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“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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