surfers on still water
Forrester's latest ECM wave shows a disconnect between what vendors claim they do and what customers experience PHOTO: Jeremy Bishop

I just finished reading Forrester's 2017 enterprise content management (ECM) wave for business content services. 

The report is well written, thoroughly researched and thought provoking (as usual). 

And yet. 

Some of the key conclusions seem out of step with what I'm seeing in the wider world. 

Two Perspectives on the ECM World

Forrester named Microsoft, OpenText, IBM and OpenText Documentum leaders in this year's wave. 

But from my perspective, OpenText, IBM and OpenText Documentum are on the ropes, not market leaders. And before I dive into why, I acknowledge my take on the market comes from a very different place than Forrester’s. 

Forrester is a research firm with access to thousands of organizations and an army of people to generate and comb through data. 

I’m an ECM practitioner, getting on a plane every Monday morning to meet with people and try to help them get ECM right — or at least better than they do now. 

I work with around 20 clients a year and meet with and speak to maybe 70 to 80 more. Most of them have something wrong, which is why they’re talking to me. It’s a little like being a marriage counselor: you assume most marriages are on shaky ground because no one ever comes to you to tell you that their relationship is great, right? 

With that out of the way ...

Comparing the Promises to the Delivery

Over the last five years, only a few of my clients have said they were satisfied with OpenText, IBM or Documentum. Of those, the OpenText users were the most satisfied customers, especially in heavy industry and energy. But by and large, folks in these industries use OpenText because they have no other choice, not because they’re excited about the technology. 

As for OpenText Documentum, I think it's a dead letter. It entirely duplicates the OpenText stack, and Documentum customers were this close to dumping it before the acquisition. 

No matter what marketing spin comes out of OpenText Documentum, the acquisition just doesn't make sense to me for any other reason than milking existing customers for maintenance revenue. Anecdotally, just about every Documentum shop I’ve talked to post-acquisition is in the process of creating an exit strategy, which doesn't sound promising for the platform's future.

With IBM, I get the whole “future is now” direction. Joining ECM to advanced analytics and the Watson juggernaut makes sense. But I think it’s too soon to go all-in on this approach. 

For example, the 2016 IBM ECM user group in Las Vegas was a total bust because ECM folks had no idea that “World of Watson” was an ECM show. To me this indicates the traditional ECM market is not quite ready to embrace IBM’s futuristic vision. Heck, most firms are struggling to get basic ECM right and deliver value to employees, let alone having Watson involved. 

Add to that the fact that IBM ECM sales folks are either leaving or being let go, and I don’t think you have a recipe for success.

What's Your Experience?

Overall, I think this current Wave does a good job of evaluating ECM vendors “on paper” — that is, based on what the vendors say they do. But based on what I see in the marketplace, I don’t think it reflects whether technologies are actually delivering value, at least in terms of the “big three” identified as market leaders.