Want to deliver ECM solutions in cloud?

While I’m no expert on the topic, I’ve spent a lot of my last years doing just that within our company – which is not a pure player in the space. Here are some ponderings which should be useful both for providers and for customers.The Cloud - from xkcd - http://xkcd.com/908/

If you’ve not been living under a rock for the last years, you probably noticed the hype called “cloud” (not to mention “big data”, let;’s just leave it to that for a moment). As many pointed out, “cloud” has many meanings and while some are new, a lot of work had already been done  under different not so cool names like PaaS, SaaS (why not AaaS?), IaaS.. etc. Infinite elasticity, scalability and “always on” are subliminal promises vendors lure customers with. Some deliver this better than other. Some customers need it, some not. Well… it’s a free market after all.

Say you are a solution provider (integrator, services, whatever) and want to jump on this bandwagon. You call somebody in the company and say “let’s do this!”. If you’re thorough enough, you’ll make a business plan (at least). Please consider this:

1. You can’t just take on-premise software solutions and make them run in “cloud”.

Especially ECM stuff. If that solution is a good onw, it’s probably very complex. Complexity doesn’t play nice with reusability. Cloud is about reusing as much as possible so you can make economies of scale. If you don’t care about that (eg: you expect less than 20 customers) then consider the people administering it. They will be your staff? If so, do they need to learn a lot of specific characteristics for each of your customers? Hmm….

I’m sure all your enteprise customers will use the same software application, just configured differently. Aren’t they? You’ll educate them? Or you will be the next Force.com? Consider it. Of course, you can isolate them and basically have an individual instance with all the peculiar characteristics customized for each customer. I sure hope they will be paying you the big buck, because it will be fun to keep that updated in time.

Or you will take the enterprise solutions you have and scale them down to fit a more “general”/small business need. It might work. Remeber: keep it veeeery simple to use. Very. For example; Metadata? You should innovate here. Checkout/checkin? Find another way. Your 20+ action menu? Trim it down to 5. Can’t?

2. Infrastructure is not scalable to the infinity

Put a virtualization layer on top, it eases things up. But you thought of that already. Reality check #1: virtual stuff runs slower than barebone hardware. Reality check #2: top grade infrastructure is expensive. Of course you can try the Google approach and build a lot using commodity hw. But you need special management tools and procedures fo do it. And maybe even rethink your software solutions. Goto no. 1.

Some ECM solution components might not even be compatible with virtualization. Hehehe. Are they yours or do you purchase/oem/integrate from other vendors? What;s their plan?

3. Business model si a different beast

How do you sell it? With the same sales people? How do you incetivize them? I’m sure you are aware that selling cloud stuff brings a tiny-tiny fraction of the initial revenue vs. selling one-off licenses & implementation services. When does your salesperson get bonused? Will this work for them or they will continue to push for the classic sale even if you have cloud to offer?

On the good news side, if you sell in the ECM space you should have already been thinking  about this for at least 1-2 years now… why? The days of multi-million solution sale are gone. The majority of customers are now planning for smaller initial costs and to have services and extensions spread over multiple years. With the ocassional exceptions, but if you’re counting on those, then you’re reading the wrong post.

What about licenses ? Your ECM solution will most likely sum up an impressiove number of third party licensing. Are those vendors providing a clear and adequate licensing model for the cloud? Do you change your user per GB stored? If so, you’re storage vendor is charging you based on the monthly reported usage? Eh?

4. Your internal processes and resources

Once you go live, you need to run it. If you have only a few customers, it’s probably not very much different than what you did until now. Especially if you already provided some sort of SaaS/PaaS before. But this is not the idea… “Cloud” should mean many more customers for you as it means more resources for your customers. Cheaper, for both. So, you will need to redesign internal processes (and tools) to be more effective. When you sell at 5 USD/user/month you need to take inspiration from Henry Ford. Considering you will still keep you current business model, beware how you mix people and resources around.

Support for an ECM solution is complicated. Will you take calls from all the end-users? Are your people capable of understanding this for all those many “cloud” customers you will hopefully have? Or they will just create frustration which will generate a lot of comments in the area of “why did we externalized this? it was much better when our (then thought lousy) IT handled it”. Remember, you’re changing a way of working, you’re not providing a solution to a greenfield area. What works for a telecom company providing commodity services and products will not apply in the ECM space.

The list can go on…

Is it all bad?

No way! Just look around. Although I called cloud “hype”, it passed that stage. Vendors are started to mature and many have realized the above items and are at avrious stages to address them.

This post is for you, our customers! Take care when choosing your cloud provider(s). I really do think you need one (the chances are you probably need cloud vs. you don’t). Do not evaluate in the same way Amazon with Box with EMC or with a specialized solution provider.They are different, at least for the reasons stated above. Work with them in understanding how did they solve the challenges, see their actual experiences and be cautious of “i know how to do it but we have no customers yet” offerings..

EMC Momentum 2012 – some technical bits

Today it was a day to dive into more technical details on the new D7 platform and mingle with other partners.

I attended 2 absolutely great sessions: Rohit Ghai “Transformation: In Action” keynote and the always great one done by Jeroen on Documentum Architecture. I missed the performance session of Ed Bueche… there is so many you can fit in a tight schedule.

Yesterday I was quite disappointed on the “monotoneous” tone of Rick starting keynote. Today, Rohit delivered a completely different show. Very good topics presented in a vivid atmosphere and rhetoric.

The talk nicely presented through clear examples the links from business challenges to the technology. Also, demo’s were done and showcased key integrations between EMC IIG’s new products. 

If you care about Enterprise Content Management (not only of EMC), look at the keynote recording here.

From Jeroen’s session there are so many things to take… here’s a high level list:

D7 and beyond : performance. massive improvements on the session and related memory management. Really matters. I think it’s a reason to plan for an upgrade in itself. NGIS is developed in parallel (more below).

xPlore 1.3: many updates, too technical for a high level list here. It is a key component of D7. New features for content processing as well as for manageability (command line tools etc). Has it’s own release cycle.

REST: the new API to use for the platform. All components will be exposed through REST. XML, Json, AtomPub… My take on this: DFS and DFC are on the way out. The session included a live “demo” on navigating with REST (json) alongside with create/search objects. Pagination included. Impressive and very very useful. Supports resource mobility (HTTP redirects) – nice! Look out for names.emc.com

Line of Sight – monitoring your virtual deployment of Documentum 7 though the usage of common tools existing in the vmWare product portfolio. Useful for OnDemand and similar deployments.

D2 and xCP: the usual stuff… (there is anough about these already written). One interesting thing: D2 is the client NGIS is currently being tested with, it seems to be the first client to work with NGIS (not xCP).

Captiva 7 – automatic classification and information extraction. Very good progress here, really the major thing about C7 (alongside the new UI).

EMC Migration Appliance – a consulting project aimed to move quickly data between old style repositories and repositories used through D2/xCP… Obviously doesn’t move the UI customizations (wg from Webtop).

Syncplicity – a generic connector (Server Synch Agent) between DMS and Syncplicity. Generic, because it can be extended for other repositories/systems.

NGIS – Finally, some info! Work is being done very actively (as I understood). multi-tennancy, base cost per object almost 0, no downtime on upgrading, add servers on the fly, no single point of failure, advanced smart containers, no SQL database (my addition, not on the slide), advanced RBAC and ACL’s side by side base don XACML, ditributed query execution…. and many many more (I have a picture, but my BB can’t upload it… sorry)

CMIS – not on the slides. but I went out and asked about it. Jeroen gave a politically correct answer. It’s clear that since CMIS does not have too much traction in the ECM space… this is not a high priority. It’s a vicious circle. Would have been very nice to see it 1:1 with the REST revolution….

For a very detailed conference live report… look at #mmtm12 on Twitter. Sevral people are doing a great job live tweeting everything.

EMC Momentum 2012 – Day 2 – the launch

Documentum 7, Captiva 7, Syncplicity, Document Sciences, Kazeon, xCP 2.0, D2 4.0 …

And a poor baby surrounded by social media freaks:

Image

The baby was in the keynote, as a method of explaining the emergence of big data. Frankly, I would very much encourage EMC to find more inspirational speakers, especially for keynotes. Rick is surely a guy who has its priorities straight and most probably tries to get the organization execute on the vision… but a keynote must energize the audience. Today it was a calm and serious discussion. Good for a activity review… not so good for raising excitement for the “largest product launch in IIG history”.

That aside… here are my top picks:

Documentum 7:

– Search is a core focus and receives a lot of new features.Thesaurus… etc. This is a great thing. Search needs to be a centerpiece of the platform, not just a feature.

– Do more for less: a lot of performance enhancements touted for session management, memory management (for concurrent users…). Charts show flat line scalability until 400 concurrent users and even beyond. Truly impressive, let’s hope this did not affent the robustness of the platform (ugh! can’t even think of it)

Captiva 7:

– improved UI. Smiled a bit when Rick mentioned they studied the motion of the eye of operators to see which are the hot areas of the UI. Glad to see EMC entering in 2010 🙂 (yes, this kind of usability tests are common for meny years already now).

– intelligent capture (auto-learning in production… etc). Nice idea. I’m a bit cautious to see how this can be truly understood by many customers and used

Syncplicity

– the newcomer, it somehow reminds me of the box.net partnership touted a few years ago. Sure, this is an EMC internal product now… And there are some good scenarios to use it. Integration with xCP 2.0 would be a good thing (is on the short term roadmap)

xCP 2.0 and D2 4.0

– I put these 2 together because with the xCP moving from “process/task centered UI” to an “any UI type” paradigm and with D2 being so configurable and extendable with widgets… the line between them is a bit blurry. Both are now in a major transition phase. D2 4.0 does not do all of which 3.1 does, but aims higher. Also, xCP 2.0 is much much better than 1.x as a vision, but needs a lot of execution (and time) to mature.

By the way, Webtop si here to stay. Because it is actually a very valuable piece fo software with a lot of investment in the installed base.

Ah… eRoom was mentioned also. That ol’ bastard just won’t die 🙂

Noticed another thing: Documentum Administrator will be rewritten. Makes sense, since Webtop/WDK is fading out.

There is a lot of efferverscence in Vienna right now… When this cools down, I’m not very sure which is the direction followed by EMC for the UI.A double play (xCP 2 and D2) can be potentially confusing for both partners and customers…

I’ve also seen a lot of things about EMC Solutions. EMC is really building A LOT of solutions of its own. In Life Sciences, in Engineering (the famous EPFM) but also in Healthcare and horizontal stuff like generic archiving. Hmmm… 

See you tomorrow!

EMC Momentum 2012 – first day – preparing the launch

Today we kicked off at Momentum Vienna organizing the company booth. But enought about that… Let’s get to the quick facts.

The strategy of EMC is still on track. At least the part with going into the services based model of the solution delivery.

This is actually the biggest challenge IIG faces for the next year(s), and a lot of partners and customers are looking to EMC for more news and execution on it.

On the technical side, this week showcases the launch of several key products supporting the said strategy. More about this tomorrow, as EMC presents it officially. Expect Documentum 7 to come p with a set of features around mlti-tennancy and service based delivery, Captiva 7 with nicer UI and more intelligence within, D2 4.0 looks good and Syncplicity is raising a lot of interesting opportunities. And don’t forget xCP 2.0.

On the financial side, the road is a bit blurry as the whole IIG sales organization needs to move from the “license – one off” model to the “as a service subscription” sales model and compensation. And a lot of traction is targeted at vertical solutions which will be promoted by EMC itself.
I think this is a much challenging thing to do, besides getting the technology right and integrated.

Todays talks between EMC and partners were very well balanced. A lot of effort was spent until now, there is sign of rebounce for the IIG general performance, but there is also a lot more to do. Execution and focus is now key and I got the feeling that everybody knows and feels this.

Tomorrow is public speech and product launch day.

Let’s see the Documentum 7 powerhorse pulling IIG to a new era.

Getting mobile apps to the enterprise

Recently I reviewed two mobile applications which can help us use Documentum or Alfresco repositories, respectively.

Besides the novelty which obviously triggered my curiosity, I’ve seen genuine interest from my customers in mobile applications. Some were more precise on the expressed need, others just sensed the opportunity and are trying to figure out how can they use it for business benefit. Tablets are on the rise for sure and the “new user” is one new way to look at your employees and at your customers.

Now… how can we get mobile in the Enterprise? Is it worth it?

First of all. “mobile” can mean so many things I can’t event try to list all reasons here. I’ll focus on the narrower need to enable new (more efficient) ways to do the company business while being mobile. And leverage the mobility traits when doing that (location awareness, communication, gyroscope etc.).

There is also a price barrier. “Mobile” is new for most of enterprise purchasers/managers. But usually they do know that a mobile app costs less than 5 USD in average (perceived end user cost). Which leads to a puzzling discussion when trying to budget a custom solution which easily jumps higher than tens of K in any corporate environment.

Now, the mobile apps which I reviewed from EMC and Alfresco are both free (at least to some significant degree, fineprint always exists). So why worry?

Because all businesses I saw are not willing to give their employees (and surely not their customers) these applications. While I’m sure there are companies out there which will do exactly that, the majority will want a custom solution for custom business rules and especially for a customized experience (remember… “new user”).

And this is where partners and consulting practices get involved. Especially in “old” ECM technology areas (eg: EMC, IBM, OpenText) where there are a lot of talented people which worked their … off with cumbersome APIs and never ending projects. They would love to try the “new stuff”. So, let’s help them! The innovation will surely come from these people.

Why do I write this? To promote the “open source” way to the traditional commercial vendors. Such partner companies or consulting practices are most likely not inclined to invest a lot in the creation of mobile solution from scratch. They need a quick ramp-up. If they have it, then mobile solutions will bloom on that ecosystem and they will be pushed into the enteprises because those enteprises are already using that “big” software platform and would love to add incemental inexpensive pinpoint mobile solution addons.

Here’s what I suggest EMC/IBM/OpenText should do:
1. Create a reference “generic” mobile application. (EMC is there already)
2. Have a solution certification programme
3. Open up the source code of the reference mobile application to the partner community (at least)
4. Validate the mobile solutions made by partners and give them a certification (one can even go further and allow only certified mobile solutions on the platform).
5. See the mobile footprint grow

Or simply open source the app and let it all go run free – the Alfresco way.

Both methods are ok I think, given the different approaches of closed and open environments.

So, EMC… IBM…. OpenText…. Microsoft… are you going this way?

Alfresco Mobile iPad application – a short review

I’ve been trying to write this post for a veeery long time. Actually, I can use the application itself to tell me how long: “58 days ago” it says near the first offline downloaded document.

First things first. I aimed to review the app in order to compare it to the EMC Documentum iPad app which was also released in the same time neighborhood (also reviewed by me previously). I was very curious to see if an Open Source mindset generates something different and how.

Installation

I downloaded the app and clicked on it. And… it worked! I mean, it was already connected to a public Alfresco repository which I could browse and use immediately. I must say, this was very nice.

Comparing with the EMC Documentum app where I had to walk through a convoluted server install process in order to connect the freshly downloaded App to the Content Server, this was like a sunshine coming after a storm.

Grade? 10 out of 10

Ok, the app worked, I was very happy, but I needed to make it connect to my Alfresco installation, not the internet public one.

Configuration

The app configuration options are not within the app itself but they are within the Settings area of the iPad. This is different from how EMC did it. in the EMC app, the cofiguration is within the app. I’m not sure which I like more. I tend to like the EMC approach more, even though I appreciate the fact that Alfresco uses the Apple guidelines on how an application should expose its settings.

But there is more than meets the eye. The Alfresco App can be configured to connect to 1 and only 1 Alfresco installation. Switching to another installation can be done only by entering the iPad Settings area again and modifying the existing parameters. The EMC Documentum App allows you to have multiple profiles, each mapped to one repository and you can switch between them from within the app itself, without needing to modify any of them.

I think EMC got it better here. A lot better. I would have expected Alfresco to be more in tune with the thought of having multiple alternative connections, since you can more easily find multiple Alfresco instances in an organization than multiple Documentum ones (after all, Alfresco does tend to be used at departmental/division level).

Grade: 8 out of 10

Prerequisites

What do I need to install on the Alfresco server in order to have the App connect to it? Nothing. Nada. Zip. You have Alfresco? If yes, then you have also the CMIS services there and this is all the Alfresco iPad App needs to.

Easy as it gets. Grade: 10 out of 10

What do you need if you want the EMC Documentum iPad App? Don’t get me started! Read my previous post.

Features

I will not do in great detail here. Mainly because I did not explore it all in detail and I must say my knowledge of Documentum exceeds the one I have on Alfresco so I’m trying to keep it as fair as possible here.

The Alfresco iPad App has the usual browsing/searching/offline download/tasks(activities) features you would expect. Similar with the EMC Documentum iPad App.

Where I have seen a diffrence is that:
1. you can actually see the content of documents from within the app 🙂 (in the Documentum App you can’t have that without installing yet another software)
2. you ca ADD content. So the application is not only a readonly view of the repository. Which is very good.

I’ll give it a 9 out of 10 for features. Because there is always room for more here.

Overall impression

One thing to note here is that the Alfresco App is actually a relatively small modification of the FreshDocs app from ZIA Consulting (which is another CMIS browser app on iOS). Which goes to show that open source companies tend to be more agile in their partnership strategy and more open about it.

Another thing which I very much appreciate with the Alfresco iPad App is that it follows Apple design recommendations for design. It’s very simple and straightfoward to use. This differs a bit from the EMC approach, which followed the style of the Twitter iPad application – more colorful and with the sliding decked panes. Although the EMC has more eye candy, I must say I prefer the Alfresco decision. Plus, is an universal (iPad & iPhone app).

And another thing: The Alfresco iPad App connects to the content server using CMIS. The EMC Documentum iPad App connects using a (yet another) proprietary communication protocol. not DFS, not CMIS. Eating your own dogfood? 🙂

Last but not least, since the applications were initially launched (more or less at the same time), the Alfresco App already had a new release with new functionality. And that says a lot.

Did I say “last”? I was wrong. The Alfresco iOS App xCode source code is indeed open source.

Good job, Alfresco.

EMC Documentum iPad App – workflow tasks

Adequate infrastructureThis is the third and last part of my review of the EMC Documentum iPad application. I wanted to see how it behaves for Documentum workflow tasks.

Briefly, there are 3 major categories of workflow (aka processes) you can run in Documentum platform (aka xCP sometimes):

– quickflows. One user wants to send a document to a sequence/set of others. Ad-hoc, no predefined rules.

– standard document routing. A process template is defined and an information package can be routed through it.

– xCP process. much closer to a pure BPM flow, very similar actually to the document routing above, but with more features (Eg. more advanced forms, integrations etc.)

The process templates are build using Documentum Process Builder using also Forms Builder… etc. All part of the Documentum “xCP” bundle.

Now… the Documentum mobile (iPad) application says it enables users to work with tasks in their inbox. All the above workflows/processes end up in the user’s Inbox as tasks. Let’s see them!

Quickflows

Test scenario: pick a document, start quicklow, select 2-3 users as destination, enter some instructions, click some options…

Work just as you would expected (after reading my previous posts). You see the task in the iPad app Tasks list, you can click on it, see the task instructions as laid out by the originator, you can comment on it and finish it. You can also see the document content (in the same way as in all the other sections of the application, see previous post). Acces to document metadata is a bit clumsy as usual (you need to try to see the document to get a 2-more-taps method of viewing the builtin attributes).

Document routing

Test scenario: design a process template with 1 manual activity, start a document on this process

They are very similar with the quickflows. The only noticeable difference is the name of the task (which is given by the process design not the document attachment, obviously).

One nice touch is that the iPad app allows the user to also “electronically sign-out” the task if requested by the workflow design (meaning the user is asked to re-enter his/hers password… this is the “sign-out” feature). I wasn’t expected that.

One not so nice thing is that once you open the task you see only one “Finish” button. Clicking on it will complete the task (or bring out a menu o alternative options if any are available as designed). You can’t “cancel” the task display (as in “i don’t want to finalize you right now… later!”) by tapping a button. You need to “slide” the task display page away. A bit counter-intuitive. I’ve already seen 2-3 persons clicking on “Finish” to close it. And this was wrong as the task was “completed”. Ergonomy fail.

xCP process

Test scenario: design an “xCP” process (with a “task form”) and start the process from TaskSpace.

Well, here is simple:

The task shows in inbox, you click to see it and wonder how the task form will be rendered. The answer is a “500 Server Error” with a “NullPointerException” reported. End of the test.

As a conclusion:

The current EMC Documentum iPad application can handle simplistic inbox/task features. Can’t be used if the user needs access to custom package/document metadata or  the tasks have forms associated with them (not just plain document routing).

As far as I see it. The iPad application is a reasonable showcase of features for basic DMS but just for demo purposes or very very limited real use cases. I stand by my advice to EMC to make the application “open” for partners to extend and get it closer to the actual real world business requirements.

And another thing: the app design should use the iOS/iPad Apple UI design advices. Currently is a bit non-standard. This is good for entertainment apps, but for this kind of software… you should stick with the beaten path in order to make it easier to the “new user” :).

Next? A review of the Alfresco iPad App which just surfaced in the App Store.