Splintering of the Content Management Market

Life was so easy 10 years ago in this market. Web Content Management was simply publishing unless you were one of those companies doing business online. Enterprise Content Management wasn’t a reality, but we thought it was just waiting for the blending of the core technical capabilities. When it came to selecting a technology, it was a simple matter of matching capabilities with requirements.

Today, Web Content Management is much more complicated. ECM is more “challenging” than we thought it would be to execute. When it comes to selecting solutions, the traditional vendors usually can check every box but it is slightly more complicated. Do you want open source? Do you want to be in the cloud? These questions are frequently asked by users. Those questions have re-segregated the Content Management market.

None of this is really new, but let’s look at the impact to the consulting world.

One Size No Longer Fits All

Life used to be simple for consulting companies. You could look at the opportunities you were seeing and pick a vendor to work with on a day-to-day basis. They would become your go-to partner for all new opportunities.

If you were part of a larger company, or able to expand into broader Content Management consulting realm, you might have the luxury of adding another vendor to the partner list. This allowed you to increase revenue sources and enhanced any claim of being a neutral advisor. The down side was annoying the original partner and potentially diluting your internal talent pool. Usually you were big enough that those issues were relatively easy to manage.

Realistically speaking, the additional partner didn’t add much value, especially as vendor functionalities became similar. It was just a way to hedge bets and increase base revenue.

In recent years, there have been a growing number of organizations wanting Content Management solutions that were open source, for both a financial and cultural perspective. The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) may not be vastly different, but not having a massive up-front license cost is useful. If you were already planning to perform a lots of customizations, open source became a better option.

To be honest, I’ve come across opportunities where open source was required, everything else be damned.

Then came the all-encompassing fog known as the cloud. People may not know how to use it effectively, but they know they want it. Some just want off-site hosting in virtual environments. Others want the bigger savings that can be gleaned from Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). I have talked to more than one client about how to implement a blended approach.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on where SharePoint fits into all of this.

Which brings up an interesting problem for the consulting company. If you specialize in something old-school like Documentum or FileNet, you are not open source and your cloud story is shaky. If you focus on an open source vendor like Nuxeo or Alfresco, there are many that don’t trust open source and your cloud story may be better but it isn’t necessarily better. As for the SaaS guys, if prospects focus on the business function more than the feature checklist, you have a shot, but features are still lacking.

So what is a consulting organization to do?

Drawing a Fine Line

Ideally you would partner with a company in each area. The established vendors are easy pick between because there are people out there who know the technology and feature-wise, they don’t vary dramatically.

The problem is when you shift into open source. The products are all at a varying level of maturity and the features do not overlap like the traditional vendors. Of course this variation means that they compete on new deals infrequently.

Even with those considerations, traditional vendors are still going to be very protective of their market space. They’ve spent a lot of time and money carving it out. Partnering with an open source vendor can bee seen as a threat to the partner relationship.

Here are a few thoughts I have on pulling this off successfully and I welcome comments:

  • Be Honest: Don’t hide the fact. If you do that, then trust is gone and you can forget about it.
  • Invest with Old Partner: Make sure that established partners see that you are still investing in their technology and pipeline. You want them to feel like you are creating net new revenue for yourself and not replacing one revenue stream with another.
  • Never Cross Leads: If one vendor brings you a lead, that’s the vendor you pair with in that opportunity and any subsequent/related opportunities. If you can’t do that, don’t diversify (and don’t call me to do business).
  • Consider Market Divides: This may or may not work for you, but consider market divisions. Tell a vendor to only share leads in a given market. If you specialize in that space, you might get a stronger partnership. This does have limitations though as the trends are occurring across markets, just at different rates.
  • Bring the Leads: If you are truly representing the needs of your clients, you will find opportunities that scream open source and others that scream old-school. The number of leads shared shouldn’t really drop all that much.
  • Watch Visibility: If you are just a booth sponsor for one vendor’s event and are a “Platinum” sponsor at another vendor’s event, there will be a perception issue. The financial cost to your company may be the same, but you need to manage the perception because the outside community will perceive a preferred vendor.

I like to think that we all trust each other. I like to think that if I say I will make sure that any vendor’s trust and investment in my company will be rewarded that I’ll be believed. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. You need trust on various levels, but it only takes one person in the corporate chain to not feel the trust for the hammer to fall.

I’m heading down this road now, so I am going to learn how to make this work if it kills me. I’ll explain specific details in another post to keep this one focused, but I would like hearing people’s thoughts/experiences.

7 thoughts on “Splintering of the Content Management Market

  1. The problem is well captured. We are also going through the same decision moments. We have tried to do market divisions between open source and proprietary, but it doesn’t seem sustainable as the customers themselves are now starting to drive the move towards open source software. SharePoint is indeed a spanner in the works… The repositioning of the product in the Gartner ECM quadrants as a leader in ECM has got some customers considering it as the option for their ECM requirements. One way we decided to tackle the challenge is to cross skill our consultants.


  2. We’re actually doing this with 2 major ECM vendors, one open source and ShP. It’s very hard from many perspectives but we value the hedging and neutrality benefits. For what it’s worth, it also keeps vendor competition healthy.
    We apply your stated principles and I would add something like “Manage internal technical knowledge”. You need to keep your internal people motivated and well educated through the moments when one vendor will see more traction than the other.


    • Thanks. Would you suggest picking two vendors with similar technology? For example, two Java or two .NET based applications? The premise being that it would be easier to keep them sharp on multiple. It is something that I have considered but haven’t focused on as I am more concerned with the other characteristics of the vendors first.


      • I would definitely go with the same tech area, for multiple reasons. Such as the ability to scout resources, balance people and exchange skills and patterns between the two.


  3. Surely there are many many variables here for the hypothetical consulting company. Maybe it’s big enough to have Java and .net ‘divisions’. Maybe it’s not and needs to specialize. Maybe it only does strategy and planning consultancy, helps customer do the RFI/RFP and choose the technology, but hands off the implementation to a specialist partner.

    Surely the big vendors like IBM and EMC will be mature enough to understand you having an Open Source partner such as Alfresco or Nuxeo for those clients for whom FLOSS software is a “must have’ requirement. If you want to marry one vendor don’t you just join the “SharePoint eco-system” and live the Microsoft life ?


  4. Depends. What are you trying to accomplish? If either trying to a) expand or grow your practice or, b) your wary of getting left behind by technical innovation then by all means, pick up the extra platform. Certainly I agree with the statements about sticking to Java or .NET on however many platforms you choose to go with as that leverages the skill set you have in-house already. Regarding open source, the only caution I would make is you know you will have to take on more of a load in terms of support, right? Will that cost burden be offset by margin gains in service expense?


  5. edrm2000 says:

    I believe the smaller, boutique consulting organisations that have grown their business on one old-school vendor technology (Documentum, FileNet) face a tougher challenge. Due to Microsoft’s invasion of the ECM space, growing global and local economic pressures, alternative delivery mechanisms (such as Cloud solutions – I feel some deja-vu here, “The answer is the Cloud, now what is the question”) and more vendors claiming (E)CM the number of valid opportunities you could go after with a Documentum, FileNet and OpenText have dwindled and the competition is fierce. As a result I have seen number of good consulting firms fall by the wayside.

    One potential model is to have two vendor partners; one traditional ECM vendor and one open source. With both of those you can tackle both ends of the opportunity spectrum and start to develop new business. With this approach you can go after a different profile of opportunity that you could not tackle with a traditional ECM vendor.

    Set up costs for acquiring knowledge on open source (assuming you have capable talent) would be less as by the nature of open source the software and supporting information is freely available – you just need to account for time spent acquiring knowledge. @pelujan – you may take on more load in terms of support if you deliver projects using the community editions of open source offerings – through the use of Enterprise editions of open source, support is passed to the vendor. Simply skilling-up resources is only part of the equation – you need to factor in pre-sales training, engagement with the vendor’s Partner Management function, marketing initiatives for lead generation and so on.

    With regards to points made in the section “drawing a fine line” – unless you are one of the big system integrators (who vendors absolutely want and need relationships with), a smaller boutique firm as described above could simply not risk their business picking another traditional ECM vendor. By going with an open source solution you can more clearly differentiate and communicate your target markets.


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