Real Story Group Blog posts by Alan Pelz-Sharpe Copyright (c) 2016, Inc. All Rights Reserved. : Blogs en-us 02/23/2012 00:00:00 60 UK Government Cloudstore - not yet ready for prime time #Gov20 #Cloud Thu, 23 Feb 2012 09:14:00 +0000 The IT press here in the UK have heralded the remarkable launch of the government's G-Cloud Cloudstore. The timing was certainly impressive: In just four short weeks this online services directory and procurement application went from contract to launch.

Yet I remain a bit puzzled as to why the service has gone live at all, since it's clearly far from complete, usable, or reliable. The fact that it took four weeks to build what is essentially a simple web app is all well and good (even though it repeatedly delivered error pages in my test). But the real value that in this sort of application should derive from quality of the information it delivers. Currently the quality of that information is dismal.

From what I can gather 250 firms submitted information on a total of 1500 services they could deliver to the public sector, and all of them have gotten duly listed on the site.

That was the first red flag, and indeed further investigation reveals that as of now not one of those services has been tested or certified in any way at all; the claims have just been taken as verbatim. Even so, Cloudstore allows you to circumvent thorough tendering processes through the Official Journal of the European Community (OJEC), yet cannnot guarantee whatsoever the quality or fit of the services it promotes. 

I found:

  • Services offered that run on products that do not meet Government standards
  • A dominance of the usual major IT suppliers, claiming to offer almost anything (regardless of actual expertise)
  • Many well known and experienced government IT suppliers missing
  • Currently no details on what future accreditation will actually mean or demand of a supplier or service

This last point in particular concerns me deeply. Surely it seems fair to assume that "accredited" services and suppliers will have had their organization vetted, that they are viable and solvent, that they have experienced and reliable products and support, and that they meet technical standards.  Buyers will also want a solid understanding of these criteria and how they were met. Surely this is the basic due diligence that any buyer has to undertake? Yet I found no indication here of what accredited status will mean, how it will be administered, and how it will be checked and maintained.

I had high hopes for this system. Perhaps it was just a really bad idea to launch it now, long before the real work has been done.  To my mind this store should not have gone live until all the services and suppliers had been thoroughly vetted and assessed. Expert reviews of the remaining suppliers and further research of the market to ensure that a wide array of viable options is actually represented (rather than just those that have volunteered themselves) also seems necessary.

Until that time, this has little more value than a search on Google or Craigslist, and comes with potentially more risk of those, since it intends to help you shortcut necessary selection steps.

I'm all for speeding up and removing unnecessary bureaucracy from the procurement process, which is actually a one focus area of our business; but to repeat, the web application itself is not the important thing here. You can label it "cloud" and get more buzz, but at the end of the day it's the quality and veracity of the information delivered that matters most.  That information is nowhere near ready for consumption right now.

Matt Mullen joins our Analyst Team #cms #search Mon, 13 Feb 2012 09:00:00 +0000 Today I am very happy to share that joining me in the UK office of RSG is new analyst Matt Mullen.  A self-confessed nerd, Matt has been working with online and information management technologies for almost 20 years, dating himself awkwardly by admitting he started out with text-based browsers in the early 1990s.

His key areas of focus at RSG will be Web Content Management and Search technologies, with a watching brief on other areas such as social and the semantic web.  Those who have seen Matt speak at conferences in the past will know that he explains highly complex technical issues in a down-to-earth, clear-cut, and humorous way.

With our new hires, we hope to be able to better support our growing ranks of advisory service customers, both in the US, Europe, and wherever you may be located.

Move from EMC Documentum to Oracle WebCenter Content for Free? Not... #EMC #Oracle Thu, 09 Feb 2012 13:25:00 +0000 It is becoming quite the fad these days in the world of ECM (Enterprise Content Management) to make dramatic and seemingly generous gestures to liberate buyers locked into legacy systems.

Oracle has been promoting its MoveOff scheme, offering a 100% license credit for those who make the move from Documentum to its Oracle WebCenter Content platform. Likewise  Alfresco offers free workshops to enable you to move from Microsoft SharePoint to its platform. Laserfiche also offered a 100% trade in allowance on existing ECM system if you moved to their platform. 

So how good are these deals and what's really behind them?

Well for you the customer who is already quite determined to move off a legacy system, a switching offer might make sense, but frankly we have seen little uptake of such promotions.  Moving from one system to another is seldom easy, and can be a high-risk venture. Moreover, upfront license costs are the least of your financial concerns these days: implementation and long-term maintenance costs are where the pocket really gets hit.

In fact at the higher end of the document and records management market few if any ever pay list pricing for ECM software, and many get those licenses for little or even nothing.  At the end of the day it's the maintenance and professional services fees that interest suppliers. So an offer that gives you 3 free years of initial maintenance would be of much more interest and value, but alas such offers are not to be found.

As a buyer you need to be sure that free really means free and that you have fully weighed up the risks of moving from one system to another.  It is something you may need to do one day regardless, but special deals should not be a major factor in your decision-making process. A thorough evaluation of the relative strengths and weaknesses of alternate products, as well as deep exploration of the product and suppliers' relative fit with your organization is what's required -- every time without exception.

The joy of mailroom automation #ecm Thu, 09 Feb 2012 09:03:00 +0000 I posted a little tweet the other week that said, "I think mailroom automation delivers the most bang for buck of all Document Management projects."

Mailroom automation? Really?

OK, so it's not exactly Desperate Housewives or Survivor or Social Business when it comes to juicy topics, but it's important stuff. And in the rush for organizations to leap aboard the latest 2.0 bandwagon, they often overlook substantial efficiency gains or kick them to the side.

What I mean by mailroom automation is simply the immediate scan and capture of data on arrival at your premises. Particularly in situations where transactional documents or any kind of forms -- application forms, invoices, checks, and so on -- get processed. 

Realistically in 2012 there should be little need for keying data from hard copy forms (be that a paper copy or a static electronic Tiff image) manually into any computer application.  Data can be extracted from incoming mail at a far more accurate rate, much quicker pace, and much lower cost, than any team of human clerks could ever manage. Yet we all see overflowing filing cabinets, boxes of documentation, and piles of paper on desks within companies of all shapes and sizes -- even recently-established firms in the tech sector.

So why is this still the case?  Well for one thing I think things are starting to change, albeit slowly. Growing revenues generated by intelligent capture products such as Kofax, Captiva and Brainware suggest a considerable spike in interest. Likewise the emergence and adoption of new providers such as Ephesoft hardly suggests a lack of business opportunity.

But mailroom automation is dull, it isn't sexy, and it's not the sort of project business teams are fighting over to work on.  That's a shame, because if you want to know about real technology ROI (Return on Investment) rather than mythical ROI (based on hope and conjecture), then grabbing that mail at its earliest point, extracting and populating data fields immediately, and applying rules and workflows, will most likely deliver more visible business transformations than most trendy Social, Collaboration, or Enterprise Mobile initiatives ever will.

That's why we research and publish product evaluations in this area, and offer detailed one to one advice on the topic to our subscribers. Encouragingly we are receiving more inquiries from subscribers to talk about just these issues. We ourselves are just starting an internal back file scanning project, and even as a small firm are capturing at an ever earlier point documents and forms. Not new but scanning, capture and the related automation of document based tasks is undergoing something of a rennaisance. 

That being said, there is still long way to go, and I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on how to make such projects a higher priority and get the attention they really deserve.


WebSphere Portal, Coremedia or EMC Documentum? #ecm #portals Mon, 06 Feb 2012 14:14:00 +0000 I enjoyed an excellent day in Oxford last week speaking (and listening to the other speakers) at a CMS Expert Group round table event. Many topics of interest emerged, but the one that underlay several discussions -- and is also close to my heart -- was, "When is a Web Content Management project not a Web Content Management project?"

It may seem an odd question, but increasingly I see our subscribers asking questions about web self-service projects, albeit framing nearly identical requirements in very different terms. Take for example the following example, which is an aggregate of requirements from a handful of our advisory customers:

    Almost all our business is now online to some degree, and though we employ many people to take calls and process transactions, the reality is that most of our customers come to our website as a first point of interaction with us.  It all may look slick to the customer (we hope), but frankly behind the scenes it's not so neat and efficient. There are many manual and inefficient processes in place, and moreover what once looked good on the web is now starting to look dated, as customers have ever higher expectations of web experiences. They are also beginning to demand near instant response times.  Hence we are starting a project to overhaul our current web presence and make our current operations much more efficient as a result.

Such requirements seem specific enough, but depending on who is leading the project and their understanding of the IT technology world in general it could finally emerge in a tender/RFP (Request for Proposal) in any one of many different forms, with different products and suppliers in the mix. Depending on your orientation, you might define the effort as:

An ECM Project, with a vendor providing a complete platform of workflow, integration, web  and application development functions, with the likes of EMC-Documentum,  OpenText ECM Suite, Oracle WebCenter Content, or Alfresco under consideration*

A WCM Project, with specialist tools to build and manage complex/multiple website environments, targeting vendors like Coremedia, Sitecore, Episerver, or perhaps a dozen more*

A Portal Project, with the focus on building a dashboard application to expose back-end business services in a friendly way, via platforms from vendors like IBM WebSphere, JBOSS, or Liferay et. al.*

In fact, the same project could also get framed in terms of Ecommerce, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or even BPM (Business Process Management) technologies.


And there's the rub: not one of these approaches would necessarily be wrong, since there is, as the awful phrase goes, more than one way to skin a cat.  You could very legitimately examine a wide range of different valid shortlists, each as capable of meeting your needs as the other.

Yet there remains a need to compare apples with apples, and hence as advisors and industry analysts we sub-divide technology sectors into comparable segments (we call them "streams") and label them. This makes great sense when addressing a very specific need, such that solutions can be compared and tested side by side.

But increasingly buyers' needs are overlapping. Particularly in the world of large WCM projects, your choices aren't as clear cut as they once were.  The key word here is more:

  • More complex integrations with back-end business applications
  • More sophisticated analysis of website and customer data
  • More frequent triggering of complex internal business processes

Sure we still see plenty of simple brochureware, marketing-style sites out there, and they will continue to grow. But in tough economic times, organizations need to do more with less -- and empower their customers to do more themselves -- requiring more automated and integrated web-based interactions than ever before.  When subscribers access our research they increasingly pull product evaluations from across different research streams. And when we engage with them on analyst support calls, it's common for us to first spend time refining project definitions to ensure that a suitably broad range of options get considered.


It all makes for interesting and often difficult times, where buyers must be ever better informed.

*Of course there are many many more technology options to consider in each of these groups, literally hundreds, and it should go without saying that you should ignore "market leader status" and pull together comprehensive shortlists for your own project, based on thorough, independent research of products that actually meet your specific needs.

Are cloud-based file-sharing services too immature for the enterprise? #ecm #e20 Thu, 26 Jan 2012 13:59:00 +0000 We've just released an advisory paper, "Are cloud-based file-sharing services too immature for the enterprise?

It's a question that many of our advisory customers have been asking us, so we decided to answer it in briefing format.

Cloud-based file-sharing services have obtained some traction, even among larger organizations, because of ease of provisioning and mobile access, as well as for exchanging files with external parties. At least five major providers now target enterprise customers for hosted file sharing: Box, Dropbox, Huddle, Oxygen, and ShareFile.

Just today in fact when talking with a major industrial manufacturer, the excitement and possibilities of working with such suppliers was tempered with concerns over their readiness and maturity to deal with real enterprise needs. To quote this prospective customer, "All these vendors tell us they work with big enterprises, but when we speak to them it feels like it's the first time a real enterprise has asked real enterprise questions of them..."

Certainly cloud providers are here to stay, and if employed in the right circumstances can bring real benefits, but it's still early days as our research paper details.

File Encryption Compromises in the Cloud #ecm #saas Sat, 21 Jan 2012 06:42:00 +0000 There is of course much interest these days in both the cloud and more general usage of hosted/off-premise environments for managing electronic documents. Indeed it's an area that we have been receiving many more inquiries from our advisory service customers over this past year.

Yet despite the interest, one area I find few buyers investigate thoroughly enough is that of file encryption.  Presumably you make the assumption that if you are going to pay a third party service to manage your electronic files that they will do so in a safe and secure manner, and most times they will.

Managing data securely involves many things, but one element that suppliers make quite a song and dance about is the fact that they encrypt your documents/data, making it "100% secure." But things are not quite that simple, and you need to ask some more probing questions before taking that sort of claim at face value.

For example:

  • Are my documents encrypted whilst "at rest" in your system?
  • Are my documents encrypted whilst "in transit" to your system?

In most cases you'll find that documents are not encrypted whilst "at rest," and even where this gets presented an option, there are often sound technical reasons why any hosted or cloud service would rather not encrypt everything all the time, not least of which would be the impact on processing and delivery times of your data. In most cases documents only get encrypted whilst "in transit" -- in other words whilst they are passing through the internet to and from your premises.

You may also want to ask who has access to the keys to encrypt your documents. Is it just you or does the service provider also have access to the keys? That will likely start up a whole new conversation with some surprises, not all of which may be pleasant.

It doesn't matter whether you are considering contracting with an industry Goliath like EMC, Amazon, or IBM, or new upstart like Box, Huddle, or Oxygen. The fact is there are plenty of questions you will want to ask of any service provider before committing to any kind of contract; yet in our experience even simple questions like those above are often overlooked. 

Over the past few of years we have advised many organizations who are considering handing their corporate assets to a cloud-based service, and it's a trend that will surely grow in 2012. It is also one that as buyer advocates we worry about, for buyers themselves need to make the effort to dig deeper.  Suppliers are unlikely to be falling over themselves anytime soon to lift any fog of confusion that currently exists.

ECM Market Analysis Report 2012 #trends #ecm Thu, 19 Jan 2012 17:24:00 +0000 We have recently published our Document Management - ECM Market Analysis for 2012, and as a where-is-the-marketplace-headed snapshot, I think it's an interesting one.  I have been writing these since the late 1990s and it's one of several analyst tasks that I really look forward to.

Having done so many, I tend to approach marketplace overviews with real skepticism, for I can no better predict the next 10 years of the ECM industry than my 12 year-old daughter could. What I can do though is look closely at the events of 2011 and detail where these could lead us in 2012. And that is just what I have done in this report: keeping it real.

So what are our conclusions? Well, some of them should come as no surprise.

  • The Document Management market continues to grow strongly despite some fragmentation
  • Cloud-based file sharing providers will make an impact in 2012, particularly as an alternative to SharePoint
  • The skills shortage we have noted in past years is reaching a critical point

There is much more of course in the actual report, including an updated "Cross Check" chart detailing the relative risk and evolution of ECM vendors.

Each year I write these, I wonder what will be different from the previous years, since this is in some respects a very mature market. Yet there always is change, and 2012 looks set to be one of the most turbulent in a long time.

Why Enterprise Search is not in the limelight #EntArch #EnSW Wed, 18 Jan 2012 18:33:00 +0000 In the enterprise search community there has been a lot of talk recently about the lack of deep coverage by major analyst firms such as Gartner and Forrester.  Many feel slighted and believe that their industry is a large and thriving one, one that is unjustly ignored.

The reality is that search remains an important element within the information management spectrum, yet big enterprise search projects are thin on the ground.  Most buyers default to whatever search engine is bundled with their enterprise licensing deals (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, et. al.) and few RFP/Tender documents are issued for specialist search vendors to bid upon.

Nevertheless enterprise search in its broadest sense is a multi-billion dollar industry, and pretty much every enterprise globally makes some use of search technology. So why the lack of visibility and so few major search projects?  Simply put, much of the money in enterprise search is in basic document filters.

Document filters are a core components of search systems. They parse the many different electronic document types (Word/Excel/Pages/Keynote, etc.) used within a typical organization, thus making them indexable, searchable, and more broadly viewable. It is a crucial if basic job, and one that runs in the background -- as technology embedded within other technology. 

Almost every major business software supplier makes use of such filters, and when you stop to consider the vast number of document types and how often they change, you can understand why most software suppliers don't try to built their own.  Rather they license well-maintained filters from Oracle, HP (Autonomy), or ISYS.

Indeed the licensing of filters is so pervasive and lucrative that some argued at the time of HP's $11B acquisition of Autonomy that much if not most of Autonomy's "IDOL" revenue actually came from their Keyview document filters -- rather than their flagship IDOL enterprise search systems. Oracle also retained and grew a very healthy license revenue stream when they acquired Stellent's INSO filters, and independent search specialist ISYS does a healthy trade in filters too. Taken together it is fair to say that filters make up the lion's share of enterprise search related spend. Yet frankly as a technology sector to watch and comment on there is little that is less interesting. What would you rather study and write about, the new Ferrari or the oil filters it uses?

So what ever happened to real enterprise search, those mega projects involving federated search across multiple silos of information, that normalize search sets from many different sources and types into a cohesive singularity?  Well those projects still do exist.  But they are rare, expensive, complex, and have a high failure rate.

Enterprise search will always be with us, as a critical component of any information management strategy. But there's the rub: it's just a component, typically dwarfed by other elements and playing a supporting role at best.

The danger here of course is that buyers can underestimate the importance of getting the right search technology, and the burden of maintaining and managing the search environment. When technology is simply bundled into a deal, there's a temptation to ignore it.

Don't ignore search.  Search can be labor intensive, and with a lack of skilled resources can degrade to the point of uselessness over time. Search needs to be taken seriously, and it would be good if it got more of the limelight. But the reality in 2012 is that specialized search technology options such as dtSearch, Solr, Recommind, ISYS, or Funnelback can't and shouldn't occupy the limelight.  The limelight should be on the proper practices and resources needed to manage a search environment and the difficulty most organizations face in obtaining them. Most organizations today already have search technology, it was typically thrown into a deal without any further discussion. It is the ability to fully exploit the technology that they lack.

EMC Documentum vs IBM FileNet vs Oracle WebCenter Content? #ecm #EnSW Mon, 21 Nov 2011 13:26:00 +0000 Recently I fulfilled a lifelong ambition to be an actor (minor parts - small films) and I finally came to understand the meaning of the thespian question, "What is my motivation?"

It is an important question that we probably don't ask enough, and buyers might want to ask the same of ECM (Enterprise Content Management) suppliers. Yes, seriously...

Take for example EMC Documentum. Their motivation is driving their storage and cloud business. On the other hand Oracle with its newly named WebCenter Content product wants to drive its database and business application businesses. And IBM FileNet is focused on complex business process management and the associated consulting and support services.

Cliché maybe, and certainly I am oversimplifying here, but you don't have to scratch far below the surface to know that I am in principal correct.  They may all be ECM players at the high end of the market, but what got them there and keeps them there is different in each case.

Each time I return to researching for our product evaluations and advisory services  (currently focused on Search, ECM, and Cloud File Shares) I initially think "They all look the same as one another!"  And from a distance they do. They have been designed to do the same job as one another, and to sell in the same markets.  Marketing and messaging staff move between one similar supplier to another, and in time it can be hard to hear clearly through the noise.

But once you get your finger on what really drives each firm the differences start to reveal themselves. Full-blown ECM systems are complex and are typically made up of many interlocking modules, so identifying the differences in approach and their strengths and weaknesses, as we do in our product evaluations can take a lot of work.  But even seemingly simple services such as Cloud-based file sharing systems like Huddle, Box.Net, and Dropbox have more differences, flat contradictions, and individual DNA than a casual glance might suggest. Buyers who would take plenty of time to understand the nuts, bolts, and DNA of an ECM system are well advised to do the same when considering seemingly low cost, low stress Cloud services. Otherwise you could be in for some nasty surprises.

Is Box.Net a threat to SharePoint? #sharepoint #ecm Mon, 14 Nov 2011 14:28:00 +0000 We've just published an advisory paper for our ECM and SharePoint subscribers (non subscribers can purchase it here) analyzing the implications of large enterprise buyers considering Box.Net alongside Microsoft SharePoint.

Just a year ago, SharePoint was practically the sole contender in light document management scenarios; now the environment has changed substantially. With heavy investment funding, Box is rapidly positioning itself as a SharePoint contender, going so far as posting a billboard in Silicon Valley stating, " vs SharePoint -- Sharing should be simple. Challenge us..."

But is really a SharePoint killer? If not, what does its rise tell us about how enterprises are (and are not) utilizing SharePoint? I am a cheerleader for no one, but cloud-based simple file sharing services such as Box.Net will likely play an increasingly important role in major enterprises.  I'd also welcome hearing your thoughts -- particularly interested in your experiences using hosted file-sharing in larger enterprises.

SharePoint exposes lack of information management commitment #sharepoint #KMers Fri, 11 Nov 2011 13:30:00 +0000 Last week we ran the SharePoint Symposium in Washington DC and kicked off the two-day event with a question to the audience.  What single word best describes "SharePoint" to you?  The preponderance of negative answers thrown out surprised us:

  • Complex
  • Viral
  • Collaboration
  • Clunky
  • Misrepresented
  • Social
  • Bottomless Pit

This is typically a pretty pro-SharePoint audience, and in terms of research for our buyer-focused subscription ECM and SharePoint research services it has been a reliable source of peer information over the years.

But I have no doubt at all if we had asked the same question in previous years, we would have seen a more positive list of answers.  Further discussion revealed that SharePoint buyers and users in the room had been caught between a bottom up / top down approach to deployment.  Bottom up in that IT had thrown the problem of SharePoint over the wall and left users to self provision, or business users had simple gone off and acquired SharePoint on their own. Top down in that IT had provided very elementary and unusable SharePoint environments with insufficient education and training.  What was missing in both approaches was:

  • Business Analysis
  • Process Analysis
  • Change Management
  • Information Management

Neither the business groups that had SharePoint unleashed on them (or unleashed it themselves), nor the IT department that technically owned SharePoint offers those kind of skills anymore. Yet both assume somehow that the other will figure it all out. It's not so much that SharePoint is at fault; rather that growing SharePoint installations reveal the dearth of supporting resource, and their criticality.

We can call this a lack of skills, but that's not the real issue: it's a lack of enterprise commitment to the "soft" resources required for success here. Remember that SharePoint is like any other enterprise platform: you can't install and forget.  Adherents of SharePoint in the cloud would do well to note this too...

Oracle-Endeca, HP-Autonomy, and Coveo follow the customer #search #autonomy Mon, 07 Nov 2011 12:18:00 +0000 Enterprise Search engines can be divided neatly into two categories: those optimized for website search and those optimized for searching across internal information silos. Today the gap between the two is opening ever wider. 

The reasons are not too difficult to understand. External websites that feature customer interaction are considered a priority, especially for ecommerce environments.  If your customers can't find what they're looking for, then that is bad for business. 

To be sure, searching and providing navigation to an external website is not usually cheap or easy either. But it has one major advantage over internal search: the data wants to be found, and is typically structured, stored, and tagged accordingly.  Most of us are familiar with the very granular and typically very accurate faceted search provided on today's large shopping sites. Search in this environment works well and there is a growing market for it.

Internally focused Enterprise Search remains, as the awful phrase goes, the poor stepchild. Searching multiple internal silos -- full of unmanaged and unstructured information -- is typically a hard, expensive, and disappointing task to undertake. 

So guess where all the Enterprise Search vendors want to focus their efforts these days?

You can't really blame them of course, not the least because the needs of ecommerce and external websites extends far beyond Search.  Being able to find a replacement fridge drawer on the Samsung website (as my wife did today) is scratching the surface of what could be done. As Mike Davis of Ovum said at the recent European Enterprise Search Summit, "Firms like Tesco drive their business from the data on your loyalty card, but they want to know more about you than your transactions."  Ultimately its all about context. As we have said many times before, the context for structured data is often found in an unassociated unstructured file.

And so the world of Search enters the world of true analytics and "Big Data."  What has long been the sole purview of Business Intelligence vendors is now slowly starting to be encroached upon by Search tools from IBM, Oracle (Endeca), HP (Autonomy) and a few independents such as Coveo. I imagine we'll still see two different takes at the same problem for a while, but now that Big Data organizations like IBM, HP, and Oracle are taking Search seriously for once, over time some kind of solid hybrid may just emerge. 

Customer interaction and commerce will grow ever more sophisticated, with predictive analytics taking the lead. No doubt we will see the split between Internal and External Search widen even further over the next couple of years, as some Search vendors at least have finally found a truly lucrative niche, and they are unlikely to turn back now.

Not coming clean about Enterprise Search #search #EntArch Wed, 26 Oct 2011 13:50:00 +0000 I have just spent two days at the inaugural European Enterprise Search Summit in London, and left with much to think and rant about.  For I listened to a series of consultants and vendors telling the audience that enterprise search was an imperative, and (this was brought up in some form by almost everyone in some form or other) that according to IDC 20% of the working week is spent finding information, ergo reduce that 20% to 5% using Enterprise Search and then we will have World Peace. 

In short the business case for Enterprise Search made at the event boiled down to a series of hackneyed statements, that can be summarized as follows:

  • Any investment you make in Search technology will be quickly returned, as your workers will have so much more time on their hands and therefore be so much more productive
  • You will be miraculously saved from multi-million dollar lawsuits due to your ability to prove without a doubt how innocent you are of any such allegations

I'm sure you get the drift, and like most potential buyers of Enterprise Search technology, you don't believe a word of it, nor should you. It's naive nonsense. End users may indeed spend time looking for things, but what they might actually do with any time saved is as much your guess as mine. Moreover, and more importantly, I don't know about you but if I do spend 20% of my week looking for information, it is by using a Search Engine -- and has been for over a decade now. As for that pending lawsuit, the reality is most organizations would rather not know exactly what is lurking on their network, thank you very much.

The Search pitch is further weakened by the argument that there is no point in cleaning up your dirty data. The line goes like this: Why bother actually trying to manage information at all? It's only going to get into a mess again, and anyway a Search engine can work with whatever you throw at it! Again this is nonsense as everyone in the Search industry knows full well that bad data equals bad search results, and that this simple fact will never change. Put this altogether and it's not really all that surprising that Enterprise Search is stuck in a deep rut that it doesn't know how to get out of. The best it seems to be able to come up with right now is to not to call it Enterprise Search at all, and instead fob it off as some kind of exotic analytical engine, or even as an "SBA" because nonsense acronyms will fool anyone.....

The bottom line is, in the words of conference Chairman and friend Martin White, "Fundamentally, we have an information management problem." Indeed we have, until organizations start to manage unstructured data with the same care they do structured data, we will continue to have a problem. The fact that we have a problem should hardly come as a surprise for where an organization will employ a veritable army of Database Administrators to manage the 20% of their data that is structured, they will employ almost no-one to manage the remaining 80%. That amounts to a huge volume of bad data. 

Search has a role to play, and a very important one at that. But until the Search industry itself starts to come clean about just how difficult and expensive Search is to leverage, and how much it is dependent on other factors outside of its control, it's role and value will always be minimalized. Buyers are right to be dismissive of widely optimistic claims. Best to come clean I say.

Case Management and the Lexmark acquisition of BPM vendor Pallas Athena #bpm #ecm Wed, 19 Oct 2011 13:08:00 +0000 Yesterday we learned that Lexmark, best known for its printers, had acquired Netherlands-based BPM (Business Process Management) vendor Pallas-Athena. This follows in the path of Lexmark's acquisition of Perceptive Software, a document management company (evaluated in our Document Management reviews). 

It is not a big financial deal ($50 million US) -- but still significant for Lexmark if previous experience is any guide. The company has tried agressively to take Perceptive beyond its comfortable North American home market and raise its stature in case management-centric industries such as Government and Healthcare worldwide. 

From Perceptive's perspective Pallas-Athenas has some interesting products, "BPMone" being the flagship. What differentiates this product from other small BPM vendors is its focus on process mining and analytics, capabilities more often found in much more expensive product sets that target Case Management. I think the challenges here are going to not only be the obvious one of integrating two disparate product sets (BPMone  will make little sense as a standalone product at Lexmark) but rather in selling Case Management to Lexmark's existing customer base of SMBs (small and medium businesses).  Of course, it doesn't matter to me whether Lexmark is successful here or not. 

What is of concern and interest to me is the rapid rise in demand for process-driven Case Management in larger organizations. This is an application-based approach to Document Management that has come with  an equally rapid drop in interest in using the same software as an enterprise platform. The E in ECM is quickly becoming anachronistic, with a back-to-basics approach from buyers of the technology. Buyers seems to be saying, "To hell with my broad enterprise needs, I have a very specific problem  -- application processing, accounts payable, contract management, and so on -- and I want it fixed now."

Case Management applications theoretically answer that call by building on workflow and document management technology. This is not something particularly new, but in the past building such applications was massively complex and an onerous task to take on at all. But there have been huge improvements over the past couple of years in terms of basic usability, a move toward configuration over customization, and most importantly insight (via analytics) into active and planned processes. Together these make Case Management relatively easy to use and able to deliver some kind of value on the initial investment. Case Management is a trend I don't see falling off soon, but then again everything is cyclic -- like the size of a collar or the length of a skirt. In a few years time perhaps disillusionment will have set in and we will be back to talking about document management as an infrastructure component once again...

Enterprise Search London - talking HP and Autonomy... #ecm #autonomy Wed, 19 Oct 2011 10:35:00 +0000 Next week I will be speaking at the inaugural Enterprise Search Europe event in London 24/25th October, organized by our good friends at InfoToday and Martin White of Intranet Focus Ltd.

My talk will provide an analysis of the current European Search Market, drawn from our extensive research in this area. If you are in the London area it would be great to see you there. 

Search may be seen as a slow moving market, but you can't say nothing is happening. This year has seen some very significant shifts in the market, not least being HP's acquisition of UK based Autonomy - a topic we will explore in this session. How will that huge acquisition (over $10 Billion US) impact the European sector? Will it open up opportunities or further dampen expectations? My hope is that this will be a lively and provocative session, and as always I will be available to challenge in person afterward - come along, shake hands, and tell me exactly what you think!

Oracle acquires Endeca - our first take.... #Oracle #search Tue, 18 Oct 2011 14:25:00 +0000 Oracle has announced its intention to buy Endeca, a major independent purveyor of Enterprise Search technology. It's not in the least bit surprising as Autonomy (arguably Endeca's biggest rival) had been in talks with Oracle prior to their acquisition by HP, and from that alone it was clear that Oracle was interested in acquiring advanced search technology.

Though financial details have not been disclosed it is safe to assume that Oracle paid far less than the $10 Billion-plus that HP spent on Autonomy. Oracle's interest seems a bit more focused however, as they are currently growing their online retail capabilities. As such this acquisition fits in neatly with that strategy and logically enhances the functionality Oracle obtained via their prior acquisition of ATG.  I say "logically" because these tools are not boxes in a powerpoint diagram; they are living systems and any post-merger integrations will be painful for existing customers -- as it always is. 

So what has Oracle actually bought? As subscribers to our Enterprise Search Report already know, Endeca has carved out quite a niche in providing unstructured data analytics in the retail sector, with decent -- albeit broadly mimicked -- guided navigation capabilities. With the right resources (important caveat!) you can also scale their product impressively. Additionally Endeca has a pretty good reputation for customer service and for investing in ongoing research and development, in sharp contrast to Autonomy. 

Yet no product is perfect and Endeca has its challenges too. As a system it promises so much in terms of accuracy that there is often a serious pay off in terms of data cleaning, pre-processing, and resource commitment. Endeca is not simple stuff.

Note also that Oracle already has a search engine of its own called Oracle Secure Enterprise Search. SES serves a somewhat different purpose to the Endeca product, but there is definitely some overlap and customers will want to stay wary.  Oracle SES is a pretty good enterprise search engine, with the ability to federate different data sources within an organization, a common but important workaday business requirement. This is distinct from Endeca's analytical approach to delivering somewhat canned queries to browsers, most typically found in online retail settings.

As always time tells the truest story here. Yet it does pose the question: who is next?  There must be a number of Search vendors out there hoping that they will be acquired soon, and hoping even more strongly that they don't get left on the shelf. Search is a very important element of information management, but for years it has struggled to define itself as a standalone product entity, as opposed to being embedded functionality within enterprise applications and infrastructure. Today's acquisition, following hot on the heals of HP's acquisitions and plans for Autonomy, leaves even fewer standalone players.

From Vignette to Microsoft - Web Content Management Orthodoxy #cms #trends Mon, 03 Oct 2011 12:17:00 +0000 Below is an excerpt from an interview I had with with Australian journalist David Walker.  I thought it worth re-publishing here too.  In a wide ranging chat undertaken whilst I was grumpy and jetlagged we discussed amongst other things Interwoven (now Autonomy soon to be HP), Vignette (OpenText), and Microsoft.

You must have sophisticated Web content management
Pelz-Sharpe: In fact, a high-cost system may cost far more than it gives you. "A lot of the time, there's no business value," he says. The business's intranet, for instance, may be a collection of disparate documents; even its public Web site may have inconsistencies. "Does that really hurt? For some companies it's absolutely critical, but for a lot of companies less focused on delivering content, it's not hurting them."

You can buy systems that will solve all your content management problems
Pelz-Sharpe: In fact, most available content management systems leave you with a lot of work to do. "Most vendors don't have the full solution," he says. A year or two ago, vendors could skate over that in sales presentations. Now buyers are wising up to the systems' weaknesses. The market leaders have created enough disappointment that Pelz-Sharpe acknowledges it risks creating ill-will.

Content management systems must use XML
Pelz-Sharpe: Measured against the hype surrounding its initial release, XML has made little impact on businesses. Right now, it leaves many crucial content management questions unanswered. A few years from now, says Pelz-Sharpe, XML will be viewed as "just another tool." For now, most organizations will continue to put their content in that proven 1970s-era container, the relational database.

Content management systems must use Java
Pelz-Sharpe: "A lot of this stuff is over-engineered." In fact, lightweight scripting tools better suit content management in all but the largest and most complex sites. The well-regarded but expensive Java content management systems have helped automate Web sites such as The Age and the Financial Times. But as Pelz-Sharpe notes: "There are only so many FT.coms out there." Most businesses need a cheaper, simpler solution.

Content management systems must personalize pages, catering to an "audience of one"
Pelz-Sharpe: Today's sites often aim to create unique Web experiences for each visitor -- but this personalization just doesn't work. Personalization's cheer squad loves to point to, but Pelz-Sharpe argues the online book store has enjoyed a uniquely long learning curve, large budget, and rich stream of purchase data from book-buyers. Almost every other business will do better to segment its audiences into broad groupings - the well known market segmentation approach -- rather than catering vainly to "audiences of one."

Intranet content management should "e-enable" the business at every level
Pelz-Sharpe: The most successful intranet users are addressing not complex needs but simple ones -- like helping users find out how much holiday leave they have. "It's very simple stuff. You can do it and cut costs. You start to get buy-in with these simple things. The problem for the (intranet system) vendors is that they are brilliant, but they are delivering far too much."

"Keep it simple" hasn't been popular advice during IT's heady dot-com years. In Web content management, at least, it may be making a comeback.

The interview was conducted more than 10 years ago in May 2001 .......   makes you think eh?

Microsoft SharePoint in 2011 - 2012: State of the Nation Webinar #sharepoint Wed, 28 Sep 2011 15:42:00 +0000 Next Wednesday I will be hosting a free SharePoint-themed webinar. (Click here to sign up).  My intent is to look at SharePoint in 2011, its victories to date and its challenges ahead.

It's been over 10 years since I first came across SharePoint and so much has changed in that time. Changes both in terms of the products, but also in terms of buyers and market expectations. I think SharePoint is approaching something of a crossroads, one that users of the platform may be more aware of than Microsoft and its partner channel. The times they are a-changing...and SharePoint has evolved in ways nobody could have expected.

The competition, meanwhile, is far from rolling over and giving up. In fact it has adapted remarkably well. 

That's the theme of this webinar -- who is buying SharePoint in 2011, why are they buying it and when might this Microsoft steamroller of success finally begin to run out of steam? I hope you join me for the webinar and also join in with the Q&A session following.

The conversation will continue in more depth in Washington DC on 2nd/3rd November at the SharePoint Symposium. It is an event I am looking forward to very much, as along with our partners at KMWorld, we have structured a conference with not only truly outstanding speakers and sessions, but also a great and friendly opportunity to hang out, mix and share with your peers.  Of course I know not everyone will be able to make in person to the DC event, but I do hope you can make it to the webinar next's going to be an interesting one.

HP and Autonomy - a marriage made in hell? #search #autonomy Fri, 23 Sep 2011 15:13:00 +0000 This past week HP fired their CEO Leo Apotheker, making him the third CEO in a row to part with HP prematurely. But of all the departures this one one is the least surprising by far. His announcement that he was to buy Autonomy for a staggering $10.3 Billion -- far more than anyone else figured the firm was worth -- and spin off its market-leading PC division was surely the most spectacular act of self-immolation in a long time.

Fact is though the new CEO Meg Whitman (ex-eBay) is pretty much stuck with the Autonomy deal. Recall that Autonomy is a UK headquartered firm, subject to UK law. That means that -- short of HP discovering something huge and adverse about Autonomy that they did not already know -- HP has no option to back out short of citing fraud. Furthermore, it's a cash deal so no shareholder agreement is necessary.  Meanwhile, Whitman says she is "excited about the Autonomy deal." Well, excitement can mean a lot of things, but in this case I suspect fear and trepidation will a part of it.

Who knows what HP is actually buying. I doubt HP does. Our family tree of Autononmy acquisitions over the years paints a complex picture in and of itself, but the fact that the IDOL OEM business seems to be central to the valuation of the firm is what puzzles us much more than the pandora's box of document management and search related products HP will acquire.  In that box may well be some neglected and very wonderful products that HP can dust off and deliver to a much larger audience than Autonomy could ever have done. Furthermore with HP's deep and wide research and development team who knows where their product management and sales folk could take these products?  Perhaps much further than Autonomy ever could. 

But back to that troubling issue of the OEM business, because that is the real sticking point for all us technology watchers.  Leo Apotheker wildly stated that Autonomy had "a strong cloud based solution set" and Autonomy claims that over 400 software companies are building applications using Autonomy IDOL.  Well first off I am not sure what this strong cloud based solution set consists it the archiving solution from Zantaz that Autonomy acquired? Surely not as that would contribute a tiny fraction toward this valuation. As for the 400 software companies building applications on IDOL, in effect embedding (OEM) IDOL, we just can't find them.  What we can find is a lots of people using basic document filtering widgets (KeyView) and some using the old Verity K2 search engine, but hundreds of software firms using IDOL? They are nowhere to be seen, at least by me, and I watch pretty closely.

In my gut, I think this deal may still get derailed.  If not, the negative repercussions could be huge for HP and its shareholders.  As for those contemplating buying Autonomy products, I hardly need to state that you would be very well advised to defer any purchases until this potential fiasco has finally settled down and we see where the pieces finally land. 

Understanding Autonomy's Family Tree #autonomy Fri, 09 Sep 2011 11:42:00 +0000 Since HP decided to buy Autonomy for just over $10 Billion dollars, there has been a lot of discussion over the acquisitions that Autonomy itself made over the years to expand its portfolio of products and grow its revenues.

As our research subscribers well know, most big ECM companies have grown in a similar fashion, since managing all the "unstructured data" elements of an organization by definition requires multiple different tools and technologies, and it is beyond the reach of any software firm to invent everything itself.  They key really is to understand how well the various components -- be they home grown or acquired -- work together.  Or not work together, as is often the case.


Click for larger version

So I've updated our "family tree" for Autonomy in the hopes it might be of value to the discussion.  I cannot say for sure that it is 100% complete -- I may have missed something -- but overall I think this is pretty accurate depiction of the Autonomy story. If you spot any errors or omissions please comment or contact me to let me know.

Another look at the Autonomy IDOL OEM business #ecm #autonomy Mon, 29 Aug 2011 12:34:00 +0000 Now that HP has announced its intent to buy Autonomy, the deal has come under a lot of scrutiny.  One area though that few have yet to look at in detail -- and of particular interest to us as buyers' advocates -- is the whole topic of the IDOL search OEM business.  Much has been made of the scale and pervasiveness of Autonomy's IDOL search engine platform, and that it is OEM'ed so widely that it has become a defacto standard.

I wonder if this is really the case.

When a vendor OEMs a product, this typically means that they are embedding a subsystem or specialized technology from a 3rd-party supplier. The key thing here is that embedding someone else's technology can be better, cheaper, and easier than building that same functionality yourself. So for example many ECM vendors embed Oracle's (formerly Stellent) INSO document viewer in their offerings.  Another ECM example would be the OEM of Crystal Reports, to provide reporting capabilities drawing from the base audit trail in an the ECM platform.   

The questions raised in Autonomy's case are twofold: first, how do you embed IDOL at all, and secondly how many people are actually doing so?

Leslie Owens over at Forrester recently wrote a piece on this issue, and described IDOL in terms of a vacuum cleaner. It's an excellent analogy. You see, IDOL does not embed itself in other vendor's products as much as it sits in the corner and sucks data out for processing.  It is essentially a separate black box, and as such is one that could be easily replaced by any other search engine. 

So, far from other vendors becoming dependent on IDOL, it is in fact loosely coupled and easily swapped out for alternatives.  For example, Oracle and Sybase have already replaced Autonomy search technologies with alternatives. Many others have followed suit, particularly since there are now viable and considerably cheaper open source options in the various forms of Lucene/Solr.  And finally, it's important to note that where Autonomy is present in 3rd-party software, it is more typically the old (and very basic) Verity engine, not IDOL.

The argument goes that IDOL may well be expensive and complicated to use, but at the high end of the market it is the best, or as other analyst firms like to say it a "market leader." I can't help but wonder whether this is a victory of marketing over substance. Sure there may be some organizations (the much vaunted law enforcement / security / intelligence buyers) who fully leverage IDOL, but what about the much greater mass of regular enterprises and public organizations?  In our experience most of them are struggling with basic search, with both Microsoft  options and the Google Search Appliance prevalent throughout pockets of their organizations.

For buyers, the HP acquisition of Autonomy could prove enlightening. It will doubtless prompt a shakeout and insight into the true nature of a very secretive company, but more importantly it is reawakening.  It reminds us that there are many enterprise search options available, that there is no defacto standard, and that search in general still typically under-delivers.

If nothing else the move by HP should be taken as a time for current IDOL buyers to consider their options, and to recognize that they in fact do have many options available ranging from Oracle and IBM to specialists such as Recommind, Exalead, Coveo, and ISYS, some of which are much cheaper and easier to use than IDOL. Hopefully, the marketplace will create still more options in the coming years, as most customers would testify that they're not satisfied with their incumbent systems...

HP plus Autonomy equals Buyers Beware #autonomy #ecm Fri, 19 Aug 2011 14:22:00 +0000 I cannot say that the acquisition by HP of search giant Autonomy bodes well.  Taking the parties' past histories into account, this simply doesn't seem to be a good long term match.

Hence my advice is, "buyers beware."

Autonomy was the darling of the UK tech sector.  And the darling of investors, too, since from humble beginnings the firm has grown to just short of a$1 Billion in revenue, while consistently profitable.

Buyers of its technology though have been less enthusiastic, regularly citing a firm that is arrogant in its dealings with customers, confused roadmap messages, and technology (particularly the core IDOL platform) that is overly complex and expensive to use.  Moreover the firm has grown primarily via acquisition of various overlapping products, followed only weeks later with boasts that the new product has been "integrated via the IDOL platform." That common statement that has been the root of many a joke within the IT community. If only integration were that easy!

In reality, HP has bought quite a mixed basked with Autonomy, from Records Management (Meridio and CA) to Document Management (iManage), Web Content Management (Interwoven) to DAM (MediaBin) and more, plus of course the core search engine IDOL that Autonomy is best known for.

On the other side of the equation is HP, a hardware and services firm that has had very little success with software.  On one hand, I can see the appeal from HP's point of view: some new technology and an interesting customer base made up of regulated industries with a particularly strong underpinning organizations involved in defense, intelligence, and law enforcement.On the other hand, HP's acquisition of records management vendor Tower a few years back resulted in the software dropping off buyers' radars.  Add to this HP's past history of severely rationalizing the workforce of acquired vendors and I am at a loss to see where the enthusiasm comes for this deal.

For potential buyers of Autonomy's many product offerings it makes good sense to take pause and wait until things have thoroughly quieted down and the full fall-out from the deal becomes clear. For those already invested in Autonomy products likewise I advise you to tread with caution and watch carefully which products will continue to get the love, and those that look set for longer term neglect. As for those invested in IDOL specifically, there is a chance that this technology will find a future enhanced by the input of the famed HP Labs, and that "meaning based computing" could ultimately get realized in practice, and not just marketing sheets. But that will take time, and is far from assured.

The key factors to watch in the meantime will be in terms of account management and technical support -- neither of which were Autonomy strong suits in the past, and both likely change in the coming year.  I don't take pleasure issuing such a negative viewpoint, but from a technology buyer's perspective it's hard to see the positives.

Do we need more ECM Maturity Models? #ecm Tue, 16 Aug 2011 11:18:00 +0000 The research and consulting giant Gartner recently released a maturity model for ECM (Enterprise Content Management).  Since its release (it's an overhaul of an earlier model), I have had a number of people point out to me the similarities between it and the open source maturity model for ECM that we contribute to, called ECM3, which is now a part of MIKE2.0.

Since its launch, ECM3 has been accessed by many thousands of people, and employed enthusiastically by both end user organizations and consulting firms around the globe. It continues to be the benchmark for ECM deployments, and has the breadth and depth to be useful in even the most demanding of situations.  If you haven't already downloaded your copy of it I encourage you to do so, and if you find anything in it that you believe could be improved or expanded upon, then get involved and help us make useful changes.

The Gartner model is basically sound, if though somewhat brief; I'm sure it will be of some value to Gartner clients.  I don't know if Gartner referenced the open source model in their work, though they surely must know of it. What I do know is that it's a shame that Gartner did not simply opt to contribute to ECM3/Mike 2.0, and I'd encourage them to consider doing so in the future.