In my previous post (Part 1), we looked at the appeal of Apps, and why we grew to love them. Now, let’s look specifically at the impact that Apps have to the ECM software industry.
Impact to the ECM Industry
With over 25 years under its belt, the ECM industry (with its Document Management pre-cursor) is a relative dinosaur in enterprise software terms. It was established as an industry, about the same time as ERP, and before CRM, BPM or eCommerce. So, as is the case with any other respectable octogenarian, we are pretty set in our ways. Yes, we may introduce new functionality or attach another technology segment under the ECM moniker every now and then, and we will endlessly debate if ECM, EIM or Process Services is the right name for it, but fundamentally we are still delivering software the same way we always did.
But change is afoot: Whether we like it or not, the “Appification” culture described in [Part1] is challenging the fundamentals of how the software market works, including ECM, and how relevant it remains to the enterprise of the future. And in Darwinian terms, we’ll have to either evolve to survive, or we will face extinction.
There are two main areas where “Appification” has profound impact to the way we operate today: The way we design products, and the way we take products to market.
Impact to ECM Product Design
“Appification” brings fundamental cultural change, to the way software is conceived, designed and delivered. Every core design element is challenged, as well as every classical development and delivery methodology.
- The “Apple” effect: Apple’s “Design Thinking” principle, threw the rulebook away when designing the first iPods and the first iPhones. They became icons of usability where less was more: who would have envisaged an electronic device with no buttons, just a glass slab? Where ALL functionality and behaviour is software controlled? Where accelerators, proximity sensors, hand gestures and voice command, would become the interaction controls, instead of a mouse, a keyboard, switches, levers and knobs. How many enterprise, and in particular ECM, solutions offer similar UI experiences?
- The “Singularity” principle: For years, enterprise software vendors prided themselves on the functionality breadth of their offering. The more features, the more capabilities, the better. Apps challenge that: What is the most critical element of software design? The User Interface and usability? The richness of functionality? The quality of information? Apps’ “task-oriented design” challenges that principle: “Do one thing, very well”. They are designed to remove complexity and isolate distinct elemental functions, and then deliver these in the most intuitive manner possible. What ECM functionality do you include or exclude from an App? How many Apps would you need to provide a complete “set”?
- The “EFSS” effect: “Enterprise File Sync & Share” has been one of the most disrupting apps in the ECM field. Even though there are clear overlaps, it did not set out to challenge the traditional ECM vendors, as such, it created a completely new market of its own by addressing just four fundamental requirements that traditional ECM couldn’t: Free and backed up storage space in the cloud; content accessibility from everywhere; ability to share larger files than email could, outside the firewall; and transparent synchronization of content across multiple devices (desktop and mobile). Box, Dropbox, Evernote, OneDrive, GoogleDrive, Picasa, iCloud, etc., all became a thorn on ECM’s side, because users liked the functionality they enjoyed in their personal space, and wanted to bring the same capability to their corporate environment. Now ECM has to step up and deliver that.
- The “Nightly Update” effect: I have about forty apps on my smart phone, and it seems that at least half of them get updated on a weekly basis. Some, more often than that. Updates just happen, without any involvement from me, without any need for IT support calls, without scheduled downtime, without any need for training. App users are not only looking for the same experience from their Enterprise software, but they are looking for the tools to offer this experience to their own customers. The days of the 18-month deployment cycles are truly over. ECM needs to support similarly fast, agile development cycles and continuous improvement, as apps do.
- The “Device” conundrum: Vendors can no longer dictate the device that their software will run on. Apps have completely transformed user expectations around being device agnostic: They expect the same App to behave appropriately, whether they are using it on a smart phone, a tablet, a desktop browser, or their hotel room TV. The name of the game is “Responsive Design”, where apps understand what device they are deployed on and adjust according to the operating system, the device format, the interaction capabilities, the connectivity bandwidth, security, etc. Enterprise software has a long way to go before it’s truly device agnostic, and introducing device independence in large suites of functionality, like ECM, does not come cheap.
Impact to ECM Go-to-Market Strategy
Whilst the ECM Engineering teams are grappling with the product design changes forced above, Sales and Marketing also need to completely re-think their approach to the market, in order to move into the Apps market space. Here are some of the key decisions they will need to make:
- Who is our “App” customer? ECM vendors have to consider two distinct App target audiences. One audience consists of the internal Enterprise users, for whom the ECM vendor will have to provide specific apps and UIs, in order to access the repository and its services. The second audience relates to their client organisations’ own customers. The ECM vendor will either have to supply App development SDKs and tooling for the organization to create their own customer-facing apps, or work with channel partners and integrators to deliver specific vertical line-of-business apps on top of their platform.
- Who is our buyer? IT is no longer the default target buyer for ECM platforms. The Apps culture has created a whole new set of buyers who are empowered to make purchasing decisions, outside the constraints of IT procurement. Human Resources, Marketing, Operations, Risk Officers, Compliance, etc., all have an expectation to choose their own tools, just as they choose to download a new app on their smart phone. Talking to these new buyers involves learning a whole new set of vocabularies, and a business outcome focused dialogue that does not rely on feature and function details. Few ECM vendors today have the capacity and the vertical domain expertise to carry these business conversations in a credible way. As a result, developing partner ecosystems with the relevant granular domain expertise, has to be a key component of the new go-to-market strategy.
- How do we license apps? Most ECM vendors, have grown in the era of perpetual, inflexible, buy-once licensing. App users are expecting significantly more flexible licensing terms, which are mostly subscription based. And, while it’s relatively simple to come up with a subscription-based licensing structure, it will still require fundamental changes around invoicing, revenue recognition, renewals, compensation strategy, etc. On top of that, Apps are not designed for the high-value low-volume models that Enterprise software was established on. That model will need to turn on its head, to keep ECM components relatively inexpensive, and finance the product through volume sales.
- Try-before-you-buy? App users are spoilt for choice: They are used to downloading an app, trying it out, testing it, and if it is perceived as adding value they may decide to license it. ECM vendors need to start offering wider choices, if they are going to compete: Free trial downloads (the Open Source market has a distinct advantage here); more Proof-of-concepts to get users to explore the value and complexity in business terms, Real live pilots that continue into production or can be safely scrapped; Agile development cycles that allow customers to fail often and fail fast.
- How do we scale down? Traditional ECM markets are all about scalability: ever increasing content, ever increasing user bases, ever increasing processing capacity. Of course you can buy more capacity, more storage, more throughput. Music to our ears. But that is a one-way street, they were never designed to support flexible scaling. The new market models, primarily established by the Cloud providers but also evidenced in Apps, expect the ability to scale up or down on demand. In ECM terms, it’s very unlikely that the content volumes will scale up and down (except in the case of major ROT clean-ups, or periodic Records Management dispositions). But scaling the processing capacity to accommodate seasonal fluctuations, scaling user numbers to accommodate temporary workers and 3rd parties, scaling infrastructure to accommodate migrations, testing and consolidations, are all unpredictable usage-models. How will ECM vendors split their monolithic “All-in-One” pricing, to allow for “Pay-As-You-Use” revenue models? And how will they reconcile traditional investment and R&D budgeting, with unpredictable and varying revenue streams?
Adopting an “Appification” strategy
ECM vendors have some tough decisions to make, if they decide to play in the App economy. They need to decide, strategically, what their end-goal is and decide if this is a viable market model for them.
- Just because you can, does not mean you should! That’s the first step: Will vendors really commit to moving into the App market, or will they chose to remain a more “traditional” ECM vendor? There is certainly enough market scope for both, at least for the next few years, but the gap will get bigger and the window of opportunity smaller. To borrow a phrase from a colleague of mine: “You cannot be a little bit pregnant”, when it comes to “Appification”. It’s either all-in or all-out.
- If vendors choose to follow the “Appification” path, which App game do they want to be in? There are three fundamental variants, and they will have to decide which combination they will invest in: App Interfaces, requires them as a vendor to deliver their products to the end-users through apps. That typically means providing access to the ECM platform and functionality through a set of native “App” user interfaces. A lot of ECM vendors already have mobile interfaces to complement their standard desktop UIs. App Solutions, fits vendors that want to target specific with line-of-business apps. Few ECM vendors have been able to play that game successfully. It requires deep investment in vertical or horizontal domain expertise, it creates a very complex maintenance model since they have to keep a large portfolio of Apps in sync with changes to the core platforms, and they are in constant competition with System Integrators and customers’ own IT groups, who think they should have ultimate control of the business users. The final App space is App Tooling. Giving the market the services, development environments, integration capabilities and necessary tooling, to develop their own Apps on top of a core platform. This targets a more modern, microservices-based, component-based, architecture which supports agile development models, but it also creates a whole new ecosystem of buyers, mainly architects and mobile app developers, which does not represent the traditional sales market, or support infrastructure, of ECM vendors.
- Whichever App game they choose to play, ECM vendors will need to build an ecosystem of App expertise: User Experience designers, solution domain experts, agile developers and project managers, distribution partners, DevOps support, Cloud-first architects, digital marketers, SaaS finance experts, etc. Every segment in the business will need a set of new or complementary skills, and they are not skills that can be learned easily. They will need to be acquired.
- And the final strategy point is relatively unique to ECM vendors: The information we keep is hardly ever transient. It’s volume driven, regulatory controlled, security-sensitive and persistence-critical. None of these characteristics are native to the world of Apps. Which makes the separation of functional strategy and Information management strategy critical. – Any level of functional innovation provided at the App level, has to remain cognisant of the Information architectures it needs to access, reference and maintain.
There is no doubt that “Appification” is affecting not just ECM vendors but the whole of the Enterprise software market. ECM vendors have a choice: Either they will adopt an App strategy that fits their profile, or they will languish in the ever-decreasing pool of “legacy vendors”.
“Appification” is not a project, it’s a fundamentally different way of software life. The problem however for all of us in the ECM market, is that it’s a new, scary life, and it requires fundamental changes across the whole of the organization: Cultural, financial, and operational. Every department from product design to sales and marketing, to HR, to support, need to take a leap head-first into a massive transformational exercise. How many ECM vendors have the capacity, the investment capital, and are committed to undertake that transformation?
I was privileged once again to participate in AIIM’s Executive Leadership Council in December, and this time the theme was “the ‘Appification’ of the ECM Industry”. Given that “appification” is not yet a word in the Oxford English Dictionary, that was always going to be an challenging discussion! I will leave it to AIIM’s paper (which I will link here once it’s available) to align the different interpretations of the theme from the multiple contributors at the ELC event, but I offer here my own contribution.
Let’s start with the basics. The closest I found to a reasonable definition of “Appification” was provided by the IGI Global Dictionary:
“The replacement of Websites and Web pages with programs that run on mobile operating systems and mobile devises. With appification instead of the Web being a user’s primary user interface, it becomes an underlying service layer for apps, which become the new user interface.”
It’s an OK definition, but it does not go far enough for me. “Apps”, in the form of readily downloadable, simple task applications, mostly on mobile devices, have become a phenomenon that has dramatically impacted buying behaviours in the software market: Everyone who ever owned a smartphone, has downloaded an App at some point in time. This is not a phenomenon exclusive to the “millennials, or Generation Z, most of us use a smartphone. These same users are looking for similar experiences in their corporate environment.
So, for me “Appification” looks at the impact of the “App” cultural phenomenon on the software industry and, in the context of this forum, particularly to the ECM software market.
Why did we fall in love with Apps?
It’s difficult to understand the impact of Apps to the enterprise software market, without understanding first the reasons they became so universally successful at the personal market. What were the reasons that the mass population of smart phone and tablet users fell in love with mobile apps?
- Availability: “There is an App for that” is the defining slogan of the App generation. With over 2.5 million apps to choose from on each of the main platforms (iOS/Android), users are spoilt for choice. A simple search and one button, gives you access to exactly the functionality you need.
- Portability: We carry Apps with us all the time. From the handy units conversion app, to our banking services, to maps and GPS, to our digital darkroom. Everything is readily available wherever we happen to be.
- Self-service: We don’t need to ask permission from anyone, especially from IT, to install a new app. We just do. We don’t need any special skills, we don’t need training programs, we don’t need elaborate configurations. 30 seconds later, it just works.
- Price: We also don’t need permission from anyone, to spend $1.50 to buy an app, let alone install a free one. Not even our spouses would bat an eyelid at the typical App price. Contrast that with a typical IT budgeting and procurement cycle for enterprise software.
- Usability: App designers thrive on usability. The fact that most apps have no need for training, and intuitively deliver value through an interface that is constantly improved, has dramatically challenged traditional software design by putting the user right in the center of the design.
- “Ghost” contracts: When was the last time you read the terms & conditions of an App? We are so used to just clicking the “Accept” button, that the small print has completely disappeared from the App experience. Press the install button and use it. Acceptance of contractual terms & conditions is implicit!
- Provider vetting: There is an underlying assumption that when we download an App, someone has vetted that app for security and malicious code. Rightly or wrongly, we very rarely agonise about installing a new app on our phone of tablet. We just assume that it will mostly play nicely with the other apps on our device, and it will not suddenly take over the device to cause World War III on our behalf.
- Continuous improvement: The overnight, unsupervised, software update. Unlike enterprise software, it just happens and we mostly let it. No planned downtime, to regression planning, no trial runs. New features just appear on our little screens and we (usually) welcome them.
- Device proliferation: “I want it on my desktop / web / tablet / iPhone / Android / Xbox / TV / Fridge”. Apps are ubiquitous. Chances are that the app which securely holds all your passwords and bank details, synchronises them between your iPad, Android phone and your desktop. And you have instant access to your banking app from all three. And when you run BBC iPlayer or Netflix, you expect to continue your movie where you left off, even if you are watching it on your brand new refrigerator.
I don’t think anybody would suggest that these are the defining characteristics of the average Enterprise software suite. Enterprise Software, including ECM, fails on each and every one of these aspects. It just can’t deliver this experience today. We tend to attribute a lot to the “millennial” generation and their upcoming expectations from the corporate environment, but it’s probably fair to assume that all of us would like to enjoy this “App” experience in our working environment.
Following soon: “Appification” Part 2 – How do Apps influence the ECM market?