Finding balance between industry shifts, customer needs not always a simple matter


When I attended The SharePoint conference last fall, I was impressed by Microsoft's commitment to the cloud, but I also heard from attendees that many of them weren't quite ready to take the leap to the cloud with their vendor.

Microsoft and its fellow traditional enterprise vendors might not completely understand the cloud yet, but are clearly trying. For Microsoft, buying Yammer and listening and learning from them was a step in the right direction. Simply moving SharePoint lock, stock and barrel to the cloud shows they have a ways to go when it comes to understanding that the cloud is as much about simplicity and access as it is about where the software is stored.

But I realized last week, as I attended The AIIM Conference in New Orleans, that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) isn't alone in this regard. While every keynote emphasized the change that was going on in the industry, when I sat down and listened to the rank and file members, many of them were not as far as along as AIIM itself or many of the vendors.

In talking to vendors, I heard them trying to move ahead of the market, just as Microsoft has done. For example, HP has created HP Flow, a mobile capture and content management application in the cloud. Give HP (NYSE:HPQ) credit; it recognized it was being disrupted and it created a product to meet that challenge head on.

Same goes for EMC, which bought Syncplicity last spring for its cloud-based file sync and share capability. Last week, it announced an enterprise version, which lets users connect to the Documentum repository via a connector that's free for Documentum customers, and they announced an on-premise version of Syncplicity that lives behind the firewall--and may defeat the true purpose of file sync and share, but is an attempt to make it more palatable to a group of customers who might not otherwise be ready to use it.

In fact, EMC is moving the entire Documentum platform to the cloud, but it doesn't mean that all their customers are ready for this move.

Documentum product manager David Mennie admitted, "The industry doesn't necessarily move at the same pace as the technology."

And that was evident at the conference. Many records managers and IT pros who made up a majority of the attendees were not ready for the shift. Some outright rejected it. As I wrote in an article on CITEworld, "Old World IT meets Seth Godin," there was clearly a tension at the conference between folks who were ready to move on from older enterprise software models, and those who weren't.

Yet customers who have begun to make that transition find that it can be an uneasy one where they need to feel their way to find their way. One company trying to answer that transition issue is Alfresco, which is trying to help companies manage content wherever it happens to live--inside the firewall or up in the cloud--using metadata to drive workflow and find a set of documents that meet a certain set of criteria based on the metadata tags attached to the documents naturally (not by deliberately tagging).

All of these companies are trying to come to grips with the changes going on in the industry, to find ways to deal with content in motion, to acknowledge that content in the cloud has value, but to still find a way to manage it the best they can--even or especially--when the old rules don't always apply anymore.

But as AIIM CIO Laurence Hart pointed out in his keynote, that doesn't mean rules don't apply and vendors and customers have to find common ground to meet these new challenges. As we learned last week in New Orleans, it's not a simple matter and everyone is moving at a different pace to figure it out. 

For now, the vendors could be aiming for where the market's going and not where it is for many customers right now--and that is likely to be an ongoing issue for some time. - Ron