Saas, open source and “social media” at Gilbane 2008

There were several interesting things happening at The Gilbane Conference this year and for me, these mostly came up during the analyst panel I sat on yesterday afternoon with Melissa Webster from IDC, Stephen Powers from Forrester and Guy Creese from Burton Group.

Frank Gilbane moderated and asked us first to identify a couple of key trends we see for the year ahead and then what we had heard at the conference that we disagreed with.  Here are my responses:

Open source and SaaS have a bigger impact

I was the last panelist to answer the trends question and of course generally agreed with comments made by the other analysts about IT spending cuts and the impact of SharePoint on most segments of this market.  For my bit, I called attention to SaaS and open source and the increasing presence they have in various parts of content management.

Open source was particularly prevalent this year at Gilbane.  I met with folks from Acquia, Hippo, Magnolia, and eZ Systems, and noted that Alfresco, Mindtouch and Jahia were also there (there may have been others as well).  Hippo, Magnolia and eZ are notable as European open source providers that are starting or expanding US offices.  Based on the reported success of these and other vendors, it seems open source is an increasingly viable option in content management and one that may see increased adoption when IT budgets are tight.  This is something I hope to explore more with my CAOS colleagues next year.

SaaS also had a showing though a smaller one in terms of core content management.  Clickability and Crownpeak were there, the usual WCM SaaS suspects, and both report record growth so far in 2008.  But SaaS also shows up in many areas related to content management; web analytics has been a SaaS market for years and SaaS is the dominant model in areas like personalization and A/B or multivariate testing.  Social software is also largely SaaS, particularly in customer-facing environments.  I noted the panelists at the social media panel yesterday represented two SaaS (Awareness and WetPaint) and two open source vendors (Acquia and MindTouch).

Which brings me to my other point…

Social media is too broadly defined

I didn’t disagree with anything specifically that was said during the social media panel that occurred just before our analyst panel but noted (as did others) that lumping all kinds of social technologies under a “social media” banner causes too much confusion for everyone involved.  This panel really highlighted this as the conversation veered widely between internal collaboration goals, issues and technologies, and using social technologies to market to and serve customers online.  The panelists got confused at times about which thing was being discussed and it was clear from the questions being asked that there were some in the audience were confused as well.

I harped on about this in the presentation I gave at our client event last month.   The uses for social software internally are generally pretty different from what companies are trying to accomplish in customer-facing initiatives.  As a result, the requirements of the tools are different as well.  I think it is difficult for vendors to serve both markets (internal and external) well and I expect we’ll see more specialization along these lines in the year ahead.

Someone in the audience during the social media panel asked “don’t we have to be social internally before we can use these technologies with our customers?”  That’s a good question and I think the panel generally gave her an affirmative answer.  Not sure that I agree.  I think it certainly helps if an organization culturally gets social technologies and uses them for internal communication before embarking on some sort of external initiative.  But it’s still primarily about finding the right tool for XYZ job.  Ensuring that everyone internally is using Twitter doesn’t seem a pre-requisite before you get started on some other project, unless of course it really is a pre-requisite for that particular project.

One of my general points, and I saw a lot of nodding heads in the audience when I said this during the analyst panel, is that I generally remain unimpressed with the “newness” of all this, particularly for internal use.  I  noted on the analyst panel yesterday that when I was a product manager at Sun in 2002, we used the team collaboration product from Intraspect (ultimately bought by Vignette) for a lot of stuff.  It had shared workspaces, discussion forums, comments etc.  Is that really all that different from what we’re talking about with social software internally?  There are differences, I’m not saying there aren’t.  But it is an evolution, not a revolution.  That is less true, I think, when using social technologies to interact with customers where there are really fundamentally new models.  Which again gets to my point that these are different markets with different antecedents, different integration requirements, different cultural changes required…

In any event, lots of talk about social technologies at what has always been a content management conference.  There’s no apparent slow down in the collision of these two sectors.  I noted on the panel that this makes sense in the enterprise environment where social networking without a tie to content creation, sharing and access is, as Aaron Fulkerson put it during the social media panel “kind of boring.”

Kevin Cochrane joins Day

I just saw the official announcement that Kevin Cochrane has joined Day Software as CMO.  Kevin was an early Interwoven employee, then left Interwoven for Alfresco where he ran product management.  John Newton blogged back in June that Kevin was leaving Alfresco as he wanted to move back to the Bay Area.

Bringing Kevin on board is a coup for Day, but not all that surprising given that Day’s new CEO (since May) Erik Hansen is also ex-Interwoven.  And there are some similarities between Day and Alfresco, as Day does have open source efforts and credibility via the Apache Jackrabbit project and associated Day CRX product.

Still, Day is first and foremost a commercial software vendor with a traditional licensing model, though we have expected for some time that the company might start to more aggressively pursue open source from a business perspective.  Will Kevin lead Day in that direction?

CMIS and industry standards in ECM

The rumored multi-vendor ECM interoperability effort has been unveiled.  IBM, Microsoft and EMC (and others) have collaborated on a draft specification – Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) – that is meant to addresses basic interoperability and accessibility for repository-based content.  The goal is to make it easier to pull/push managed content to/from other apps without the need for custom integrations or third-party connectors.

Some write-ups are already out there, with more detailed explanations:

CMS Wire – Industry Heavy Weights Move to Standardize Enterprise Content Management

Microsoft Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Team Blog – Announcing the CMIS Specification

Chuch Hollis – CMIS — it’s not JAS (just another standard)

John Newton’s Content Log – Alfresco releases first CMIS implementation

Chuck Hollis, as usual, has a particularly concise and on-target analysis.  He notes several of the following points that the standard effort has going for it, and I’ve added a few of my own:

  • Interoperability is a real and growing problem (James McGovern has several intereting posts on this topic).  The industry needs to start to take some steps to solve it.
  • This effort, though clearly still 1.0, has the right vendors behind it as it involves Oracle, Adobe and, Alfresco (kudos to still-small (and open source) Alfresco for getting a seat at the table on this one), along with the leads IBM, Microsoft and EMC.
  • The multi-platform / multi-language approach is a must — a Java-only standard would have left SharePoint out of the picture and not covering SharePoint interoperability would seriously hamper the effectiveness of any ECM standard at this point.
  • By working at a services layer and utilizing REST and SOAP, layering on top of existing systems and not requiring major re-writes or upgrades will be more feasible and potentially have the quickest impact.  This may also limit the sophistication of the what the standard is able to accomplish, but it’s better to get some lightweight interoperability with a larger number of existing systems.

What are the drawbacks or potential pitfalls?

  • It will likely be 2010 before we see commercial products supporting CMIS, though Alfresco has already announced an implementation of the draft spec in its Labs (fka Community) edition. An open source vendor of course has more flexibility in pushing out (unsupported) code than a commercial vendor, though Alfresco’s REST architecture makes this more straightforward.  (Alfresco does plan to support the draft spec in its commercial Enterprise code during the ratification process; no word on whether commercial vendors will follow suit).
  • Early integrations will in some cases be wrappers, perhaps shipped as downloadable modules outside of regular release cycles.  We’ll have to watch to see what this means and enables.
  • Standards efforts often go nowhere fast.

I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones that occur to me at the moment.

At this point, all we can do is note that the vendors have made the effort to develop the standard and watch as it is handed over to OASIS for ratification.  It’s a slow process – the vendors involved began work on this in 2006, which is indicative of the pace of such projects.

Alfresco plays Microsoft’s SharePoint game

Last week it was EMC’s Documentum group taking on SharePoint and this week it’s Alfresco, interesting not just because both Documentum and Alfresco were founded by the same person.  I had the chance to speak with that person, John Newton, this morning about Alfresco Labs 3.0 (Labs is the new name for Alfresco Community, which is the unsupported, uncertified version of Alfresco’s open source ECM software).

Alfresco has been positioning itself as the open source alternative to SharePoint for awhile and this announcement puts more wood behind that marketing arrow (Alfresco is undeniably good at marketing).

By working with the documented server protocols that Microsoft made available after its tangle with the EU, Alfresco built interoperability with the Microsoft Office desktop apps and with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server to make Alfresco a more viable replacement for SharePoint or to make it easier for the two to co-exist.  The most useful part of this will be the ability for end-users to work with an Alfresco repository via Office apps in the same way they work with SharePoint.

As is generally the case in ECM, SharePoint and Alfresco aren’t apples-to-apples in all senses and Alfresco isn’t necessarily attempting to replicate all the search, business intelligence and portal pieces of SharePoint just yet.  But this definitely provides an alternative for those organizations looking for basic content services a la SharePoint in a non-Microsoft or mixed server OS, database and browser environments.

Open source at Enterprise 2.0

I attended a star-studded open source panel this morning, with Bob Bickel of Ringside Networks, Jeff Whatcott of Acquia and John Newton of Alfresco. The panel and audience members discussed adoption of open source specifically for social applications.

There was a bit of discussion on market readiness for open source in this sector. A comment came from the audience that Alfresco, the most established of the three vendors, started with an “easy target” – that is, replacing document management systems that were largely understood and seen as commodities. The same audience member noted that applying commercial open source to emerging social applications may be more difficult, as these are viewed as more strategically important for IT and management.

Ringside is really only just now getting started so it isn’t too far down the road in selling to enterprises, but Bickel came from JBoss and so recounted some of his experiences there with overcoming adoption hurdles at the application platform layer. Acquia is also a new company but it is attached to the popular Drupal project. Acquia hopes to help legitimize Drupal for the enterprise.

Other questions from the audience focused mostly on the complexity of deploying some open source tools (lack of documentation etc.) and licensing issues.

The issue of how little open source was represented at this conference, something I had also noticed, also came up. John Newton said he went from booth to booth on the show floor asking “are you open source?” He got few “yes” answers. Alfresco / Acquia were on the show floor along with a big Sun / MySQL booth but of the 52 vendors on in the demo pavilion, that was about it for vendors with primarily open source business models (a few like Socialtext and Jive Software dabble some in open source but it’s not their primary model).

It’s interesting that at a conference that was all about communities and user-generated content, the vendors represented didn’t have more of a focus on community-generated software. The emphasis in conference sessions and certainly among the vendors on the show floor was much more around software that is easy-to-procure and easy-to-deploy for business users…in other words, lots of SaaS.

Why? I met with John Newton after the panel and he said he thought it was just the vendors present, not a real reflection of the amount of social software currently deployed as open source. I think that’s true as most organizations definitely have WordPress, MediaWiki and Roller deployments but none of these tools were represented at the conference. (Aaron Fulkerson from MindTouch was there (commercial open source wiki vendor) but MindTouch didn’t have a booth.)

Jeff Whatcott also noted off-panel that he thinks the SaaS and open source models will advance in parallel in this market but there will eventually be a “come to Jesus” moment when organizations realize the benefits of community development and the need to have the flexibility to develop, integrate and customize this stuff. I agree that these two models will continue in parallel for awhile or perhaps more than awhile as there are likely to roles for both SaaS and open source in the social software (or collaboration) market for the foreseeable future.

Update: I neglected to mention in this post originally that John Eckman from Optaros did a wonderful job moderating this panel.  My oversight for not mentioning that.


I admit this was my first thought when I read this post by Alex Loddengaard on the Redfin Developers’ Blog. Redfin evaluated a number of open source CMS tools, including Alfresco, Drupal, Joomla, Mambo and Plone but found only Bricolage (written in Perl) met their requirements for multi-site publishing, templating and staging. It seems like the 2.9 release of Alfresco’s Community edition (which maps to the 2.2 Enterprise edition) probably would fit the bill now, but wasn’t available at the time of this initial eval.

I checked in with our open source gurus and they’re familiar with Bricolage and note that it has a substantial following.  But I hadn’t come across it before. There is also a commercial play for Bricolage services and support.

Many of the folks at Redfin, including CEO Glenn Kelman, came from Plumtree Software and I’ve known them for ages. I chatted with them at one point as they were making this choice before they found Bricolage. As they found the open source tools inadequate and the commercial tools to be too much (in more ways than one), I had suggested a SaaS provider like Crownpeak as a reasonably priced alternative – or at least one where the costs get chunked up, making them easier to swallow.

But for a company like Redfin, which provides real estate services online, the website is essentially the product (along with the real estate services themselves, I know) and open source seems a more natural fit, given the technical expertise on hand. This isn’t always the case in a comparably-sized company in a different line of business. It gets to a bit of what I was saying in yesterday’s post about the room that exists in ECM (and in this case the subsector of WCM specifically) for multiple vendors and models. Congrats to the folks at Redfin for finding the right one.

Public ECM companies? Open source and SaaS are next

Just catching up on feed reading (impossible) after being out at AIIM so much last week and saw Dennis Byron’s post at Seeking Alpha about enterprise content management investment opportunities. He looked at the AIIM show floor through the lens of the public markets and found few investment vehicles, at least at present. He missed one or two – consolidation in 2006 did take Stellent and FileNet off the public market, but Open Text, Vignette and Interwoven remain (these last two were absent from the AIIM show floor).

Byron also identifies the right prospects for a year or two out. Alfresco (open source) and SpringCM (SaaS) both had big booths at AIIM and are two of the most interesting companies to watch in ECM at the moment. Alfresco may be a bit further along — John Powell, Alfresco’s CEO, is on record saying 2009 is a target for an IPO. But the two are comparably sized with 70ish employees and probably something like $10m for a bookings run rates (both have annual subscription models).

This is of course peanuts to the Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and EMC crowd that dominates ECM these days but may point to the future nonetheless — or at least a future. We consistently hear from traditional ECM players that open source and SaaS don’t come up much competitively, which I think is an indication that change will be slow in coming. It’s also a reminder though that “ECM” is a fractured market with many sub-sectors and room for many players (SpringCM and Alfresco don’t really compete, for example, even with business models aside). Success of new vendors and models doesn’t necessarily displace established ones particularly in ECM, which means many things.

AIIMing for social software

No surprise really that social software, social publishing and other types of socializing were hot topics this week at the AIIM show here in Boston. I started out the week at Drupalcon (co-located at AIIM this year), the community event for the open source Web publishing tool Drupal. This was my first time at Drupalcon, or really at any open source user event of this size. A couple things struck me. First and most superficially, I stuck out a bit both due to my rather corporate-looking business attire (sorry guys) and because of my gender — a comment was made at the start of the event that the attendees were 93% male.

But much more interesting was the level of engagement. Cheers and audience participation during the keynote by project lead Dries Buytaert were plentiful. The event was packed (there were 800 attendees and they had expected 500) and there appeared to be a high level of engagement among folks in the sessions and the hallways. (And I wasn’t the only one sticking out for looking a little corporate – I think the guys from Acquia, the new Drupal start-up were in the same boat. 451 Group clients can read our write-up on Acquia here (log-in required)).

AIIM didn’t have the same level of excitement but there was still a common thread between the two events. Part of Drupal’s popularity is due to its community features and the availability of modules to add capabilities like feed management, voting and so forth. Other vendors that fall into a broadly defined content management market are busy adding similar capabilities either to WCM tools that will ultimately deliver community features to site visitors or to content contributor UIs within apps themselves. I met with folks from Day Software, Alfresco, IBM, and Oracle and support for communities, collaboration and user-generated content are hot topics. Interestingly, it was not a focus during a meeting with Google — no social features appear particularly imminent for Google’s Search Appliances.

I also attended an interesting session held by Tony Byrne of CMS Watch. Tony looked at CMS architectures and how those companies wishing to implement external communities or to support user-generated content on external sites may end up with best-of-breed tools for architectural reasons, even though WCM vendors are adding support for these features themselves. Interesting stuff.

There was no sense of irrational exuberance at AIIM though, not like last year’s Enterprise 2.0 conference that had a jammed showcase floor and overflowing sessions. AIIM is a massive show though and as it is co-located with the On Demand show, it’s an odd mix of photocopiers, printing machines and enterprise software. Several ECM vendors I met with including SpringCM, Xythos (which I found out was acquired by Blackboard last year in a deal that has been kept totally quiet), Hyland Software and Tower Software are much more focused on more traditional ECM problems, from process management to archiving, which are alive and well.