While in Meribel in France, I was with some of the best minds in content management. Howard Shao co-founded Documentum and only recently retired. Razmik Abnous is now the CTO of EMC Content Management and Archiving. Frank Chao is head of EMC Content Product Operations. This was a very tempting opportunity to try and discuss the future of enterprise content management.
However, it was also an opportunity for the EMC guys to express their annoyance with me. After all, here I am saying that there is no innovation in the ECM industry, so what do I think they have been doing over the last several years. Fair point, after all EMC has a very prominent and leading position in the ECM industry. By the end of this year, they will be within spitting distance of $1 billion in revenue and that is a tremendous accomplishment.
I left Documentum in January 2001. After 11 years, it seemed like a good time to look for new opportunities. The stock was at an all time high and I had been discussing my leaving with then CEO Jeff Miller since the sales award trip in Hawaii in April 2000 on what Jeff called the “Walk on the Beach”. At the time, we had our core of document management, an emerging web content management product, important relationships with image management vendors and a growing ecosystem. Then the recession came in less than three months after I left. All hell broke loose in the enterprise software market.
Instead of folding under the pressure, Howard Shao, Dave DeWalt and the executive team continued on the strategy to consolidate the various technologies that make up Enterprise Content Management. Although the term Enterprise Content Management had already existed, this was the time that it was actually created in the form that we understand it today. The reason that the EMC people on the ski trip were annoyed was because this was a major innovation in enterprise software. It also created the fastest growing sector in the enterprise software market.
Razmik Abnous listed out the three main innovations that EMC had embarked upon during that time to create what he described as Enterprise Readiness for ECM. The first is to have a consolidated repository for all functions of ECM, which today is EMC’s main selling point against its nearest rivals. The second is to have created a distributed architecture that allows major corporations have a single logical repository composed of loosely-coupled, geographically-distributed repositories. The third innovation is to create a whole-product view of business process management that goes beyond simple workflow to include planning, simulation and analysis. These three innovations make the EMC content technologies ready to meet the large scale requirements of corporations that IBM, FileNet, OpenText and others are not able to meet.
I am happy to give EMC Documentum and my friends their due to the vision that they had outlined and upon which they have been able to execute. It is a significant accomplishment to be able to have such a reach more than three times the revenue that Documentum had when I left, expand market share so dramatically and build product that customers want.
I don’t think this is inconsistent with what I have said in the past. What I have said is that the ECM market has emphasized consolidation. Documentum has been the real innovator behind that consolidation. There are many types of innovation - there is technological innovation, business model innovation, marketing innovation and user experience innovation. Documentum has focused on the area that has given them clear advantage in closing larger deals. IBM, FileNet, OpenText and Microsoft all follow and Documentum is only following its vision. On the other had, much of the technology, aside from the list that Razmik had presented already existed at the beginning of this decade. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a lot to do from an R&D perspective, especially in merging these technologies into a consistent whole.
There are interesting challenges ahead for all of us. As Gartner has pointed out, the penetration of content management in enterprises today is only a fraction of the potential in organizations today. Whether it is Forrester’s ECM for the masses or Gartner’s basic content services, ECM will need to get simpler and more integrated with a new generation of software services. Web 2.0 has had massive impact on content and all its innovation has been driven by open source. All the ECM vendors should rise to the change of creating a viable standard to do for ECM what SQL has done for databases. It is probably worth EMC to be more open about what it is doing in all these areas. EMC has talked about aspect-oriented programming in its developer forums making Alfresco and Documentum the only ECM systems providing this style of development and yet few people know about it. Lots of things have been happening in EMC around web services, particularly in conjunction with what was going on in iECM and yet few people know about it.
Howard said, “I don’t think about it as innovation. I am just doing what is intuitively obvious and customers are willing to pay us money for that.” Having worked with Howard for a very long time (20 years), I know that what is intuitively obvious to Howard is not yet intuitively obvious to others, but it will be eventually. The rest of the ECM industry has consistently learned this to their detriment.
Alfresco and EMC are working from completely different models of innovation. We are trying to be as open as possible about how we are approaching the development of our system. We are also incorporating other open source projects to spread the load of innovation and force it to its edges. Documentum is taking a multi-layered approach of close consultation with key customers, use large user groups, put out broader statements of direction and have a very large R&D budget. I believe that our approach is the winner in the long run, because it will involve more people, avoid the mistakes of developing product without serious feedback, and have a best of breed approach from our fellow open source projects that are increasingly also coming from the enterprise environment. However, it would be a mistake to ignore what has been a powerful force for change in the market. It's up to them to continue to execute.