In Focus: "Whither Content Management Technologies?"

With FileNet, Stellent and Hummingbird all recently acquired, the market is splitting into platform and solutions camps. Meanwhile, the front-burner issues for users continue to be usability and content delivery.
Given the recent spate of mergers and acquisitions among enterprise content management (ECM) suppliers, what does the future hold for content management technology buyers?

At a recent Gilbane Conference keynote panel, four content management vendors agreed that the marketplace was dividing into separate camps of infrastructure and solutions suppliers. Explained Jared Spataro, Senior Product Manager, Office Servers, at Microsoft, "I used to work for an ECM suites vendor [Open Text]. I know the smoky boardrooms, I know the margin pressures, and absolutely: the industry is dividing between platform providers and solution providers."

This sounds reasonable, but customers should understand that many vendors straddle both camps today and vendor roadmaps here are likely to remain multidimensional for some time. EMC|Documentum promotes its toolset as core infrastructure, but continues to market specific industry solutions. Oracle's recent acquisition of Stellent surely confirms that its previous "platform" orientation towards content was missing a big slice of the market that wants more prepackaged solutions. Buyers should beware that most ECM vendors have not decoupled their applications from their (often proprietary) repository platforms, so visions of SOA remain more for marketing brochures than production installations.

Meanwhile, however fascinating it is to noodle about vendor mergers, perhaps the bigger question is when content management technologies will finally overcome traditional shortcomings in usability, scalability and customer relevance?

First in mind among many buyers is the challenge of integration, given the dearth of mature standards. Jim Howard, CEO of hosted Web content management service CrownPeak, hinted that features still sell products when he explained, "We have to accommodate a variety of different environments in the marketplace; we're not standardizing, we're adding options that the marketplace wants." It's still a young market.

One bright spot is the growing importance of managing content delivery and customer interaction. "Everybody should have figured out how to manage content by now -- the challenge lies in end-user experience," argued Detlef Kamps, CEO of RedDot (a division of Open Text). Indeed, an emphasis on customer experience is propelling new investment in web content technologies, but in fact, few enterprises have yet really figured out how to manage content effectively.

Nevertheless, a key barrier remains: poor usability for content managers who often have access to much simpler wiki and blog tools. "Wikis are driving new expectations for user experience: browse a website and make changes right there," noted David Nelson-Gal, Senior VP of Engineering at Interwoven. Interestingly, few content management vendors are mentioning the "P" word at a time when many enterprises are investing in portal technology to manage user interaction and apply social software techniques. "We've actually dropped the portal moniker [from SharePoint 2007]," said Microsoft's Spataro, who argued that portal packages had become "proxy wars" for platform vendors looking to integrate across their stacks. That is partly true, but many enterprises still look to portal technology for simpler informational use-cases, and face tough choices about whether and how to integrate overlapping content management and portal tools.

Tony Byrne is founder and lead analyst of CMS Watch. Write him at [email protected].