reflection in the street
Analyst reports, as they exist today, often ignore large parts of the ecosystems they cover PHOTO: Redd Angelo

Every year, the analysts release their big reports on the state of the (technology of your choice) market, and every year we read these reports.

While they reflect a certain dynamics in the market, these reports rarely reflect the struggles and choices businesses working with the software at hand face.

Joe Shepley recently wrote “Forrester's ECM Wave Falls Flat.” To Shepley, the report fell short because Forrester overstated the market position of the leaders. 

I had a similar reaction to the report, but based on a different analysis.  

A Break in the Market

First, some background. In 2015, Forrester split its enterprise content management (ECM) market into two: transactional content services (TCS) and business content services (BCS).

Transactional content services support the customer facing processes, for example customer claims processing or accounts payable. Business content services reflects the more ‘traditional’ view of ECM, but with the caveat that more of the content management is being shared with external stakeholders.

Forrester’s decision to segment the market makes sense. But as you might expect, some vendors who led in the BCS Wave were not included in the TCS Wave, most notably, Microsoft.

Microsoft's Exclusion From the TCS Party

While the TCS report acknowledges the robust ecosystem that has evolved to support Microsoft and extend its capabilities, because the vendor could not meet the inclusion criteria on its own, it was automatically disqualified.

This is where it gets tricky.  Microsoft has hundreds of millions of SharePoint users. The company has claimed that it has 25 times as many users as the next largest ECM/TCS vendor. 

We routinely replace the leaders in the Forrester TCS Wave in TCS use cases with SharePoint on-premises or SharePoint Online. In the context of SAP, this is often a quick and easy migration and the SAP users don’t even know that the back-end ArchiveLink storage vendor has changed.  

Think about it.  A solution that provides 100 percent of the capabilities of the leaders in the TCS Wave (and costs a tenth as much in many scenarios) is explicitly excluded from the Wave because it is an add-on to a vendor that dominates the ECM market overall instead of being an ECM repository in its own right.  

A Solo Solution vs. an Ecosystem

Usually, when you ask an analyst “Is SharePoint good enough” the response is a cagey, “it depends.” 

The analyst firms have many ECM vendor clients who depend on their prospects receiving the message that SharePoint, even with its vast ecosystem of partners, isn’t good enough as a solo repository for enterprise ECM.  

Analyst firms earn significant revenue from these vendors, vendors who are dramatically smaller than Microsoft in ECM and whose primary existential threat is SharePoint, whether on-premises or in Office 365.  

In 2016, we saw several deals move away from SharePoint for ECM because — we suspect — the analyst firms recommended vendors X or Y. The analyst firms suggested SharePoint was not enough for Accounts Payable or another use case.   

This analysis implies a better answer than SharePoint is a separate repository based on monolithic ECM suites that can be integrated with custom code or simple connectors that provide a brittle connection at great expense. What we have seen in our customers is that these solutions frequently aren't nearly as cost effective, efficient or as well liked by users as Microsoft independent software vendor (ISV) solutions built on SharePoint or Office 365.

Time for a New Analysis?

Historically, ECM/TCS solutions were best of breed amalgamations of ECM products from multiple ECM vendors to solve business problems. For example, businesses would frequently integrate Kofax, as a capture component into other ECM/TCS solutions. Kofax now scores a spot in the TCS wave because it directly offers all of the TCS components.  

In 2016, we saw numerous Fortune 200 companies switch from legacy ECM suites to SharePoint to manage their enterprise content, with more planning to do the same in 2017. Our clients say they want ECM/TCS solutions that leverage SharePoint and Office 365. Forrester excludes this alternative from its TCS Wave analysis because not all of the solution components are Microsoft products.  

Businesses are replacing their legacy ECM suites with a combination of SharePoint and Office 365 licenses used in tandem with best of breed components that extend SharePoint for workflow, capture, records management or report management.

The Microsoft ecosystem isn’t for everyone. And it certainly doesn’t have the “one throat to choke” mindset that the ECM suite vendors built their business models on,  but we have seen it works and scales to the enterprise, cost-effectively.  

In fact, the scale of Office 365 and the Azure cloud dwarfs any of the cloud infrastructure alternatives provided by any of the legacy ECM vendors. 

Any assessment of ECM and records management solutions today should include an analysis of the independent software vendors that make up the Microsoft ecosystem.  I would love to see a TCS analysis that reflects the dynamic of how many organizations operate today.