The divine Strategy


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With its recent acquisition of Northern Light, divine, Inc. has added another level to its complex roadmap—a roadmap it hopes will lead to the ultimate comprehensive enterprise portal solution. Over the past year, divine has acquired all or part of more than a dozen companies that provide technology and services ranging from wireless software for portal viewing to Web hosting and managed services. Viewed piecemeal, these disparate acquisitions might seem as much opportunistic as strategic.

According to Hank Barnes, divine's chief strategy officer of software services, the plan is part of the unifying corporate culture at the company. He says, "divine, as a company, has one single focus: helping our customers implement, change and enhance solutions that help them extend their enterprises." According to Barnes, identifying a missing piece in offering a complete integrated solution for clients has prompted many of divine's acquisitions. He says, "Part of the divine culture is putting the customer first and recognizing that the hardest thing is getting a new customer." Thus, divine strives to hang on to the customers they have and solutions evolve as the customer's needs grow or change. However, with divine's constant incorporation of companies like Sagemaker, RoweCom, eShare, Open Market, and Barnes alma mater, Eprise, creating a unified front will remain a challenge.

Of divine's grand scheme, John Blossom, Outsell's vice president and lead analyst for content software and technologies says, "they may see things that other people don't, but it is more a matter of degree than kind. If you look at the other corporate portal providers, all of them are discovering a link between content and technology. It requires more than just technologies, and the ability to pull together internal and external sources." divine, says Blossom, distinguishes itself in its amalgamation of professional content and solutions. "Look at Yellowbricks," he says, "which has gone into the corporate portal market. They have lots of tools and content, but the content came out of the dot.com portal craze, which was not the highest quality content."

While Blossom believes divine has acquired companies with access to highly desirable professional content, he points out divine's heaviness on the technology side of the technology/content equation. "This is primarily a technology company," he says, "with the vision to get into the professional information assets so they can put these pieces together. But it remains to be seen just how much of the company is content focused and how much just sees content as water in the pipes."

Barnes says that divine has identified three major things that will allow it to succeed: software, services, and—of course—content. With the acquisition of Northern Light, Barnes believes the company has contributed to all three. According to Barnes, knowledge workers spend 25% of their time looking for information with no promise of actually finding it. He says, "Through Northern Light, as well as RoweCom and Sagemaker, we want to become the source of high-value premium content and provide it in a packaged fashion."

The remaining puzzle pieces, says Barnes, can be found in other divine acquisitions. "I can find out what you need and provide it to you in an integrated package with search and classification," says Barnes. Barnes was with Eprise for more than four years, during which time he found himself referring clients to a variety of application providers to complete their overall enterprise objectives. Since Eprise and Barnes joined divine, he feels he's in a position to offer clients a complete and customizable solution made up of the vast array of divine technologies and services. "Everything is called a solution these days," says Barnes, "but very few of us were trying to solve a customer's problem end to end. At Eprise, we referred people to other providers. With divine, all of the pieces of the solution are available. This separates divine from other companies. While it might not be a pretty business model, we are all about solving a customers' entire portal problem."

Blossom points out that, while the divine approach takes content-oriented assets that were, from the get go, professionally-based (with the Sagemaker and Rowe acquisitions), a lot of these traditional content aggregators provided huge libraries of information that were not optimally organized or readily accessible. He also believes that it is becoming increasingly difficult for corporations to justify purchasing these libraries because it is difficult to put a concrete value on information. He says, "What I see, in general, and what could develop from what divine is doing, is the ability to go out and create knowledge about what people actually need to know" rather than just giving them a mass of information. Then, he believes that knowledge has the potential to drive both the corporation and its suppliers. This feedback, Blossom says, would allow publishers to respond to real-time information needs.

The Northern Light acquisition is a powerful one, in Blossom's opinion, as evidenced by divine's almost immediate announcement of a Yahoo!/divine deal based on Northern Light's premium content background. According to Blossom, Northern Light provides taxonomy and search capability tools that allow divine to bring all of the universes of information together (internal, subscription, Internet, general available information) into a common taxonomy that makes sense for corporations.

Barnes sees it in much the same way. He says that divine's addition of Northern Light "provides a combination of the premium content, taxonomy, and assisted search model. In the short run, we can leverage these immediately. And, we can incorporate this into our products over time."

It is the incorporation and, ultimately, profitization of the divine plan that remains to be seen. As Blossom describes it, "If you look at the individual parts, none of them are stellar. What they are doing looks a lot like rebuilding an airplane in midair: You hope the people who put these things together all have impressive aerodynamic and engineering degrees." What is clear is that divine has got a whole lot of pieces of the content machine in the air. The question is where it will land and what the landscape will look like when it gets there.