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.

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.

Me and Content Management

Pie seems to prompt a number of my blog posts on here, actually good that someone can initiate activity and spur me on to provide comment! Anyway, his latest prod has been on how we got involved in Content Management.

I actually started my IT career developing a set of workflow components based on Oracle technology, both Forms and some server side procedures. One of the implementations of this ‘product’ was in a pharmaceutical company within the manufacturing division. We implemented an application for tracking incidents in the plant to ensure they were fully investigated and any corrective action taken. As part of this various parties in the process would produce reports in the Document Management system they used, Saros Document Manager. I was very loosely involved in tha area of the system as I concentrated on the process design and implementation, nevertheless it was a start. (N.B. for those that don’t know FileNET acquired Saros).

I then worked on an eCommerce project for an online music store, well before Amazon! Whilst not Document Management this taught me the need for some of the basic Web Content Management services such as staging, approvals and content expiry…in effect we were building this functionality into the eCommerce application.

Anyway a change in career left me joining a company who specialised in Document Management implementations, amongst other things. To integrate me into the company I was sent to Sweden for 6 months where I learned an awful lot under the tutelage of some very knowledgeable, and patient, experts. The product they used the most was Documentum, and welcome to the world of RightSite…oh how life has moved on.

Interestingly I was asked to look at a new concept, this was in 2000/2001, Microsoft had released a product named Tahoe and I was asked to look at a new offering for the company called ‘Webben som Arbeitsplan’, or Web as a Workplace. We even built some integration between Tahoe and Documentum which we achieved through Web Services and the, at the time, emerging SOAP standards. Funny that 8 years later I’m still speaking to customers about the best way to achieve that!

Momentum 2008: Introduction to Centerstage

My first open session of Momentum and an opportunity to hear more on Centerstage. Previously I have read about Centerstage and had a few discussions with people, I was hoping to build on this knowledge. For those that don’t Centerstage is the new UI from Documentum, it is not a replacement for webtop but is more in the eRoom space. It is close to Sharepoint in its style.

An introduction was given on how the way we work has changed. Changes in the way we interact on the web are feeding into the enterprise. People are always connected and expect to receive information in a timely fashion. The information which they receive should be managed in a CMS.

Centerstage has been produced to promote sharing, to promote people working in a community and to overcome the problem of information silos.

Some of the key points from the demo:

– the UI is very configurable;

– ease of use was a primary objective;

– the new faceted search looks great, this lets the user perform a search and then narrow this down further through facets…basically sets of metadata;

– one such metadata item is the topic, this looks like keywords but more on that in a later session;

– it includes the concept of a widget which can be added to the page/site (more on these later too!);

– pages consist of a mix of widgets and inline content;

– Pro version will include Public Spaces (need to find out more about these);

– the product is about providing composite views of information;

– everything is RSS subscribeable;

– everything can be tagged, these are implemented as relationships;

– Pro will include a greater choice of available widgets;

– quick view of the mobile solution, looked very much like a twitter interface;

– solution plans for customisations, called extension points;

– they introduced the new layer for interoperability, named Rich Content Management Platform (RCMP);

Overall this really was an introduction session, I’ll attend the more technical ones to get a better idea of how it works. I was really impressed with the UI but this is a move into a crowded marketplace for EMC, this is going up against a number of others mainly MOSS. The big thing that struck me in the session is that this is as near as EMC will get to having a Portal, unless they ever do purchase a Portal vendor. The concept of widgets is very similar to Portlets and will enable integration with other systems…even more so when considering the use of CMIS as an integration layer protocol. The session was very well attended which demonstrates the level of interest in the product, I’m not sure we will see much in 2009 but towards the end of year and into 2010 I think we might see some interesting options around this area.