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.