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The poisoned chalice of #EFSS and cloud shared drives

September 23, 2017 Leave a comment

(Original article on LinkedIn June 29, 2017)

Box can do what network shares do” claims a recent email campaign for Box Drive.

Noooooo!!!!!!” echoes the collective scream of #ECM and #InformationGovernance practitioners, who have been trying to wean users away from the nightmare of network shares, for the last 25 years.

Just to be clear, my warning is not specifically about Box. Take Box Drive, Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox, or any of the recent offerings that define the EFSS market.

The idea of replicating the functionality of shared network drives in a cloud environment is a really, really bad idea.

It propagates silos, lack of organisation, lack of governance standards, lack of consistency, lack of security and, ultimately, loss of control and accountability.

It’s not a technology issue. I know that Box Drive, for example, can offer much richer security and better document management capabilities than standard network shares.

But the users don’t.

And advertising these capabilities as a “better network share” which “allows them to use the same workflows they use today”, reinforces all the bad behaviours that we have been trying to eradicate all these years.

I get it: It makes sense to move your unstructured content from your expensive on-premises storage disks to a managed, scalable, and significantly cheaper cloud alternative, where you don’t have to think about backups and disaster recovery, and rack space, and air-conditioning, data-centre managers with night shifts, system upgrades, etc. I understand all that.

But taking your existing content mess and moving it wholesale to the cloud, is not the right answer. It may be quick and easy, but that doesn’t make it right. You are just delaying the inevitable. If you do want to move your content to the cloud, think VERY carefully about what you are doing and why you are doing it:

  • How do you assess what content you actually have and what risk it carries?
  • What needs to be preserved and what needs to be thrown away?
  • Who needs access and how will you protect and monitor security and privacy?
  • What do you need to encrypt?
  • How are you going to organise and classify what you are keeping?
  • How will you avoid unnecessary duplication and understand whose version is the right one?
  • How will you teach your users to stop emailing 85MB PowerPoint files to each other for review?
  • How will you teach them to stop downloading GDPR sensitive information into spreadsheets and sharing them out with partners and third parties over email?
  • How will you ensure that when an employee leaves, his cloud drive does not become a black hole for critical business information?
  • How will you apply AI and Analytics across your whole corporate knowledge base, if it’s scattered across thousands of personal silos?
  • Etc., etc., etc.

The list is endless…

You can argue whether “ECM is dead” or if it should be called “Content Services” or “Intelligent Information”, or whatever. It will not make the problem go away. The reason ECM became a multi-billion software market, is because of companies realised the risks that network file-shares had created, and the need to add a layer of governance and control, classification, metadata, and automation, above the standard uncontrolled “file sharing” that the operating system offered.

Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware!

Please don’t take us back 25 years by re-creating the same nightmare, taking one of the least disciplined Information Management practices, and replicating it to the cloud.

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ECM vs. Content Services: The battle that never was

September 23, 2017 Leave a comment

(Original article on LinkedIn March 20, 2017)

Gartner’s Analysts have set the ECM industry aflutter. Every self-respecting ECM pundit has expressed an opinion on the Big Issue: Is ECM dead? Should we be calling it Content Services? Has anything changed? Is Gartner correct? Is Gartner wrong?

Well done Gartner marketing! Mission accomplished.

In a recent post, Charles Weidman posed a question: “It’ll be interesting to see in six months or a year if the industry as a whole has followed Gartner’s lead”.

I’m sorry to say, but the industry followed Gartner’s “Content Services” lead, years before Gartner did. There is nothing new in this concept, as all serious ECM vendors have been exposing their Content Services APIs since the early ’00s, which is how System Integrators have been building bespoke solutions and integrating them into Line-of-Business applications.

There is no “vs.” in the “ECM vs. Content Services” conundrum: Content Services has been a key method of consuming ECM technology for years. CMIS (a common set of Content Services APIs, facilitating interoperability) was conceived nearly a decade ago (2008) and has been used extensively as a framework of “Content Services”.

As for ECM being “dead”, the annual lament of the ECM industry (see http://bit.ly/ecmisdead) is by now an established ritual.

What is new and differentiating, is to watch which ECM vendors’ Content Service APIs support modern, open and cloud-native architecture stacks, and which vendors can offer their Content Services in an agile development framework that accelerates innovation and Digital Transformation.

“Your baby is ugly!” – The schizophrenic world of overlapping software portfolios

No mother will ever say “My baby is the ugliest”. And no product manager will allow their brainchild to commit harakiri, following a software company acquisition.

I had the dubious pleasure to live and breathe this paranoid madness for over a decade, and I can tell you it’s neither pretty nor dignified.

Just look at our little ECM corner of the world:

  • FileNet ECM vs. IBM Content Manager vs. Content Manager on Demand
  • FileNet BPM vs. Websphere vs. Lombardi
  • IBM Records Manager (Tarian) vs. IBM Enterprise Records (FileNet)
  • Metastorm vs. Global 360 vs. Cordys
  • Tibco vs. Staffware
  • LiveLink vs. Hummingbird vs. Documentum
  • Vignette vs. RedDot
  • Etc. vs. Etc. vs. Etc.

Look carefully at the most acquisitive companies in the sector: It’s always a bloodbath.

Today the latest victims entered the fray: OnBase vs. Perceptive vs. Saperion or OnBase VNA vs. Acuo VNA, etc.

Naturally, the acquiring CEO – usually shoulder to shoulder with the incoming comrade – will issue reassuring PR statements to appease the acquired user-base: “Welcome to our happy family, we love you too! It’s going to be great!” (except in the case of FileNet and Lombardi where IBM’s message was more targeted to the existing user base: “Yes, we bought a prettier child, but we will never stop loving you”). Today’s example by Hyland is no exception…

And with the pleasantries completed, the gruesome reality starts to creep in: Innovators and Thought leader executives are either leaving in drones, or patiently waiting out their gardening leave or golden-handcuff term to expire. Marketing will talk about “coexistence” and “interoperation” and “unifying functionality” and “rationalising capabilities” and “ecosystems” across the portfolio. In the back room, skeletal engineering resources will be tearing each other’s hair out, scrounging for scraps of headcount to keep up with just the most basic bug-fixes on totally incompatible architectures, creating the QA matrices from hell. While salesmen in the field will try to pinch each other’s deals and upsell incompatible “extensibility” features creating Frankenstein implementation monsters that will never see the light of production, or another version update. Ever!

You think I’m exaggerating? Just ask any pre-sales support engineer who has had to live through these acquisitions… Pure madness!

The legend of ancient Spartans throwing their disabled and diseased children off a cliff, in order to maintain a superior warrior race, may have been disputed by archaeologists, but the software industry could take some lessons and apply some of the same rationale: less emotional attachment to the lesser products, and a more honest – if harsh – reality check for the customers: “Sorry, we cannot afford to maintain your ugly investment forever. Let’s come to an arrangement on how you move to our single, best, invested, up-to-date product portfolio, before you start running off to our competitors in despair”.

I sincerely hope that I’m proven wrong in my cruel cynical assessments, and I wish my Hyland and Perceptive colleagues a long and happy marriage, once the honeymoon period is over…

(VERY IMPORTANT: These are my personal opinions and are not necessarily representing the opinions of my current, previous or future employers. Phew, that was close…)

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