Big content management vendors struggle to innovate like cloud upstarts

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Guest post by Shadrach White

Without a discernible cloud strategy for content management, IBM (NYSE: IBM), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) and other large content management vendors are lagging behind upstarts like Huddle, Box.net, Alfresco and SpringCM. These upstarts are out to prove a simple point: Ease of use, coupled with a competitive cost model can prove more beneficial than all the robust feature sets of an enterprise-class solution. 

The current economic climate is providing added fuel to the legitimate growth of these innovative companies. Do these newer products stand up to the feature litmus test of their entrenched enterprise-class competitors? Obviously not, but the question is: Do they need to?

Today the phenomenal growth of online social interaction, mobile computing and streaming video has created a culture that demands information accessibility in context. Products that focus on usability, in context search and some form of social fabric for the information a user is seeking will win over old-fashioned software that is bloated with rarely used features. Also in play is the fact that the virtual office is fast becoming the norm for many professionals in the global economy. 

We must also embrace the need to integrate the millennial workforce as baby boomers retire. Some companies may find it hard to recruit the best talent if they are stuck in a legacy mindset, not only in terms of the business systems they use, but also their communication methods. Time and time again I hear talented individuals discussing how their employer is wasting time and money using antiquated and outdated information management tools. 

Add all this up and you begin to understand that growth in the content management market will likely hinge on accessibility, simplicity and basic cost models.

Today, you can register online for a subscription-based service that gives you most of what you are looking for in terms of document management and collaboration. I can sit in front of any number of online cloud-based services and upload, share, modify, comment and publish content in a fraction of the time it takes to retrieve just one document from a clunky legacy content management platform. Simple document actions like emailing a file to a recipient can take a painful number of mouse clicks and manual data entry with older tools. 

In one instance using a legacy ECM product it took me 46 seconds to email one five-page document. Using Huddle I was able to invite several people to an online meeting and collaborate in real time in just 10 seconds. It may not seem like a big deal but if I had to do that multiple times a day it adds up to lost productivity and a frustrated workforce. You can apply this to any number of basic tasks you might perform in a document management system to engage in a collaborative work process. Whether it be viewing, printing, version control or document checkout--there are just too many clicks that are mainly due to clunky user interfaces.

This is even true for niche components of the content management industry. Take for instance document capture, almost all of the existing products available today were developed in the 1990's using old software development languages and methods. They are expensive to acquire, very difficult to configure and expensive to maintain. Plus it takes weeks of specialized training for users to become proficient at using them. All of the companies that Gartner would identify as leaders in the Magic Quadrant are struggling to innovate; they are just selling the same old product with overly complicated feature sets and clunky UI's. They are stuck in old mindsets with management and development teams that cannot see that they need a clean whiteboard and new ideas.

Two companies that you should know about have similar names but very different ways to drive innovation and cut costs. Ephesoft is built on an open source model and deploys its document capture technology in a clean easy-to-use interface delivered exclusively through a browser. The interface is focused on giving the users what they need to get the task of capturing documents complete in the shortest amount of time with the highest accuracy possible. 

On the retrieval side of the spectrum, EntropySoft is a company that develops connectivity APIs to legacy back-end content repositories so that you can bridge access to legacy content. Box.net was smart enough to see the value in bridging access to legacy content through their fresh and easy to navigate UI. They announced integration with EntropySoft during last spring's Info360 conference in Washington, D.C. These are companies that have executive management teams that left the old school content management world behind to strike claims on the future of content management. What is great about both of these companies is that they have long histories with legacy content management products and they are using this knowledge to innovate and build better tools. 

The fact of the matter is, most larger enterprises and government entities have IT departments that are predisposed to implementing technology from specific stalwart technology providers. Your IT shop may use products from many different software and hardware manufacturers but they still lean one way or the other. Also you have the age old adage of management not wanting to take a risk on something new. It's the "no one ever got fired for selecting IBM" mentality. On the flip side, how do you think the CIO, IT director or desktop services manager that just purchased thousands of new Hewlett-Packard PC's is feeling right about now?

Many people are skeptical about using cloud solutions and are proceeding with caution. Those that decide to embark on what may look like a grey cloud could find the sun shining on their bottom line. It may also take a hybrid approach to give companies a sense that these newer service-based solutions are secure, stable and effective for managing content and collaboration. I have seen over the years that most organizations implementing content management solutions are overly focused on feature sets and they ignore what the users and the business operations really need to get the job done.

Shadrach White is a principal consultant at ecmprofessional.com. Mr. White has 17 years experience in the content management and business process automation fields specializing in the financial services, government and health care verticals. Working with many Fortune 500 companies he has been recognized by his peers and colleagues as a thought leader in the ECM industry. As chief technology officer at ImageSource® he managed highly skilled teams responsible for deploying hundreds of large scale ECM projects and is credited as the visionary software architect behind ILINX® ECM.