Once upon a time considered the royalty of the document management world, the story of EMC-Documentum over the past decade has been one of leisurely aristocratic decline. What does that mean for customers like you in the market today for an enterprise content management (ECM) solution?
Repository Unter Alles
Documentum -- like its off-shoot, Alfresco -- was founded on the belief that a massively scalable, object-oriented repository represented the primary value-add for large enterprises with growing stores of documents. As for the actual business applications that need to get built on top of that repository....well, that pretty much fell to your developers or a coterie of expensive integrators. Whoever built those applications, though, had to be versed like medieval conjurers in the dark arts of the Documentum API.
For certain industry sectors like pharmaceuticals, behemoth Documentum installations were considered a necessary cost of doing business in a heavily-regulated world. For everyone else, Documentum frequently proved resource-intensive and user unfriendly, especially for everyday document management. Customers began to down-shift their ambitions and focus on supporting widespread document collaboration. Whatever SharePoint's demerits -- and there are many -- Microsoft conveniently filled some important needs there.
A Market Goes from Strategic Platforms to Practical Problem-Solving
But then Documentum got a second wind behind their sails, in the form of a series of recommendations popularized in the mid-2000s that I'll just simplify now as the "Strategic ECM" concept. As touted by major analyst firms and consultants, the thesis behind Strategic ECM was that all your enterprise content was related, it was all important, and should all be managed in the same system -- and ideally the same über-repository -- sold only by the biggest vendors on the planet not named Microsoft. Vendors like EMC-Documentum.
Strategic ECM seemed rational in theory. In practice, this approach tended to beget impossibly large consolidation projects that had a bad habit of collapsing under their own weight. I know of some enterprises that refer to their "lost years" of ECM, from which they are only now recovering.
This recovery process has entailed business managers demanding specific applications to solve particular document management problems, sometimes going outside the enterprise to find better-fitting solutions in the cloud. Consider for example workaday contracts management -- something you could build in Documentum, but purchase much more readily in a panoply of other, simpler tools. (Check out our ECM & Cloud File Sharing Report for detailed evaluations of 15 solutions, including Documentum.)
Where Does Documentum Fit Today?
Some document and records management projects are large and complex enough to merit a complicated platform like Documentum. But for some time now, this has constituted just one use-case among the seven major document management scenarios that serve as evaluation criteria in our research.
To be sure, Documentum isn't dying. EMC has slowly but regularly upgraded the core Documentum platform, most recently at the end of 2012. Whatever the platform has lacked in innovation, EMC can at least point to long-term continuity. EMC has also made some small but nifty acquisitions on the side.
But how much is Documentum really living? In recent years some EMC integration partners have jumped ship. You can understand why. Knowing Documentum Query Language (DQL) is kind of like knowing COBOL: you can make a good living....keeping legacy implementations alive.
As a customer, you should consider EMC-Documentum if your document and records management needs will require a highly customized solution. For example, if your document store numbers into the millions of files, or you need to develop highly specific, bespoke user interfaces. Even then, a savvy buyer will perform extra diligence to ensure that a simpler and more open platform won't suffice.