I spent yesterday wandering the great hall at the Boston Convention Center for this year's AIIM Expo and On Demand trade show and I was left wondering if enterprise content management is still relevant.
Maybe it was the dreary stormy day in Boston or the fact the trade show space was a mile from the nearest T station. Maybe it was the cavernous space, but I didn't get the feeling the show was drawing the huge crowds I was used to seeing in years past when I went to the show at the Javits Center in New York City.
But I don't think it was the weather or the lack of public transportation or even the size of the room. It was the complete lack of innovation. I can't help feeling that ECM has lost its wow factor. It has matured to the point it really has nothing new and exciting to offer customers. It may still have a compelling argument that it belongs in the enterprise application infrastructure, and in fact, I think it still does have a place. But when an industry has been around for 15 or 20 years, and never made the big push into the enterprise everyone (including me) always felt it would, I can't help but feel time might have passed ECM by.
One speaker who clearly seemed to sense the sea change was John Newton, CTO of Alfresco, a new breed of ECM company built on open source components. Newton, who helped start Documentum many years ago, pointed out that while ECM is a $4B a year business, it still has only single digit penetration. He says that ECM is too big, too expensive and too complex, and increasingly the current generation of ECM packages fails to take new types of content into account.
Newton describes today's IT people as wanting to control information, sitting inside a protected data bubble, but outside the bubble, users are increasingly looking beyond the enterprise for information in Google, RSS feeds, blogs and other Web 2.0 sites. What current ECM vendors are missing, he says, is this information that sits outside the enterprise. He explains that companies don't seem to understand there is life now inside and outside the enterprise and the content management system needs to take this into account.
To some extent what Newton describes is the idea of the enterprise engaging customers, partners and others and inviting them into the conversation, while at the same time giving up an element of control that IT has demanded over the past 20 years. At the same time, by using open source components and inviting systems integrators to use the Alfresco platform, he is building a new kind of ECM model where customers can build systems using components that best suit them and yet be flexible enough to take the newer content into account.
Open source ECM is by no means new nor is it a panacea for ECM customers, and Newton admits there are many issues left to be resolved including the sticky issue of security and authentication, knowing what's coming inside your firewall, yet Newton believes that there is a new way to conduct business in the ECM space, and his was a lonely but welcome voice yesterday among a sea of dinosaurs unable to offer anything new or compelling or interesting.