In stark contrast to last year's show, when economic concerns (and terrible weather) kept people away, this year's AIIM On Demand Conference and Expo, held in New York City March 8-10, featured crowded hallways and standing room-only attendance at many vendor presentations.
According to the show's organizers, despite morning snow flurries a record 10,000 attendees passed through the turnstiles on the first day, and the show attracted almost 34,000 registered attendees (up more than 6,000 from last year). Yet it's hard to say whether these crowds were merely curious or if they came to buy. It's also unclear if the show's many Enterprise Content Management (ECM) exhibitors offered those customers who did have cash in pocket a clear and compelling reason to spend it.
Industry analysts at Outsell don't think that vendors have a clear message for potential customers yet. "Clearly, AIIM and the vendors who exhibit there are still creating this ‘space' of enterprise content management—and the positioning and the message have not yet fallen into place," an Outsell AIIM briefing states.
However, Allen Weintraub, a former Gartner analyst who is now senior director of business solutions at ECM vendor Hummingbird, sees a business with a lot of potential, with plenty of room for growth. "I've been in this space for over 10 years and it hasn't yet matured to where it should be," Weintraub says.
He thinks the selling landscape is transforming and more customers are looking at ECM solutions because of pressure from compliance laws like Sarbanes-Oxley. Weintraub explains that while managing documents is a good business practice, it hasn't been enough of a driving force to make companies purchase ECM solutions in large numbers. But with compliance laws and other liability issues coming into play, suddenly companies have a more compelling reason to track unstructured information such as email. "With compliance, it's no longer should do I something, it's now I have to do something," Weintraub says.
Given increasing regulatory compliance pressure, companies must archive content for longer periods of time, which means managing it through a lifecycle and dealing with the related storage issues—one good reason for EMC to scoop up Documentum. At AIIM, EMC focused on Information Lifecycle Management (ILC), a term that has come into play as companies must maintain large amounts of information for many years.
While some vendors questioned whether this was just vendor-speak, Jim Till, marketing VP at Xythos, thinks there is some validity to the concept of ILC, but he wonders how easily that can be done with a single vendor. "If you adhere to standards, you don't have to be beholden to Microsoft or EMC," Till says.
One thing is certain: Consolidation continues to change the ECM marketplace. Within the last year, major deals included EMC's purchase of Documentum, the merger of Interwoven and iManage, and OpenText's purchase of IXOS and Gauss, among others.
In addition, many companies at AIIM talked about the importance of leveraging strategic partnerships with vendors such as Interwoven and system integrator SBI, or Hummingbird and LexisNexis. These partnerships relate to another trend evident at the show: Companies are trying to tie content management to concrete business needs, rather than simply selling a content repository to store information. "People talk about how to create and digest content and move it through a workflow, but they are not talking about why it exists," Tom Deutsch, director of worldwide product marketing at FileNet, says. "Content is used in support of a job."
It appears that many companies have come to a similar conclusion, demonstrated by content management vendors trying to establish specialties in certain areas—like Hummingbird targeting products aimed at contract management or Interwoven forming a whole area devoted to content management in the marketing department. In each of these examples, the companies are trying to link the content management repository to practical business processes within the enterprise.
Ultimately, vendors were clearly more optimistic than at AIIM 2003. Many reported coming off profitable fourth quarters and receiving more requests for proposals. Outsell complains in their AIIM report that too many vendors were offering the same message—what they called "the herd mentality"—but if customers need to worry about compliance and business process, maybe ECM vendors are just giving the people what they want. And if the show's crowded hallways meant anything, maybe the consumers are finally ready to buy in.