The Microsoft® and SharePoint® Play in ECM: Good News from the 2007 Microsoft Partner Conference

I am writing to you fresh off the 2007 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference held in Denver, Colorado on July 10-12. This event is attended by approximately 10,000 Microsoft registered partners and employees, and showcases all the latest good things carrying the Microsoft brand.

One item that’s worth highlighting is the new coffee table-type PC referred to as the “Microsoft Surface.” The demo was truly impressive and it actually looked like it could do for the home PC market what Apple® has recently done to the cell phone market. The most relevant item that came from this year’s event was the newly refined messaging and positioning that Microsoft has introduced for SharePoint within the ECM market.

Now when I say I’m fresh off the Partner Conference, let’s quantify that just a little – and perhaps you’ll understand why I’m a little more verbose than normal. I am about three hours off a red-eye (and I do mean TRUE red-eye – as in a two hour flight that leaves at 12:30am Mountain Time and arrives on the East Coast at 5:30am. If you’ve not flown Frontier Airlines, I’d like to give them kudos – for a low-cost airline, the service was great, the plane was clean, and the $5 TV in the back of each headrest is a great feature! It sure helped keep me awake in the middle of the night as we made our flight across the country. Okay, enough about flights and back to the topic at hand.

As I mentioned in my last entry, Microsoft has certainly stirred and shaken the ECM industry with its prelude up to and subsequent launch of Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (aka MOSS). If you’ve not yet heard of SharePoint, I’d be willing to bet that you might also think Paris Hilton is a luxury hotel located in France. Seriously, I am surprised by just how loudly Microsoft’s announcements have reverberated within the ECM vendor community (as one might expect as there are a lot of the name brand vendors who are concerned about the future of their classic business models). But perhaps what’s been most striking is the number of customers that are inquiring and taking serious interest in understanding SharePoint and its ECM capabilities. Of course, there are large enterprise organizations with sophisticated and sizable IT resources (both $$$ and people) who are already implementing or looking at SharePoint as an alternative to classic ECM vendors or products. But I’m especially intrigued at how quickly this interest level appears to be initially moving downstream into the mid-market at such an early stage of the introduction.

I recently had a mid-size community banker asked me about SharePoint. This was fairly amazing to me as in my past experience, the smaller an organization, the thinner the available IT resources and available expertise to try to implement a solution that is not necessarily “out-of-the-box.” Obviously, we can’t discount the Microsoft factor at any level of the market. Now I can’t project if this trend will continue, or at what pace, but if you have personally seen or experienced the integration (and investment) that Microsoft has placed into SharePoint 2007 and the Office 2007 suite, the value proposition and the appeal of SharePoint to any organization using the classic Microsoft Office products is quickly understood. At least on the initial surface.

Don’t look for this hype to subside anytime soon. After all, no single ECM vendor since the invention of Micrographics machines has had the marketing budget or the industry impact that Microsoft holds on this space. Rather, I expect the rumbling to continue as word has it that Microsoft has made SharePoint one of their key sales and product growth initiatives for their 2008 fiscal year (July 2008 to July 2009).

So is all this noise a good thing or a bad thing for ECM? I, for one, think it’s a fantastic event in the lifecycle of the ECM industry. Now some of my enthusiasm could be directly attributed to the mere fact that I’m part of the Clearview Software team. If you didn’t know, the team here at Clearview saw the Microsoft market-changing earthquake coming–and decided to build an innovative next-generation ECM suite to ride the subsequent tidal waves that would carry a new league and class of ECM products into the market. After all, this market is well overdue for a little shaking up, at least in my humble opinion.

The second reason that this is a good thing, and perhaps the relevant reason to you, is that Microsoft is going to do for ECM what no other single (or combined) vendor has been able to do: promote the value and significance that ECM technologies truly deliver to the business infrastructure. Microsoft’s reach to every desktop in the organization and back to the IT center of the office world will probably be the best thing (aside from the word “compliance”) that has happened to this segment of the software industry. So from this perspective, every single ECM or document solutions vendor will be grateful. For customers who have had trouble conveying to executives or boards the business value and justification for the ECM investment – I think you’ll find Microsoft doing you a big favor as well.

However, there has been one small drawback to Microsoft’s entry into the market. They caused a little bit of confusion as they used the term “ECM” in a broader form that initially portrayed far more overlap with virtually any vendor in this space – new or old. I think this may have done Microsoft a little disservice, as well as created confusion in the users’ minds regarding exactly what parts of the ECM stack SharePoint could service.

Now back to the good news from the Partner Conference. I had the chance to sit through a new presentation that is demonstrating a true maturing and greater understanding of ECM from Microsoft’s perspective; specifically illustrating how SharePoint is postured within a broader ECM stack of functionality and where it really shines. I thought this was one of the best pieces of Microsoft product marketing that I’ve experienced to date. It shows that Microsoft went to market, listened to customers and partners, and then refined their messaging to reflect how SharePoint really offers value to the end user. This new and well-constructed messaging, clearly articulating the ECM capabilities and functionality, will undoubtedly serve Microsoft, their partners, the customers, and even the industry at large very well.

So now that I’ve spent my column this month talking about the Partner Conference and SharePoint perspectives and messaging, I’ll get to the heart of this new messaging next month. In the August column, I will be sharing with you exactly how Microsoft is messaging the real value and strength that SharePoint brings to customers as a platform component within a broader ECM solution stack.

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