Oracle and Documentum

This evening I attended a webinar on the subject of the recent offer from Oracle to existing Documentum customers to trade in their Documentum licenses for Oracle Webcenter licenses. Apart from the shock factor of such an offer I am genuinely interested as Oracle has been something of a sleeping giant when it comes to Content Management. They have bought a vast number of companies but the message has, for some reason, failed to really take off.

Before I go into my observations I must say that I was late for the start of the webinar and my internet connection was very intermittent so whilst I saw the majority of the slides it was clear that a lot of the value came from the voice overs. I’m hoping there will be a recording to watch later on and if there is I will add an updated post if there is something I have missed. I must also say that I have knowledge of the Oracle solutions but I have experience of the Documentum solutions; I don’t favour one or the other by default but my greater experience of the Documentum products enable me to have a better appreciation of their strengths and weaknesses.

I’ve put down what I understood to be the reasons for moving from Documentum to Oracle below:

- Lower labour costs. Oracle are claiming that labour costs will reduce by 93% by moving from Documentum to Oracle. If this is true then it gets my attention immediately. However I do have big reservations on this number, both in its specifics (who can really give evidence of a 93% reduction) and also in its magnitude (just consider that 93% is slightly more than reducing a 10 man team to a 1 man ‘team’).

- Better Web Experience Management. Yes, I get this. With the purchase of Fatwire Oracle have definitely stolen a march on Documentum. Remember EMC originally looked to Fatwire as a partner and potential acquisition target. Documentum does not do WEM or WCM well, end of. If all you are using Documentum for is WEM or WCM then I’d suggest a move.

- Savings on costs relating to Search. It was discussed on the webinar the new Documentum search tool xPlore and the costs involved in upgrading to this. Yes this will be something which Documentum customers will need to face in the near future but its not a compelling reason to move in my view. Interestingly it was also discussed that the Oracle solution enables search of other repositories…well the same goes for Documentum so not an advantage there.

- Better integration points. This homed in on integration with the core Oracle Apps such as E-Business suite. This is definitely an area which I would expect Oracle to have an advantage over Documentum on but its not an area where they have an exclusive advantage. There are third party products available to enable this integration and with the advent of CMIS I would expect this advantage to be marginalised to a degree. Having said that there was no mention of SAP customers, maybe they should just go for OpenText ;-).

- Better Social and Innovation Capabilities. I’d probably agree here. Documentum’s attempts here, Centerstage, have missed the mark for one reason or another and if you’re using Documentum purely for this then you’re probably not on the right platform, although there are other alternatives to Oracle if you do look around.

- Documentum has limited Use Cases. Took me back a little this one, there is being bold and then there is being bold. With any ECM product you can do just about anything, whether you should do just about everything is a different matter but my experience with Documentum is that it is a very flexible platform, in fact I would say at times its disadvantage is its flexibility as it can become an issue as people try to create a silver bullet with it. I’d be surprised if Oracle is any different, from my knowledge it may have integrations with other Oracle products but it lacks some of the flexibility of an xCP style implementation.

What came out in the Q&A session is that the offer is purely for the Content Server licenses. I don’t know of many customers who just use Content Server and do not extend it with something like xCP or Records Manager so there is an interesting challenge to be addressed there.

So where does this leave me?

To be honest I was disappointed. I expected a compelling reason to come out which would help me understand why I can approach Documentum customers and tell them they should move to Oracle. That didn’t come out. There are some situations when a move would make sense and some when it would not and for anyone out there who either has Documentum or is looking at buying it you need to do the right research for your situation. Nothing new there, you don’t invest in a new ECM, either in a greenfield situation or as a replacement, without a high level of due-diligence.

Oracle remains a strong product in this space and to be honest I think they will continue to strengthen in this space, especially with the acquisitions of Fatwire and Endeca. If you’re looking for a new ECM product then it should be one of the ones you look at but make sure you know the capabilities you want from your ECM and map these against the product capabilities.

Final Point

Just a final point on the timing of this offer. Next week is the EMC Documentum conference Momentum. At last year’s conference EMC started to talk about their Next Generation Information Server (NGIS). This will be a big change in the product platform and one of the big advantages is that customers will no longer need a 3rd Party database to support their Documentum implementation as they will bundle everything together with their XML Database xDB. What is the relevance of this? The vast majority of Documentum implementations I have seen use Oracle as the back end database. In the future these will not be required. Food for thought.

General thoughts on (E)CM

Another quiet period of writing, there are a few posts which are itching to get out but they’ll have to wait for another day. I do find though I spend a lot of time just keeping up to date with some of the more prolific bloggers and tweeters in this space such as Pie, Lee and Marko, Ron and Cheryl to name only a few.

Firstly I promise not to break into another post on the E in ECM, there are enough posts and tweets about this in the past to keep you busy but it has been discussed again at length over Twitter.

Three things of interest to me have cropped up in the past couple of weeks which are worth more than a Tweet response:

The Fallout from Info 360 and AIIM in the US

I’m only going on reading what people commented on the event but the things I took from it were:

  • BOX emerging as a viable complementary solution to traditional ECM players. I’ve not completely got my head round the model and implications but the idea of being able to collaborate outside the firewall with other organisations and have that content linked back into your central repository is appealing. That comment is based on talking to customers as well as my own predictions. This is something definitely to look into in more detail.
  • Buzzwords of Cloud, Social and Engagement. (Thanks to @ldallasBMOC for answering my question on what the buzzwords were at the event). Cloud is definitely something I am seeing increasingly as a discussion point, and it is starting to come across more and more in some of the delivery models. Social is something which is ahead of Cloud in its impact on the World Stage but I would suggest behind in the way we are dealing with it in Content Management.
  • An emergence of EMC. Yes the event heralded the departure of Whitney Tidmarsh from EMC but it also saw Jeetu Patel present their vision for the future. This vision was first seen at the Momentum conference in Lisbon last year so this was perhaps the first time it was presented in such a public forum in the US. I was pleased to see this last year and I heard positive vibes from people at Info360 this year. The trick for EMC is now to deliver on that vision and to deliver in a timely fashion or at least to keep the excitement high in the period while we wait, ‘doing a Centerstage’ would be a problem for EMC.

An increase in SharePoint apathy

Now this is only an observation but I am seeing an increase in the number of posts and tweets which are advocating the approach that there is a limit to what should be done with SharePoint. Note the emphasis on should. Most people know how great a product SharePoint is and how it has helped to raise the game of other Content Management players by bringing Content Management more and more to the masses. The big thing though has been an increase in using SharePoint as a solution platform, extending the product to meet much more functionally rich and diverse needs. Now I am not saying this is not possible but there is a point at which you need to start to question whether this is the right thing to do. It is when this line is crossed that complexity and costs rise to a point which is seeing people start to question SharePoint. If you know what you intend to use SharePoint for and are clear on when it should not be used then this apathy can be avoided. This is easily solved through having a very clear roadmap or strategy.

Improved User Experience to be a game changer

This observation is following a post from Brilliant Leap. Now I agree with some of the points in the post about the delays in Centerstage causing EMC to lose market share and also about the consumerization of IT having an impact in the Content Management space. What I don’t agree with though is that this is a Game Changer in the Content Management space. (Note that the post paraphrases this from a presentation at Info360 and is not necessarily claiming it is the Game Changer). Maybe it is a semantic thing on the term User Experience, and maybe I am being a little picky. Why? Well I think if we can remove Content Management from the minds of the people who are creating and managing it and move to a situation where that content is being created and managed for a specific purpose and it is that specific purpose which is driving then we will have a game changer. In fact I had a similar conversation with someone else recently who was focussed on the Content Management solution for an organisation, I argued that Content Management was not a solution but was a layer in the solutions which helped them. With this in mind I really do believe that CMIS, if applied correctly, could be a game changer in the the Content Management world.

Preparing for the EMC IIG Future

Its taken a while but I did say after the event in Lisbon that I would put together some advice for people who are currently skilled in IIG products which will enable them to prepare for the future. In Lisbon a number of major announcements were made on the IIG products which will start to change the products in the next few years, no timescales were given. Some of these changes were:

- the move to the Next Generation Information Server(NGIS) and away fro the Content Server;

- the move away from WDK and towards RCMP for all web clients;

- more cloud enablement of the product stack;

- the introduction of XPlore (technical not announced in Lisbon but the timing of its introduction lets me put it in here!);

So if I was advising a Documentum developer on what to learn what would I advise them to do, in no particular order:

- learn XPlore, depending on what exposure you have to the search components of Documentum most people will need to know the basics of XPlore;

- download, install and try things in Centerstage. Why? Its the first client based on RCMP and if you can start to master development on this platform now you will be well placed when the new clients, such as xCP 2.0, come out. I’d recommend trying with all the facets of it including adding Widgets which could provide integration points with other systems;

- download, install and start to learn xDB. It may take some time for NGIS to be delivered but it will be based on xDB as the database. Learning it now will put you ahead of the game, I would look at starting to build some apps which use the engine for management of structured data which you currently find you need to model in your current Documentum based apps e.g. the POLE model (Person, Object, Location and Event);

- try out the CMIS connectors, a slightly different approach but try different methods of using the CMIS connectors on Documentum. Think of some scenarios where this may be required, e.g. an ERP system which requires to pull documents from multiple content repositories. Try it with multiple Documentum repositories and then throw in a alternative such as Alfresco or SharePoint 2010.

These are just some ideas and they may not get you ahead in the world today, but in the future you’ll be in a strong position.


CMIS and SharePoint

Blimey, two in such a short space of time. This one has been rattling around in my head for some time and I was prompted to write based on the post from Real Story Group.

Now I am not a subscriber so I have not read the full report but the mere fact that there is interest in this subject prompted me to write this. I think CMIS and SharePoint is a difficult topic and I think it is a difficult topic for the SharePoint world. Why? Well its not a simple answer but take a look at this diagram. This describes how SharePoint has been built from the UI backwards. It is the UI which has pushed the development and growth of SharePoint and it is the UI which people focus on.

As a sample when I asked a number of SharePoint Consultants how to integrate SharePoint with an ERP solution they ALL assumed that I meant to have the ERP solution as the back-end repository but with the front end being SharePoint. When I clarified that I wanted SharePoint to be used as the document store for content which is used in ERP transactions then they simply didn’t get this.

CMIS is disruptive to this view in that it puts an unknown on the UI and relegates SharePoint to be a document repository. I use the word relegate on purpose as I believe this is how the SharePoint community would view this Use Case. This is wrong, this is an opportunity to open up a new set of solutions for SharePoint, for it to become more embedded in organisations and be more of a platform service.

I’d love to see some uses of SharePoint with CMIS and how this can open up new opportunities for SharePoint usage in organisations.

One interface to rule them all?

There were a number of comments to my last post about whether an organisation can really attain the common goal of having a single ECM repository. Ultimately I do not believe many organisations will be able to reach this, and there are situations when they should not aim for this. One comment pointed out that a single interface is really the goal of an organisation, users do not care where the information is stored but they do want to know how to get access to it.

I then read Pie’s post on how CMIS is already affecting the market and how one organisation in particular have developed a solution which shows accessing multiple repositories through a single interface.

This is exactly where I see the market going, although I think this is a first step. Being able to search for and view all unstructured content is extremely powerful and Pie comments that the first to market is not usually the one who prevails over time, they will though get some traction in the market. Now start to expand this view, bringing structured information into this view as well. I’ve had a look at Palantir recently and this is very interesting technology, imagine the power of a solution which combines some of the visualisation of Palantir with the ability to add content to your collection. Being able to Tweet, or more likely Yam, on a suspect in a criminal case, or on a new drug development. Adding a drawing which shows how a certain part of an Energy plant works in the same view as looking at the organisational structure of that plant. Eventually people will stop accessing information through hierarchies and start to get access to information through subjects or topics, SharePoint is making a strong move in this direction in 2010. In this view of the world the Content Management platform becomes much more of an infrastructure commodity.

It would be interesting to hypothesize how this change would affect the way in which SharePoint has taken the ECM market. Whilst it is true that the UI is not the main reason why SharePoint has made this move it is still important and is a very convincing reason why people love SharePoint so much. Perhaps the power of SharePoint’s Portal approach, in my view not great but still an advantage over most ECM players, could be a compelling argument for SharePoint to continue to grow.

This may make life harder for end customers but there is every possibility that the vendor with the best, and most usable, interface, will not have the best content repository. However it will drive a lot of competition in the market and really get people thinking both about how they store their content and how they want to interact with it as well as interacting with other information sources.

One repository to rule them all?

This post is in response to a number of tweets which were going around a week or so ago from the likes of Pie and Lee. The questions which were being discussed were around what is a platform and what is a system. It actually resonated with something else which was going around in my mind for the past few weeks which I wanted to get down and out to the wider world.

I’ve seen a number of times now where vendors are pushing for their Content Management product to be the repository platform for a particular organisation, being able to handle all types of unstructured content. I’ve spoken about this myself with customers and I think there are a lot of advantages to this approach, not least the cost and the simplicity of maintaining a single stack. However there are times when an organisation will have multiple repositories and for good reason.

I was starting to consider which model works best. One thing I considered was the approach to Databases, organisations do not tend to have all their structured data in a single repository but will have multiple different repositories within the organisation which are aligned to specific applications. Admittedly organisations will strive to standardise on a database vendor but the reality is that they will have many, many databases within the organisation with lots of information, sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory. In fact this multitude of data has seen the rise of Master Data Management, to help organisations understand which data is the truth, and Data Warehousing where organisations can start to aggregate this data, largely for reporting purposes.

In more recent years we have seen this data made available through a Service Oriented Architecture, where the data and the behaviours associated with it are combined to form services.

So what does this all mean for Content Management? Is it any different from structured data management? And what the hell has this got to do with the discussion on what is a platform and what is a system?

To begin with I cannot see the one repository to rule them all being the way in which organisations go. In fact the recent announcement of EMC’s partnership with Fatwire led to a similar comment from Stephen Powers of Forrester. Further to this we will always see content which is not stored within a single repository, it could be on file shares, it could be within emails, it could be within one of the 2 or 3 different content repositories the organisation use. (Whilst standardisation of technology can be good there are times when having a low cost and easy to use content management system alongside a more feature rich, yet more expensive solution, can be the way forward)

Okay so if we believe that there will not be the one repository to rule them all, where does this leave us? Well I believe it leaves us looking towards the more SOA based view of the world. The repositories expose their content and features which can then be managed through a single layer…this is the platform. When a user works on a piece of content they simply save it with the information needed to identify it, the behaviours they expect of that content and the security rules of that content. The platform layer will then decide which repository to use to store and manage the content. Alternatively users will be able to access a specific system direct in much the way they do now through the SharePoint or Documentum Webtop UI.

This platform layer will be able to interpret and understand what content is available within an organisation and how that content should be treated. This starts to raise other questions such as where does the BPM capability reside and where should content retention be performed? Well this is where I think the platform layer starts to come into its own. For content Retention, read Information retention. It strikes me that in the unstructured world we are well versed in the need to manage and dispose of information appropriately, I am not too sure this is the case in the structured world. This is wrong, the majority of the time the reason for a piece of information being kept or being disposed is due to some of the structured data e.g. customer information, including correspondence, will be based on how long that individual remains a customer, plus whatever period must be added. Similarly in criminal investigations, it is generally related to a date related to the case, be it the court date, charge date or even release date. The simplicity of having a rule where all information stored about an entity (I use the term loosely here) must be retained or can be disposed of should not be overlooked. This leads me on to the question of BPM, similarly a lot of rules which are used and evaluated in the execution of a business process are related to structured information. Many times I have found myself in a position where I need access to some structured information in order to put a rule in a business process. Yes there are solutions to this, e.g. JDBC access to a database form within the Content Management BPM engine, it always seems to be very closely tied to one view or another…whereas it is more important to consider the business process at a slightly more abstract layer which can be easily decoupled from the content repository.

Now this concept may be some way off being achieved but there are two things which lead me to believe it is where we need to be, Cloud Computing and CMIS:

- Cloud Computing. As we start to see more and more organisations put “some” of their content in the cloud the need to understand where their distributed content is will become stronger. I think it ambitious that an organisation will put all their content in the cloud but the lower value content will certainly start to find its way to such a solution. The important thing is that end users do not give a hoot where the content is, they want to know about the content.

- CMIS. It remains early days but the I predict we will see take up of this standard which is wider than the traditional CMS vendors. The more products out there which expose their content through CMIS will make it more likely that a vendor will develop a platform which uses this commonality to provide the functionality I describe above.

I’ll post again in the future as I see this being expanded into some of the Web 2.0 features which exists, plus some discussion on visualisation of all this information.

Pie’s Application Separation

Interestingly when I first read Pie’s tweet to advertise this post I thought it was going to be focussed on Content Enabling applications. I suppose it is but some of the applications he talks about content enabling are very close to the platform services being provided, e.g. WebPublisher and Centerstage. Does this mean I think it is wrong? No, not at all. Pie has exposed a model which is very interesting. With the Core Server customers would buy the platform and a way to interact with the basic services the platform provides, it would be interesting to understand where the line is drawn on Basic Content Services…e.g. is MOSS in this group?

For Applications Pie adds the likes of WebPublisher and Centerstage, the Documentum apps. In this space I see some separation between these style of products and the more vertically focussed implementations. Something more akin to:

- Extended Content Applications – those applications which are still focussed on providing horizontal content solutions but with enriched services focussed on a specific ECM Use Case such as Web Content Managment or Digital Asset Management;

- Business Solution Content Applications – those applications which are taking a specific business solution where there is a need to interact with unstructured content and providing the application to perform these tasks;

It is the latter which I am becoming increasingly interested in, I’m making some notes on a post about Case Management which I hope to post this side of Christmas.

So will Pie’s model work? Yes. Do I think the market is ready for this? Not yet, and I think it is the vendors who are the farthest away from this concept although CMIS should provide a vehicle for them to provide this. Take Documentum for example, with their CMIS release they have some very basic content services which they can expose…the decision they need to make now is which services form the rest of the platform services and how can they expose these in a way which enables CMIS to develop.

There is also a certain amount of kudos which is taken from having your app used by customers at the front end, moving ECM closer to being an infrastructure may not be something the vendors will necessarily embrace. But then how many times will you hear people say things such as “Documentum is a really annoying product” (Quote taken from a quick search of Twitter for Documentum)? The answer is quite high, and this is something which creates a poor reflection on Documentum as the users are typically complaining about the way they interact with the services and not necessarily the services themselves.

Any vendor that can shape themselves to providing the most scalable, performant, secure and compliant unstructured store which provides a rich set of services which can be used will be one step to establishing a differentiator for themselves. The second step will be to get a strong strategy of working with partners to use those services in business focussed applications such as Contract Management, Case Management and Purchase to Pay applications.

Future of ECM

The current trend in the ECM blogosphere is to discuss where we are heading, what is the future vision of Content Management. Pie has discussed a vision which he labels Omnipresent Content Management, and backs this up with an interesting example Use Case. Big Men on Content discuss the trends to what could be termed microcontent, we live in a world where communication is shorter yet more frequent; they also discuss the move to more digital content.

One thing which Pie’s post challenges is the very label of Enterprise Content Management. Whilst the need for organisations to manage the content within their Enterprise will not disappear the approach which has been suggested is that the boundaries between content within the Enterprise and that outside is much less obvious. Basically there’s a big bucket of content which uses metadata and access permissions to distinguish between content within the Enterprise and that outside. Such a move would remove the E from ECM, as Pie suggests.

However if we ponder this nirvana a little longer we can see some problems with the approach, mainly I do not envisage a world with a single content bucket. There will continue to be different content stores, backed by different software products, with slightly different features, and in different physical locations.

I particularly like Chuck Hollis’ recent post on the future ‘lack’ of a filesystem. Many CM products, users, and I expect practitioners, still think with a mindset of where does the content need to go? This is generally how we work when accessing content. I take time to stress to people that the folder within which the content is located is just another piece of metadata about the content but the overriding perception is that this is THE most important piece of information about the content, most users will believe that if they know where the content is then they will know how to find it (well that is kind of obvious!). But this simply does not make sense as we move to a world where the content is supporting the primary business processes of an organisation. I don’t need to know where an Invoice is if I know the PO Number of the Account Number, similarly I do not need to know where a Witness Statement is if I know the Crime Identifier.

Chuck points out that the content repositories which exist can readily handle this more object view of the world but it is people who demand a view which they are comfortable view, and as practitioners we implement it!

So where does this fit in with the future of ECM. Bringing the two points above together, I think there will continue to be multiple repositories both within and external to the enterprise and that the behaviour and storage of this content will become more and more driven by its metadata. Consider a scenario where a biotech organisation is working on a new drug development, they are in the early stages of the development and the content they produce is their asset. This is vitally important to them and will be managed to internally. However during the life of the drug development they agree to a deal with a larger pharmaceutical organisation. At this stage the content needs to be shared, and worked on together. Policies within the internal repository can facilitate the movement of content to another repository which can be shared with the other organisation easily. However to the end user there must be no confusion as to where the content is stored, it is simple content associated with the drug development process to which they have access to.

Of course the future of Content Management will see many more developments than the one above, more formats will emerge, the growth in microcontent will continue, legislation will change, etc….. However if the above can be implemented, and implemented right!, then this will improve organisations’ ability to work across boundaries.

Office Web Applications

Recently I posted a tweet that suggested I believe the imminent release of the Office 2010, and in particular the Office Web Applications, poses a threat to the likes of Documentum and Open Text. It takes more than a tweet to explain this theory.

The video I watched on Office Web Apps can be viewed on the Microsoft site.

So why do I think that putting Word and Excel functionality, et al, onto the Web will pose a threat to the ECM vendors?

I was definitely impressed with the brief video show above and look forward to seeing how this feels for an end user. The site notes that the Office Web Apps are only available when purchasing the SharePoint license. This clearly indicates that the content which is being authored is thus stored in back end SharePoint repository. This close coupling between the authoring tool and the content repository is the clearest threat to the major ECM vendors. It is extremely unlikely that Microsoft will publish an API which enables customers to pick and choose the repository within which there content is stored, I admit I have not looked hard for this information so if they have published anything, positively or negatively, on this front then please let me know.

By unveiling an approach which reduces the distinction between the authoring tool and the storage repository Microsoft have increased the pressure on the ECM vendors. Admittedly the strengths of the likes of EMC and OpenText remain, for example full ECM capability including DAM and WCM, RM and compliance functionality and true scalability. However I suggest that customers will start to look past some of these when they have the power to do so and accept some of the failings in the SharePoint product set in return for the complete solution. This will not be possible for all customers, for example Pharmaceutical validation will still require some of the rich functionality of a Documentum. It also may not be incentive enough for other more CEVAs which have been developed for customers, for example A/P solutions which may use the integration between SAP and OpenText.

For simple Document Management where customers are interested in using a repository which is ‘good enough’ then I believe this is a big play from Microsoft.

Also a number of the ECM vendors have solutions for native interaction with the repository from the desktop Office products; would this even be possible with the new model? What could help the other ECM vendors? CMIS.

If Microsoft were to make a leap and enable their Office Web Applications to be used with any CMIS compliant repository then this would be a step towards customers keeping their options open.

There’s a lot that still needs to be considered but if Microsoft do lock the Office Web Apps into a SharePoint repository then I see this as a major threat to the ECM vendors.