It has been two weeks since AIIM and I promised to write up something on the keynote presentation by Jeff Teper, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft Sharepoint. However, I have spent a good chunk of time thinking about the presentation so that I could give a more thoughtful commentary. Since Microsoft is out to disrupt the ECM market, all ECM vendors should care what Jeff and others at Microsoft think.
The title of the presentation was From BI to Blogs and Workflow to Wikis - Enabling Governance and Empowerment. I have the presentation from the AIIM website. I suppose if you want a copy you can email Jeff to get it. If you post a comment or send me an email, I will see what I can do. The title indicates that there is a natural tension between traditional enterprise systems such as business intelligence and ECM and the new generation of content tools such as Blogs and Wikis. This is an interesting observation and the two sets of technologies are rarely juxtaposed against each other. Without ever mentioning “Web 2.0”, Jeff was capturing some of the elements of Web 2.0 and their implications on the enterprise.
In my blog on AIIM, I had originally chastised Jeff for taking a very partisan approach to a keynote address. Looking at the slides, at least in the beginning his presentation had a very neutral perspective to the issues facing corporations. Looking at my notes that I took that captured both what he was saying as well as what was on the screen provided a much different outlook. This presentation was clearly about Sharepoint and where Microsoft was aiming Sharepoint. Although it was a sales pitch for Sharepoint, I nonetheless found it interesting and an important introduction to some of the missing concepts in Enterprise Content Management. Russ Stalters said that he found nothing new in this presentation, but I found new insights into Microsoft’s positioning of Sharepoint. Russ probably gets invited to more Sharepoint events than I ever would. However, I found new messages that I had not seen in other Sharepoint literature that is publicly available.
Governance vs. Empowerment
The major premise of the presentation is that enterprises need to balance governance, a control of information, with empowerment, the free flow of ideas and collaboration between employees, teams, departments, other enterprises and customers. Identifying the regimes of control in execution-driven organizations as being able meet new regulatory and risk control, he contrasts this with innovation-driven organizations (“like Microsoft” as Jeff mentioned) that empower their employees by allowing them to make their own decisions and provide the technology to do so. Islands of information were also preventing cooperation and collaboration. By providing a “Best of Both” approach, enterprises can meet the financial and legal risk associated with information out of control with the need to innovate to meet the new challenges of internet-based competition, closer partnerships in design, and attracting and retaining talent from a new, web-enabled generation of employees. Microsoft served as a good example of what corporations are up against and he used Microsoft as case studies for many of these examples.
He stated that a new set of technology enablers has made it possible to meet the needs of providing a best-of-both solution. Hardware and software are increasing in functionality with 64-bit computing coming on line and multi-core processors in ordinary desktops. Web-based innovation and changes in user experience have brought new forms of collaboration, searching and shopping (although Microsoft hasn’t exactly been one of the leaders in this area.). Interoperability through web services and XML makes it possible to connect disparate systems together.
It is at this point he provides the new playing field in which to position Sharepoint. Two dimensions outline this playing field with Governance on the Y axis and Empowerment on the X axis. High on Governance, but low on Empowerment are the enterprise software technologies of data warehouses, ECM and portals. High on Empowerment, but low on Governance are the desktop applications of spreadsheets, group and personal databases, and intranets. If only someone would provide the best of both these capabilities, that would be the next generation productivity platform. By balancing both, a platform can provide governance through policy controls, rights management, auditing and controlled architecture along with the empowerment of self-service, better UI, role delegation and pervasive collaboration.
This next generation productivity platform, of course in Microsoft’s opinion, would be Sharepoint and “other products that you can find on the show floor.” I buy the distinction between governance and empowerment, but I believe it is more of a single continuum between governance and empowerment in a single dimension. Why this is important is that the reason we have governance and empowerment has a lot to do with what type of content, what application, context and who in the enterprise is being addressed and not simply at technology trade-off. There are times where governance is essential and times where empowerment can only be handled through laissez faire policies, but the overlap is not as big as he suggests. What is more common is that there are clear interfaces between these activities that prevent contamination of the other.
Microsoft’s Sharepoint Strategy?
Once a best of both is achieved, then a strategy of creating a connected organization, building a holistic information management experience, and investing in a strong vendor ecosystem will yield a “Strategy for Success”. Jeff used the example of a consumer products company that went with a best of breed strategy and met issues of interoperability and challenges to make their information infrastructure work. He emphasized the importance of holistic solutions that link everything together. What he implied was that all the important systems were Microsoft systems.
I didn’t quite get this transition and its connection to the best of both other than Microsoft says so. However, this looks like a reasonable strategy for customer, but more importantly for Microsoft. It is probably Microsoft’s strategy for success in competing against two major forces and laying them against this playing field. On the Governance side are the traditional enterprise vendors, in particular the ECM vendors. On the other end is open source who originated the empowerment tools of the wiki and blogs. Microsoft can add 1 plus 1 and yield 3 by combining these capabilities and leverage their strengths of enterprise pervasiveness, a broader platform, and a strong ecosystem to beat the competition.
The Connected Organization plays to Microsoft’s strengths of going where Windows is and to connect islands of information. Because of Sharepoint’s price point relative to the major ECM vendors, it has gone piecemeal into many organizations and with Sharepoint 2007, there is a strong emphasis on search and portals as the means to aggregate and federate the organization. Jeff presented a chart that linked different lines of business and connected them to the people in those organizations, which is a major theme of Sharepoint 2007.
It was at this point that I expected to hear what I hoped I would get out of this presentation - a definition of what is Sharepoint 2007. One of my most Googled blogs is What the Heck is Sharepoint 2007, which goes to show that a lot of other people are wondering the same thing. We even see eWeek’s Mary Jo Foley frustrated in finding a definition for Sharepoint and potentially sees it as the next operating system.
What is Sharepoint 2007?
What came up was a slide titled “Holistic Information Management”. To the left was the familiar wheel of six technologies: Collaboration, Portal, Search, Content Management, Business Process, and Business Intelligence. However, this time the circle included the words “Experience Management Platform” in the center. So is Sharepoint Holistic Information Management or is it an Experience Management Platform? Neither of these terms is in common usage in IT shops nor would I say that IT managers are seeking either. This must be frustrating for Microsoft that they have not been able to articulate what Sharepoint is nor can they associate it with a specific market that the industry can rally around. It’s not quite as simple as addressing the operating system, database or CRM markets as they have in the past.
It’s worth pausing for a moment to reflect on both terms Holistic Information Management and Experience Management Platform. When Jeff spoke about the platform being holistic, he mentioned issues around interoperability and security. By thinking holistically and integrating with other systems, the experience can be seamless for the end user. Perhaps I was too busy trying to take in what was being said in this slide, but I don’t recall anything being said about Experience Management. A quick search of all of Microsoft.com doesn’t produce any results either against search.microsoft.com or Google against link:microsoft.com. Maybe I am reading too much into this, but at the core this could one of two things. It could be management of the user experience where new UIs are presented in the six different technologies. Nah! It could be managing experience as a synonym for knowledge. My assumption has been that Sharepoint is a knowledge worker platform for creating applications incorporating all the technologies that would normally get folded into a portal to support knowledge workers.
Why this is important is it gives us a clue on what Microsoft thinks Sharepoint is, how comprehensive it is, and where it will get targeted. Equally important, it says what Sharepoint is not - you wouldn’t build an ERP system on top of it. (Would you?) This picture of six technologies expands the notion of content applications beyond the vision of the ECM vendors. It is also a platform that provides insights and access to other systems that can affect content. In other words, it is holistic from the users’ perspective in serving up information to knowledge workers. Ironically, nothing is said about the new empowerment technologies here. Sticking to the same picture that is probably about a year old, with new position of wikis and blogs, the thrust of the first half the presentation is lost. However, I would expect to see more of this type of positioning in the near future.
After positioning the technology, Jeff handed over to Arpan Shah, Group Product Manager, for a demo. Probably because this is AIIM, the demo was very document management focused. However, the demo started with Wikis and Blogs to show the empowerment of end users to add content. In my mind Wikis are associated more with simplified link management rather than formatting, but it was the latter that Arpan emphasized. Blogs were straight forward enough and show what that might mean in an enterprise environment. The rest focused on more document oriented activities like the construction of corporate PowerPoint presentations from Sharepoint, linkage from Office, the creation of a team website, and the set up of basic workflows. Arpan showed Outlook as the off line tools for accessing and syncing documents to and from Sharepoint. The core differentiation from the other ECM vendors that Arpan demonstrated was Office integration and the new media types of wikis and blogs.
Microsoft Ecosystem vs. ECM
Jeff then resumed by displaying the Microsoft ecosystem and customer base. There were a couple of advertisements of customer stories at Starbucks and Miami Dade County Schools as well as the logos of every major company in the world. This should obviously make any ECM vendor concerned. It is for that reason that Microsoft showed that it is working with vendors like EMC, OpenText, Vignette and Interwoven, probably to encourage others to hop on the Sharepoint bandwagon. This is otherwise known as embrace and extend.
Jeff very prominently displayed a collaboration between EMC and Sharepoint from October 2006. An agreement to cooperate that allows Documentum to fit within the Sharepoint hooks of Office and Sharepoint portal to access Documentum more easily. He then presented a collaboration with OpenText where OpenText is building solutions on top of Sharepoint combining Sharepoint empowerment with OpenText expertise in regulated documents. Jeff then made a slip of the tongue about how vendors such as Documentum and OpenText can build solutions on Sharepoint. I’m sure that EMC sees the opportunity for Sharepoint to build applications on top of Documentum.
Microsoft’s strategy seems to be still in formulation, but their objectives are not. Jeff Raikes has said that Sharepoint is one of the fastest growing products Microsoft has ever had and expects Sharepoint to do about $1B in revenue in 2008. Much of that revenue comes not from the portal or BI market but from a zero sum game against the ECM market where revenues are richest. They are changing the game by expanding out a platform that encompasses all the technologies that are useful in building solutions for knowledge worker solutions in enterprises. As my colleague Ian Howells pointed out that Microsoft has five main approaches to marketing: a drag race, platform play, stealth play, best-of-both play and a high-low play. In general, Sharepoint seems to be a platform play, but with a best-of-both twist with the both being ECM vendors on one end and open source collaboration tools on the other.
There are many things that I have to admire about Microsoft’s ambition. It is large and grand. Like many other Microsoft products, they have got a lot of things right in version 3 of Sharepoint. However, there are many things of which I don’t think as highly. Sharepoint got here because closed APIs in Microsoft Office allowed them exclusive access to repository functions from Office into Sharepoint. With Office owning 90% of the Office Suite market after shutting out Lotus and WordPerfect with its Windows monopoly, they are now using the Office monopoly to extend control into the repository market. They used the power of the Windows distribution channels to get free Sharepoint Services in more places than it would naturally. Although they imitate a lot of features of ECM vendors, they are unable to articulate what exactly they have created or innovated despite making public their plans for quite some time. Their choice to focus on an entirely Microsoft stack maybe in their interests, but not for those who have invested in Java, LAMP, Unix or other stacks.
We are tracking Microsoft because they are smart people and what they say and do matters in Enterprise Content Management. However, they are asking you to make an investment in a Holistic Information Architecture that covers a wide variety of functionality, including ECM. Yet they have had a difficult time articulating exactly what this platform is and where it might be applied. They don’t even use the term Enterprise Content Management, yet here they were presenting in the largest conference devoted to that topic referring to other ECM vendors building on their repository. Just as they are coming to market with Sharepoint 2007, new Web 2.0 techniques are becoming hot and they need to be seen addressing these. There vision is simultaneously comprehensive and vague in its target. Given that their product lifecycles are measure in many years, it is important know where they are going and they have just not made that clear in this presentation.