Analysis: IBM Flexes its Content Management Muscles

Following up on last year's acquisition of FileNet, IBM outlines its federation strategy, introduces new products and underscores its clout with customers.
For years, IBM held the top spot in the content management market. Then briefly last year, EMC was on the verge of stealing that crown on the strength of fast growth and related acquisitions. But that was before Big Blue's $1.6 billion acquisition of FileNet, a top vendor and long-time IBM rival in the enterprise content management market (ECM).

In its first major content management-related announcements since that deal, IBM yesterday laid out its grand vision for ECM and it introduced two new products: The 4.0 version of the FileNet P8 platform and a Web 2.0-style content access client. The grand vision places ECM as one of three disciplines in IBM's larger information management strategy, which also encompass data management (the focus of IBM's DB2 database) and information integration (involving data cleansing, data quality, master data management and the IBM Information Server). ECM stands out in that content is growing at a rate of 80 percent per year, outpacing data growth and all the more concerning now that compliance demands such as Sarbanes-Oxley and e-discover guidelines mandate ready content access and management controls.

"Our customers invariably have a variety of content stores and systems, and they'll have technologies from IBM as well as other companies," said Steve Mills, senior vice president, IBM Software Group. "The challenge is creating effective indexes and access to that content and then applying the higher-level solution to meet specific business requirements… Our strategy is to take a federated approach, and that mirrors the federated data strategy that we've had for many years."

The new products IBM introduced support that strategy. For example, FileNet P8 version 4.0 is said to extend federated access to more file types, to IBM Content Manager storage environments and to a variety of new third-party repositories and systems thanks to IBM's integration technologies. And the new Web client will provide unified access to content across IBM's content management portfolio as well as to file systems, business applications and rival content management systems--all within a slick, Ajax-powered interface.

Many P8 4.0 upgrades were in the pipeline well before IBM's acquisition, including a more scalable repository implemented in J2EE (rather than Microsoft code) so it can run on IBM's WebSphere as well as rival application servers from BEA, Oracle, Sun and JBoss. The upgrade also supports dynamic, real-time connections to IBM Directory Server, Microsoft Active Directory, Novell eDirectory and the SunOne Directory. IBM FileNet executives billed dynamic connection as a significant advance and differentiator because it eliminates the need for batch synchronization and lets administrators implement access policy changes instantly -- a plus in large companies with many locations and lots of employee turnover.

Business process management upgrades in P8 4.0 include multilingual process support (in nine languages), a plug-in that lets business analysts bring Visio diagrams into the FileNet process modeler and a Business Process Framework said to speed and lower the cost of developing new applications.

Mills underscored that the FileNet deal put some distance between IBM and its nearest content management rivals. "With the combination we have some 17,000 customers around the world and we're more than 50 percent larger than the next-largest participant in the market," he asserted, adding that FileNet offers at least 150 content-enabled applications through more than 75 vertical industry business partners.

The ECM market is now largely consolidated into the hands IBM, Open Text (on the strength of last year's Hummingbird acquisition) and EMC, with second-tier players including Oracle (which acquired Stellent last year), Xerox, Vignette, Interwoven and Hyland. Microsoft intensified its focus on ECM last year, adding basic records management and workflow capabilities as well as beefed up document management and admin capabilities in SharePoint 2007. Yesterday's announcements betrayed no signs that IMB views SharePoint as anything other than a front-end collaboration environment that it will federate along with many other content sources and systems.

"The growth for IBM FileNet is going to be in its traditional base of tier-one companies at the higher end of the market," said Craig Le Clair, and analyst with Forrester Research. "SharePoint is going to be widely adopted for very basic content services and it will help drive down costs, but you won't see much overlap with the types of business processes and environments IBM FileNet will be going after."