Content Technologies, Circa 2007


Large mergers this year at the top of the content technologies marketplace (IBM swallowing FileNet, Open Text buying Hummingbird, Autonomy taking Verity) have led some to opine that these markets are finally maturing. I'm not so sure.

All this M&A activity suggests a time of transition measured in years, not months. My firm, CMS Watch, has done research with customers of web content management, enterprise portal, search, and records management software that shows several marketplaces in flux, and buyers facing key choices about how and where to obtain specific functionality. Despite consolidation, these industries are young, and vendors as well as buyers are only now figuring out how to get the most value from content technologies. This research also enables me to speculate about content technologies issues for the coming year.

Renewed attention to Web Content Management (WCM): Vendors and customers alike are exploring the place for "Web 2.0" technologies in the enterprise. Some WCM vendors have incorporated blog and wiki modules, but can underestimate the difficulty in replicating the subtler functionality (comments, extensible tagging, spam prevention) found in pure-play blog and wiki products. Meanwhile, several best-of-breed WCM vendors now support expanded forms of customer interactivity amid growing demands for broader communication management facilities.

Continued struggles to align around a single CM supplier: There remains a fairly wide gap between customer expectations and what "Enterprise Content Management" (ECM) products at the top of the marketplace can really do. Most major ECM suites consist of platforms and toolkits, but customers are often led to believe that a prepackaged solution exists for their particular business scenario. CIOs who hope to unify around a single platform often find that individual tools in a vendor's suite target radically different customer verticals, sizes, and geographic regions. Therefore, customers seeking to unify around a single supplier almost inevitably end up with "worst-of-breed" in one functional area (like asset, document, or web content management).

Enterprise portal offerings not always enterprise ready: Portal technology vendors target divergent use-cases, and no single platform excels across the broad spectrum of potential portal applications within the enterprise, leaving customers facing difficult trade-offs. Portal software remains a deceptively immature technology that faces chronic performance problems, mismatched expectations, and low adoption rates.

Diffusion of records management: Increasingly, content technologies—from portals to document management systems to search engines to web CMS tools—are incorporating heavier-weight records management (RM) capabilities. On the one hand, this provides useful safeguards for increasingly compliance-oriented enterprises and their managers who want RM capabilities woven into everyday information worker tools. On the other hand, a worldwide shortage of experienced records managers has led to a dearth of guidance about how and where to use those new features when they are diffused throughout the enterprise.

More enterprise search choices than ever: The search marketplace continues to roil with strong new entrants, healthy skepticism about Google's aptitude for the enterprise, and powerful, low-cost players exploiting the long absence of Microsoft from the middle tier of the search marketplace. Analysts tout the efficacy of emerging technologies, but most enterprises struggle to rationalize the multiple search technologies already embedded within diverse content technologies. Once again, no one size fits all.

Elusive goal of better usability: The dirty little secret of most content technologies is that information workers don't like to use them. With Microsoft on the verge of releasing a set of integrated Office tools for managing content, pressure falls on mainstream CM, portal, and search vendors to invest in better usability. AJAX techniques have expanded web interface possibilities, but smart vendors are realizing that usability is situational, and are creating means for customers to create task-specific interfaces.

And finally, some good news: The last year has seen a falling price/feature ratio in content technology marketplaces. Many enterprises today can obtain significant benefits with modest financial outlays, as low-cost suppliers expand their depth and reach in the marketplace by offering simpler alternatives to behemoth suites. Buyers have more choices than ever before—as a remarkably stable line-up of vendors offers an expanding number of systems to meet their needs.