buyer. Could they hook up with SAP after being jilted by Oracle? OpenText’s iXOS acquisition makes this an attractive pairing.
- Vignette, partnering with companies like Microsoft, are testing the waters for a possible acquisition
- Interwoven is testing a niche play by retreating into Marketing applications, but may still opt for being acquired. EMC could do worse than to acquire Interwoven. They could also help Microsoft.
- The remaining players (other than Alfresco) will retreat into niche areas either around verticals or technical specialization. After the current boom in web redesign, this is a sure path to the living dead.
- Alfresco may end up being last independent ECM vendor
- The introduction of Microsoft Sharepoint 2007 will be the single most disruptive factor in the ECM market
- Sharepoint 2007 has not really launched yet, but in competitive situations, Microsoft has told customers that a new version will be out (Service Pack 1?) with additional Web 2.0 features. Will this be the time that Sharepoint launches along with all the customers that Microsoft has been giving free consulting to?
- Continued expansion of Alfresco will be the second most disruptive factor
One person asked about the missing Gorilla - Google. To what extent would we be competing against Google? Looking at a next 3 year time frame to 2010, I don’t see it happening, but it could in 5 years. Interestingly, at Davos Eric Schmidt made the statement that as far as Google is concerned, web sites, applications, service provision, telcos and devices are all merging together. If that is true, an always connected Google would have a powerful position.
I talked about standards as well. I have been reluctant to blog about these, because I am not sure what the confidentiality rules are around participation in the JCP (the JSR process) or in AIIM’s iECM. However, at a high level, I think that:
- JSR-170 still only has stealth support as IBM and Oracle have active development around this standard, but don’t really say anything about it
- JSR-283 is moving along and will have greater acceptance with the greater involvement of IBM, FileNet and Oracle. We’ll see what happens with Documentum
- iECM is not happening, but something will happen to fill its place
With these current factors and trends, what will happen to technology? Well I have already written my predictions for what will happen by the year 2010. But I stuck my ill informed neck out to predict that storage will triple in capacity, network capacity will increase by 5 times and with WiMax emerging, we will see the first notions of constant connectivity. I also predicted that typical desktop PC will have 4 to 8 cores in this time frame. The only pushback I got was that one customer believes that cores are low and that we will see 64 cores in this timeframe.
There are substantial implications for these factors. Desktops are overkill for the applications that people will be working in 2010. Much more knowledge worker activity will be handled on handheld devices that will be much more easier to use due to improvements in user interface and much greater power and storage.
At this point we had a very interesting discussion on licensing. Our customers were concerned about what happens to our per CPU pricing model when cores go up to 64 and beyond. It is a problem that is facing every enterprise software manufacturer that charges based upon CPUs or servers. Those companies that charge per user will face a backlash of charging this way when all a user does is take a look at a single piece of content. The idea of charging for usage also came up as an access or “click” charge appealed to some people as a way of paying for value. Someone mentioned Google per content model, but most seemed to agree that this was hard to measure and enforce. Expect more discussion in this area in the future.
I then discussed some of my thoughts around Web 2.0 and its relationship Right-brained thinking. The nature of right-brained thinking with its specialization of artistic sense, spatial relationships, face recognition, abstract concepts and future orientation explains a lot about the trends happening in Web 2.0. The way to think about this is that the first wave of the web was about use left-brained programmers who built it and now it is about everybody else.
I believe that there are implications as well for enterprise software as the focus moves from back office systems to front office applications and customer facing web sites. The Web 2.0 concepts of conversations and connections between people must factor in these systems as do improvements with usability. Creativity and engagement will be just as important as the factual accuracy, completeness of information.
The subject then turned to Sharepoint. Many companies represented also have Sharepoint implementations. No one seemed especially pleased with it, but felt that it implementation was inevitable largely due to Sharepoint’s connection to Office. This is consistent with my observation that Sharepoint is an extension of the Office monopoly. I reiterated my point that I made in What the Heck is Sharepoint 2007 that Microsoft is still not clear on what Sharepoint is. The only definition is this picture:
However, I conceded that Sharepoint is addressing a need in the enterprise that was not being met by the other ECM vendors. It is a knowledge worker stack for building knowledge worker applications as long as all the tools, platform and databases are Microsoft. Open Source, I believe, will provide an alternative with best of breed components. Our advisors suggested that we provide out of the box templates that would make it easier for end users to visualize what is possible. Our advisors also suggested that we provide integration with Office as Sharepoint does, which Paul Holmes-Higgin was able to demonstrate later. (Slick demo by the way.)
Prior to going into a detailed review of the Roadmap with Paul Holmes-Higgin and Kevin Cochrane, I talked about the strategy our team has been developing of creating a next generation ECM platform that meets the needs of Web 2.0 and exceeds platforms like Sharepoint. Characteristics of this platform include:
- Multi-channel distribution to mobile devices as well as PCs
- Mashup architectures that blur the line between internal and external systems
- Incorporate best of breed components regardless of the platform upon which they were developed
- Appliance delivery including soft appliances as virtual machines
- Highly interactive content as visual, video-oriented and personal. We would really like to see Flex become open source and become the basis of this content.
- People-oriented with close connections to directory services, presence and instant messaging
- De-centralized and loosely coupled in the same style that we have integrated OpenSearch
- Evolved by the community where it is not a single vendor driving its development and it developed through cooperation, not competition
For Alfresco there are four main use cases that our driving our strategy. These use cases are independent of how the solution is delivered whether it is a simple download, an additional package, a completely configured virtual machine, embedded in a device or hosted.
- Collaborate and Publish. We have seen in many companies a desire to set up an out of the box solution that allows users to collaborate on deliverables, help them track and manage those deliverables and then publish out the result to the web. In another time and place, one would call this knowledge management.
- Controlled documents. These are things like contracts and procedures that may be regulated and need to go through version control, review and approval and be audited.
- Intranet and Internet sites. This includes sites that are especially targeted toward marketing products.
- Records Management. The nice thing about US DoD 5015.2 is that it is a use case and has an entire validation test suite.
Our product strategy is to do the following:
- To fulfil the four quadrants of ECM functionality of document, web content, image and records management. The four quadrants are the main areas that Forrester says are the main areas that are being spent on ECM.
- Componentize our user interface to make it more mashable with other web sites and web applications. This is also the basis for our portal and Office integrations.
- Focus on Web 2.0 - People and Collaboration. We went through what our plans are for wikis and blogs as well as calendaring and integration with directory information.
Other things that are important for our product strategy include scalability where we ultimately want to scale to 1 billion objects with 100 million being the next stopping point. We also plan to do more work on distributed including replication of content, but still focusing on loosely-couple architectures. Finally, we intend to work on security, particularly in a loosely-coupled, mashed up environment where it is necessary to authenticate not just inside the enterprise, but outside and between web properties.
Overall, we got great feedback from an impressive list of customers. It’s too bad that their legal departments won’t let me mention their names. I look forward to writing up more about what they feel we could be doing better and where we should be investing our time.