Hands down, the biggest story emerging from last week's AIIM Expo in Philadelphia was Microsoft's announcement of ramped-up content management capabilities that will be delivered through Office 2007 and the Office SharePoint Server 2007, set for release in October.
A huge banner hung over the entrance to the Pennsylvania Convention Center declaring the arrival of "Enterprise Content Management from Microsoft," and the endorsing logos of some 20 ISV partners -- including Interwoven, Hummingbird, Open Text and even FileNet -- made the future of ECM clear: In the years ahead, vendors will either ride on Microsoft's coattails, or they will stand in its shadow.
Sure, giants such as IBM and Oracle may stand toe to toe with Microsoft, but during three general-session presentations and a lengthy press conference, Microsoft made it abundantly clear that it will broadly deliver easy-to-use, low-cost capabilities and XML-based content services. Microsoft and its partners predicted the developments would open up a vast, largely untapped market, but the opportunity for established ECM vendors would be to build on top of Microsoft's platform. That same platform will also address process management, search and business intelligence. But the message at AIIM was focused on coming content management, records management, Web content management and XML-based forms capabilities.
To ensure ease of use, the presence of peer groups working on documents, workflow processes, tasks associated with those workflows, digital signatures and metadata will all be pervasively part of the Office 2007 desktop applications, so "things that used to be 12 pop-up dialogs away are now front and center," said Jeff Teper, general manager of the Office SharePoint Server Group. "We think that's make-or-break, because at least 50 percent of document management initiatives have failed because of user adoption issues."
Lowering the cost of adoption, the SharePoint Server will be able to deploy a set of content management capabilities. And Teper said organizations will be able to delegate how different business units will use them, potentially saving companies "millions of dollars just on IT development operations costs" in comparison with expensive ECM systems.
Addressing the platform, Teper stressed that content management capabilities will be delivered as services. "All the work we've done in [content management] is around XML and Web services," he said. "SharePoint consumes and exposes Web services," so it will presumably work with non-Microsoft enterprise systems.
Microsoft detailed four core content management upgrades for SharePoint, starting with more robust document management and including workflow, item-level security, and new content and metadata types. New records management capabilities will address SharePoint-managed documents, collaborative content and e-mail in Exchange, but they will also apply file plans, records series, and retention and expiration policies to content in other systems. Microsoft's Web Content Management Server has been combined into SharePoint 2007 so it can handle Web sites alongside documents and collaborative content. Finally, the XML-based forms delivered by InfoPath will be extended beyond Office clients to mobile devices and Web browsers ("including Firefox running on Linux," says Teper).
The name change to "Office SharePoint Server" (from "SharePoint Portal Server") is fitting in that the Office Suite is clearly the dog wagging the ECM tail (as well as the BI, search and process management tails). "Microsoft has finally done [ECM] right, but the emphasis of the approach is pretty clear," said Dan Elam, president of ECM consulting firm eVisory. "Office is the most profitable and successful product in the history of the planet, and they're protecting it by tying lots of enterprise-level capabilities to the desktop environment."
Of course, ECM vendors that manage lots of content created in Office (and who doesn't) are embracing Microsoft with both arms. "We don't see Microsoft as a competitor, we see them as a complementary partner," said Hummingbird Chief Marketing Officer Andrew Pery at Microsoft's press conference. "What we deliver is high-value solution templates that address specific industry requirements such as deal management, contracts management and correspondence management solutions... We're bolting in components of the Microsoft IT stack, and we'll be fully integrated with Office 2007."
Open Text, too, said it would embrace both the desktop and server environment of the Microsoft technology stack. "One of the key barriers for the ECM community has been user adoption and the behavior changes that were necessary for end users to use ECM," said Executive Vice President Bill Forquer. "Leveraging the footprint that exists with the Office desktop bringing ECM into that context is fundamental to our strategy."
What few partners wanted to discuss -- and what most readers can expect as a benefit whether they adopt Microsoft's platform or not -- is the general lowering of ECM costs as more of the fundamentals are delivered as infrastructure and the landscape of solution templates and industry- and application-focused services flourishes. Expect more consolidation ahead as vendors decide whether to lead, follow or get out of the way.