Information Management Trends

I was asked this question in a meeting the other day and to be honest it caught me on the back foot a little, I’ve probably been too close to detail over the past few months to really take a step back and think. The question was ‘What do you see are the current trends or hot topics in the Information Management world?’. Whilst I gave an answer which I believe was acceptable I decided it was time to take a few moments to reflect on what I am seeing in the market. I’m sure there are other things going on out there but I thought I would share some of my views:

SharePoint 2010 – there is no doubt that this continues to be the product with the biggest influence over the market. More and more customers are starting to explore the features which SP2010 delivers and it is starting to find its home within the overall market. It won’t, in fact can’t, do everything that everyone wants but there is a strong discussion to be had on why not SharePoint!

SharePoint 2010 – this time I am considering the impact the product has had on the other vendors in this space. Whilst I think it is too far to suggest that the likes of OpenText, EMC, Oracle and IBM have given up on their core Document Management solutions they have realised that this is a difficult fight for them if they go toe-to-toe on the basic content services when compared to SharePoint. As a result they are all trying their utmost to find their space in the market. IBM and EMC appear to be placing their bets on the Case Management style solutions and OpenText appear to be focussing on the Social Media and Web 2.0 space.

Convergence of Data and Content – this is happening in so many different ways. Top of the tree is Big Data as more and more people are seeing that Big Data is not just about Big Databases but about the amount of information, structured and unstructured, which is generated. Furthermore we’re seeing an increase in the world of Content Analytics and the desire to look into the unstructured world to get more intelligence from this information. This also leads to a desire to act on this information – moving us to the area of BPM which is embedded into the IM world.

Cloud – well everyone talks about it! Its still early days but we’re starting to see more and more moves towards consuming IT as a service and Content is an obvious choice to play in this space. The big vendors are still getting their heads around this area but as this progresses and the customers start to demand this more and more then we will see a change. Whilst the change will be interesting in itself I also think there will be a future challenge in how customers govern this information.

The New User – As per a recent post from Pie I don’t think this is Mobile but I also don’t think it is BYOD as we’re not seeing that happen widely enough…just yet! But there is an increased expectation from users on the IT service they receive, the way they interact with IT and the devices on which they can do this.

Demise of Portals – Strong and I don’t mean all Portals but the traditional JSR Portals are on the way out. They’re either being replace by SharePoint, see above, or more flexible architecture models. I’ve delivered a couple of programmes using the JSR Portals and they can work but its just too hard.

BPM/ACM/DCM – I don’t care what you call it but its out there. I’m of the opinion that the process is not so important but the information is the key. The need to use information to make decisions, the creation of information during the life of a ‘Case’ and the dissemination or retention of information once the process or case has been completed (I’m sure Max would say this is when the Goal(s) has been reached). The way people access, create or process this information will change but the information itself will typically remain the constant. Their is a bit of tension between the pure BPM camps and the ECM camps but we’re also seeing convergence, e.g. Kofax purchasing Singularity.

Changes in WCM – This has been coming for a while and I think the change has happened. Not so long ago the traditional ECM vendors tried to do WCM as well, the best example being EMC. Their product was suitable for only a small number of WCM Use Cases. We’re now seeing the specialist products take a firm hold in the market such as SDL, CQ5 and Fatwire. Interestingly two of those have been acquired in the past 2 years. Adobe have made a big bet on CQ5, it will be interesting to see what Oracle do with Fatwire, I would recommend keeping it separate from their UCM products.

I’m sure there are more, these are just my personal views but it just shows what happens when you take that step back to look at what is going on. There’s lots going on and the pace of change is quick.

Portal Futures

I managed to discuss a presentation recently with a colleague on the future of Portals. Having had experience of delivering major Portal programmes in a number of different sectors, with varying success, I was interested to hear the insight into where the Portal market will develop.

Five years ago if you were looking to implement an employee Intranet the buzz was about Portals. Vendors such as Vignette, IBM and Aqualogic had the products which would enable the enterprise to share, collaborate and work together. I worked on one such major programme and the biggest drive was cost, bringing multiple feudal intranet sites into a single Portal for commonality and reduced servicing costs. Another, more subtle, driver was around the knowledge sharing and collaborative products which were starting to become available then. The result was a fairly structured implementation which did give users access to features and information from a single view.

Now though the world is a different place, largely due to the advancement in sites such as MySpace, iGoogle and Facebook. These sites are generally less structured than the Portal which was delivered, the model for its growth is more on the trust which is granted to the developers to create new features and share them. Add to this the increases use of Blogs and Wikis and there is a big increase in the means through which people can keep in touch. Its my opinion that the Portal products which were at the top of the list five years ago are no longer the products to be considered now.

One thing which struck me on two of the major Portal programmes I worked was the relative inflexibility of the Portal container framework, note I was involved in two different Portal products. At the time of the first delivery Web 2.0 was not a term people were aware of, the second delivery was around the time of the emergence of the term. Both programmes had different business drivers and difference goals, one was a B2E portal which was primarily aimed at consolidation of a large and feudal group of intranet sites in a large company. The second was more about bringing together information from various information applications into a single application to aid in business efficiency. Users would act on and process the information to complete the business process.

In the first programme we thought long and hard how to manage and then expose the content which was currently displayed in the intranet sites, this was achieved through integration of a Portal product and a leading WCM system. This was achieved but I was concerned at the approach which developed in the first few weeks of operation, content was ‘thrown’ into the Portal with little regard for its relevance and structure in relation to the wider picture. Add to this the other Portlets which were developed, largely based around collaboration and it is now clear to me that the organisation were actually ahead of the technology in their thinking around social networking within the Enterprise. However the organisation were very ‘brand’ oriented with several unique brands contained within it, this focus meant there was a strong desire to retain the brands of the sites which were being migrated into the Portal. At times I felt as though the stakeholders were more concerned with the appearance of their specific areas than the content which went into it. This was very much a content driven Portal and whilst great savings were made in bringing numerous disparate sites into a single Portal framework I am sure things could have been done better if senior support for a more radical approach was forthcoming. As ever the technology was a challenge but in fact the greatest challenge was with the people.

The second programme demonstrated weaknesses in the Portal container as we sought to build an application within the container. The application was the first in many to be built into the Portal framework with the long term goal of users having a single entry point into the applications they used. Experience has taught me that to build a single web application in a Portal container usually leaves the project incurring additional effort that would not necessarily have been required if a pure web application had been built. However with multiple future applications being discussed this was the correct approach. The difficulty though was in designing the Portlets which would be developed for the application. We had two forces in play, one to keep things simple and reduce complexity through implementing as few Portlets as possible. The other force was to increase the possibility of information and feature reuse by breaking down the Portlets into more discrete components. For example consider a Portlet which displays a list of Products, by selecting a Product the Portlet could be developed to publish the selected Product information to the Portal container; other Portlets could then receive and react to this event e.g. a Stock Level Portlet which could display the current Stock Levels for the selected Portlet. This is an interesting, and exciting, prospect but the reality is that the difficulty in developing, and then maintaining, this portlet interaction is difficult in current Portal containers. I admit to not having looked closely at the latest JSR spec for Portlets but I have doubts that the JSR spec is the correct way forward as it is technology specific and does not allow for Portets (or rather Web Parts) from SharePoint to reside in the same paradigm.

Putting the technology to one side though the only way in which different teams could develop Portlets for this level of interaction is through a common Information Model, i.e. only when it is agreed that constitutes the identifier for each Product can this be progressed. In fact a current complaint of mine with some of our internal tools in this space is that we have too many different information repositories and it is very difficult to get a view of all relevant information in one place. Whilst introducing some technology can help this it will only work when the Information is stored and managed correctly; if I did not tag this as Portals then it would not appear as a Portals blog entry.

There is a lot in this post, although there is a theme underpinning it. For organisations to embrace Enterprise 2.0, and by that I mean the use of Web 2.0 tools within the Enterprise, we will need to address three key challenges:

- what is the purpose. Too often this is missed but what are the business objectives and the benefits which can be seen. If this statement includes the use of terms such as Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 or SOA then it has missed the mark completely.

- what is our current information model, how is information captured and stored, how can this information be presented?

- given the two previous statements what do we need from the technology to support this?