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Dead Men Walking or Walking Dead: Can Old School Enterprise CMS Vendors Really Change?

When I saw the headline of the Forrester article proclaiming the death of the enterprise CMS suite, I couldn't help but both be pleased with myself, and feel a little sorry for the analysts. After all, I scooped them and proclaimed the exact same thing a little more than three weeks before.

Then I read the article and felt even more sorry for the vendors themselves. They have seen the competitive shift, at least in part, which is good. Their reaction, according to the Forrester article, however, is so flaccid that it's clear to me that many of them will fall into what I categorized as "dead men walking" rather than the "walking dead."

Content Centricity is No Panacea

The overarching message that seems to be woven throughout the vendor perception is that they need to move to more "Content-Centric Apps."  I agree that this is a necessary thing, but it is not even close to sufficient for several reasons that can be broken down by the types of players highlighted in the report. 

  • Traditional Enterprise CMS suite vendors — These players are fighting it out by trying to lean further into the dynamic that has been at the core of the disillusionment that has had enterprises running for the hills over the last three years: Bigger is better! More is more! The Forrester article says it all when it points out that these offerings "are heavy and require heavy investment and a lot of time for full deployment and maintenance." What planet are these vendors on? IT budgets are flat or shrinking and the combined pressure of open-source and cloud offerings, both specialized and generalized, should bring these vendors crashing back down to earth pretty quickly. Some people scream "Government!" "Medical!" and I just shake my head. Government budgets are shrinking the world over, in case you had not noticed, and the people who don't think that medical providers will find a way to lobby governments into loosening data regulations as a means of reducing skyrocketing healthcare costs must be patients at the medical marijuana clinic.
  • Open Source Solutions (Part 1: Alfresco) — In reply to my article, Todd Barr, Alfresco's CMO, said: "The differentiator of open source is not source code that you can see… the differentiator is rapid innovation and true lack of vendor lock-in that allows customers to get the latest technology faster and hold their vendor accountable for great service." I agree with Todd in that open source itself is not a differentiator and that premier service and rapid innovation can differentiate. Where we disagree is that this is a defensible position.  Long-term excellence in this arena is tough to maintain and even tougher to differentiate on because everyone claims to be innovative and committed to great service.
  • Open Source Solutions (Part 2: Nuxeo, Drupal and DotNetNuke) — The hybrid open-source approach of Nuxeo, Drupal and DNN with multiple implementation models is compelling to many shops large and small, especially when you consider both the rich marketplace of front-end widgets and arrival of sophisticated cloud vendors such as Acquia. These relatively new players are an interesting breed and I think that customers are either buying in or watching them closely to see if they are in it for the long haul.
  • Content Focused, Cloud and Industry-Specific Vendors — The content-focused players are right, but they are late to the game. There are a new set of "big dogs" in the highly specialized verticals and/or horizontals of this game. The phenomenon of outsourcing highly specialized software-driven business functions is not new (just ask ADP). What's new is how quickly they can be set up, provisioned and integrated. This is exactly the space that Salesforce, Huddle and BaseCamp are playing in and, while the market may not see it that way, it's clear that the old-school enterprise software vendors do; that's why they are trying to recreate these types of successes. I don't believe they can be significantly successful in that I believe that the days of highly-specialized big-packaged software are numbered. Now don't get me wrong, this is not going to happen tomorrow and the titans of packaged software such as Oracle and SAP are safe for quite awhile. What I'm referring to is how easy it is to set up an Application Service Provider using Ruby on Rails along with Amazon Web Services. Highly specialized offerings, including the aforementioned Acquia, targeted at businesses of all sizes, are popping up everywhere now (e.g., environmentalreports.comairpointofsale.comfundspire.commarcellus.tv). The rise of platformification and cloud-based SaaS is accelerating and the old dogs will find that learning new tricks will become ever harder.

The Good Ol' Days are Over

What I took away from the Forrester article was that, rather than shedding the aspects and behaviors that are no longer valued by the market in an attempt to find a new and different life, many of the players are slogging on in an attempt to cling to the "old ways" and some others seem to be attempting to "eat the brains of the living," by mimicking some new behaviors, but still have not shed the old trappings of the good old days when businesses were lining up to pay exorbitant sums of money for products that most users loathed once they were deployed. The denial-based reactions of the vendors is not surprising to me — in fact it's quite predictable as this dynamic happens across industries. The real question at this point is: How long can it continue?

 
 
 
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