Reality check – solutions for business

Here I was in a meeting with my business development and sales staff. I was there talking about our products and repeatable offerings (this is a new name for something which is not a custom solution but still not yet a off the shelf product) and trying to understand why some of them don’t see much traction.

It turns out that we need to address more the business area, not the IT buyer. And in some places the IT budget is scarce. More on this in another post.

Anyway… we set the strategy… all was in order and we moved to the next topic: “ECM market update”

And there we informed the guys who didn’t already know: “Look, EMC is focusing on Case Management instead of the much broader ECM concept”. The reaction from sales?….. “GREAT! THAT’S EXCELLENT NEWS”

This was a cold shower to us, the old ECM guys. The sales in our organization are somehow disconnected from technology, they are trying only to solve business problems.. They see great opportunities in working with the customers within the “case management” use case. At least this was the gut feeling, no actual leads popping up as we spoke.

It seems the Case Management talk is appealing very well in the business solutions space. And money is there. Go and follow them, leave nothing on the table.

In related news, IBM is also focusing on Case Management. At least this was the conveyed message a few days ago in a partner conference. They seem to have a better and more adequately formulated strategy than EMC but… let’s see the execution from both.

So, even if some of us haven’t been doing only Case Management until now (as Mark Lewis so unfortunately put it) it seems we should do it in the near future more and more.

EMC – a new strategy

“Information Intelligence Group”. What’s in a name? For the official vision you can check out Marks’s Blog.

Digging deeper through the statements made at EMC World 2010, one ca read between the lines and, corroborating with what is happening actually in the organization, can see that is a quite clear direction (no matter how fuzzy the term itself is).

Documentum fanboys are now quite stressed.

Until 2003,  Documentum was a very powerful system to manage unstructured content. For those days I can arguably say it was the best of the best. Then EMC acquired it. EMC was a hardware company and knew how to sold boxes+some software. The first message after the acquisition was “One EMC”. I still have a “1” trophy marking the conference on this topic in Vegas.

Regardless, many become worried seeing that Documentum is getting lost in the more storage oriented EMC. Even on the EMC website may years passed by until you could see some significant reference to Documentum or the software area in general. That was not good and Documentum product line lost its edge. Competition got near and surpassed it. People left. Many original founders left. For me it was clear there was a difference in vision between the initial Documentum roadmap and what EMC wanted.

But what did EMC want? For some time that was not clear to me, and I saw the same in the professional blogosphere. It was clear several paths were tried out but many remained stalled (collaboration, information worker, even BPM). EMC tried to get a bigger piece of the pie from the services part, sometimes stepping on partners toes. I wanted to see the EMC services more like a “expert services” team. Customers wanted the same thing. But, this did not happen. Instead, the consulting practice wanted to perform the actual delivery of solutions (more money). How can a consulting practice deliver when the platform needed quite advanced tinkering (including custom code development) in order to match the business needs? And here is how we near to the current strategy.

In my opinion, EMC stopped chasing ghosts and define a place to focus in order to retain and maybe even gain market share. In the currently announced vision (what I’ve read from Pie and others which kindly published notes from EMC World) shows that EMC acknowledges it cannot win on all fronts and will be concentrating on where it thinks it can reap the maximum benefits from the market: application composition, mainly on the case management use case. It’s trying to push forward the idea that solutions will need to be done declaratively, by the consulting force.

While this is a very good idea, it leaves behind things like:

–  Information Worker scenarios (I hated the term, now it’s beginning to grow on me). From my many projects I think about 80% were “information worker” not “case management”/”transactional cm”.

– EMC BPM suite is quite simplistic. It’s small fish comparing with IBM, Metastorm and even Adobe. How will a competition on Case Management look with these ones head to head?

– EMC did not prove until now that it can build software. Taskspace, Ceterstage, DAM are all pointing to different directions and did not prove themselves to be a solid proposition. Now all the money are on TaskSpace (which will suffer a technological overhaul…) Does anyone think that another 1.0 version (although it’s dubbed  2.0) will be good enough and not loose market traction?.

What this strategy does its separate EMC from SharePoint. They don’t collide anymore (good thing!) and could even work together for a while. This is until Microsoft starts taking BPM seriously, and I think they will do. Soon.

So, we’re seeing the Documentum platform slipping below the counter once again and starting to become a small piece of the puzzle. This might be good for EMC but I don’t know how it will be for the existing partners and customers (new ones will come, most likely, anyway). Evolutions of the Content Server itself point us into this direction – it becomes smaller and easier to plug into a bigger picture. It will no longer have a big footprint to make it drive the solution, it will be a component.

Just look at the direction expressed by the existence of DSS and the usage of xDB as replacement for RDBMS. Both  are very, very good things. Which I completely approve and should have been done earlier. But in the new strategy this is just another strong point to support it. Which is good for EMC.

They have just embarked in a new journey and are already executing it for some moths/1 year (I sensed it from the local team). As Mark said: “We are not putting down the base [of core Documentum users], but we have moved on”.

Are we all moving in the same direction? Should we?

Convincing a customer

Every once in a while I seem to get caught in a discussion with a customer / potential about what solution would be good for him. And sometimes we have different opinions.

Take this one, for example.

The customer wants a DMS platform, we analyzed and proposed EMC Documentum. The first business application he wants to deploy on this is an approval process for some forms. I can already hear everybody screaming: xCP!

Staring to read the RFP, from 30.000 feet it seems it’s a match for xCP, indeed. Digging into details… not anymore. You find features which are not possible in Forms Builder. You find features which are not possible in Process Engine. And you find that the approval process configuration is a matrix which in no way can be emulated or implemented reasonably enough with ootb stuff. One after another, this leads up to a significant custom development task. Development which sometimes will break the “rules of engagements” about TaskSpace (“you thou shall not code inside the UI, or else the wrath of the new version will come down to you in 6 to 12 months!”).

Add the fact that this will be used by top management and middle management only. And it’s business critical flow.

Hmm…..

Well, my money is on custom development. Build a specific frontend and use the platform underneath. Forget about TaskSpace.

What? And then where is xCP useful? How about the promised enabler for “business agility”?  It’s still there, it’s still ok. Just that it’s not the good answer to this business requirement. It simply isn’t. And as long the business requirements don’t change to take into account the technology.. there is not much we can do.

Of course it can be implemented in TaskSpace. But it will result in an ugly solution. Both to maintain and to use. It will not be something I’ll be proud of. Will I take the customer money if he orders me to do it in xCP? Yes, and I’ll do my best to give him the great solution he wishes. We will both learn something in the process, and I will even be happy if I learn I was wrong. But until now I was quite right on these things… as many seniors I tend to have a nose for them, not bragging.

Then why not Webtop, why go for the challenging custom development on UI?

Because doing the UI developments on top of Webtop will sooner or later require effort to port them to whatever new version of WDK or – more likely – new client technology EMC pushes forward. Imagine yourself changing the customizations you did on Webtop to CenterStage. A custom client will be more resilient on future changes. Build it on top of DFS and you have a really long term facing solution in front of you.

Now, let’s convince the customer. After he have seen a beautiful presentation of xCP and heard the market talk… how could you? “Trust me, I’ll be implementing this for you… I want the perfect thing for you… we’re in this together…”? Helps, but does not make it.

Show TaskSpace shortcomings at a technical level, related to the specific RFP details? Aren’t you shooting yourself (the vendor) in the foot? Well, with all the respect to the product, this needs to be done. But is it enough?

Incidentally enough, just before this customer I was in another one where I advocated the usage of TaskSpace. Why? Because is really good at what it does. But it does not do everything. And comparing with older BPM tools it still has some mountains to climb.

Custom developed UI is the answer sometimes (I reckon around 10% of ECM business applications). Because sometimes default clients simply can’t get it up.