Archive for June, 2007

Reflections on ECM after the 2007 AIIM Conference & Expo

June 1, 2007

I can remember when each AIIM show in the 1990s would bring about a swell of announcements and new feature introductions – most of them to leapfrog competitors and to differentiate products one from the next.I recall years where the buzz on the floor was about how one vendor could put a red line annotation on a document image, and another could add a yellow highlight. Or that another vendor could store and view a Microsoft Word document. Remember those days?

The AIIM show that probably generated the most buzz and subsequent fall out in recent memory came in 1995 when Microsoft announced their plans to place a free Imaging Viewer into the Windows 95 desktop operating system. Of course, many industry fellows viewed this as the end of the market. Game over – Microsoft now owns the imaging marketplace. The resulting screams of imaging vendors as they leapt from the top of the Moscone Center in anguish could well be heard across all of the San Francisco Bay area – and maybe a little beyond.

Now I bring this up first of all to have a little laugh, because as we all know, this didn’t end the industry as we know it; and I honestly can’t remember one vendor that can attribute their demise to Microsoft’s Imaging Viewer announcement. However, the buzz that resulted from that one singular announcement certainly dominated the news at that show – and subsequent industry reports and speculation for many, many months afterwards.

Secondly, I mention this to compare and contrast how very different the AIIM event has been over the last few years. No real major innovation or compelling functional announcements have stirred the industry nor set the next ruler that every vendor scrambles to incorporate into their offering. Rather the recent shows seem to provide more vendor emphasis on business application requirements and on actually solving business problems.

Overall I think this is good, but I would suggest that the end result is that the ECM space became a little uninteresting – and certainly led to extreme parity between competitive solutions – such that differentiators became a subjective blur. The resulting customer impressions and perceptions were that “all the ECM products we’ve seen look alike.” I think this has made customer decisions difficult – and has led to very little forward movement in overall innovation and contemporary approaches to how ECM is deployed, used, and exploited to the value of the business organization.

I honestly don’t recall a new product launch or introduction that carried more buzz and commentary up and down the expo hall aisles (both leading up to and at the actual event itself) than Microsoft’s launch of Office 2007 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS) at the event. If you had not already heard of SharePoint, you have most likely heard about SharePoint during the event and discovered that Microsoft now plays in ECM with this innovative introduction (or you were watching CNN the entire three days of the event in between recuperating from late night vendor parties).

Unlike the town criers that rang gloom and doom with Microsoft’s last announcement, I, like many others, think that Microsoft’s larger-than-life entry into the ECM market via MOSS (also known as SharePoint v3) could represent that “tipping point” for the ECM industry that we’ve all been longing for. At the least, Microsoft will undoubtedly bring a new level of credibility to this market with their household (and business) brand recognition and associate clout. This is something that our industry has sorely lacked for quite a while.

Even though IBM, EMC, and Oracle have been making some small inroads with their offerings, Microsoft will dominate the buzz over these other players. If you don’t believe me, then count on one hand how many announcements you’ve seen reported from the other vendors vs. the number of MOSS-related news and notes that span virtually every publication, website, and email newsletter in some form or fashion since the event in April. I give kudos to Microsoft for this announcement and delivery. I think that this will drive visibility and importance for ECM to the point where it will soon be seen as a “business infrastructure requirement” just like email, accounting systems, and other essential software applications needed to operate a contemporary business.

At the end of the day, perhaps the larger question still looms in many folks minds long after the show buzz has passed. Is MOSS actually an real ECM solution or is it a platform of functionality or in some folks minds…What exactly is SharePoint (or what isn’t it when compared to a traditional ECM functionality matrix?