Collaboration, Just a Documentum Side Effect


Last year I posted an article on how CenterStage was the Latest ex-Collaboration Tool from EMC. Turns out I understated the case. EMC isn’t going to be building a collaboration tool, at least not one purposely built to encourage collaboration.

In many ways the announcements at this year’s EMC World just reaffirmed the direction set last year. Last year I was sad. This year, I’m starting to lose my sense of humor.

CenterStage, The Awkward Middle Child

At this point, I’m thinking that CenterStage should just go kill itself. It should just trigger an endless loop that can only be avoided by not logging into the interface.

Three years ago, CenterStage (then Magellan) was hailed as the next big thing. Then it languished in grade school, falling back a year or two, and now everyone is pointing to the Unified Client coming in D7. CenterStage used to be the basis for the mobile client, 2 years ago, and now it can’t even rustle up a calendar to match eRoom or SharePoint.

Quick sidebar about the calendar, HOW HARD IS IT? I mean, come on people! Clients tell me that they would move to CenterStage, even the not ideal 1.1 version, if they only had a way to have a central calendar. Try this:

  1. Take the existing data table construct introduced two versions ago
  2. Define a custom data table type (look at SharePoint or eRoom for field advice)
  3. Add an abstraction layer (object-oriented languages might have a simple way to do this)
  4. Steal graphical look from almost any major collaboration system (eRoom, SharePoint, Jive…)
  5. Test and publish

I’d write the thing myself if there wasn’t all of these plans to move to a new UI and backend with D7. Where does CenterStage fit into all of that? That was a question I never got answered. Why? Everyone gave me a different answer so now I have none. The best answer I got is that EMC is trying to make sure that nobody can customize CenterStage in such a way that it inhibits their move to the common UI which will have a more structured customization structure (think WDK).

By the way, Webtop has a future in D7. Heard that definitively stated multiple times.

This is all a little harsh considering how good a year CenterStage has had. Two point releases. The lastest, CenterStage 1.2, is supposed to be scalable and be able to access the entire repository. As I haven’t talked to anyone that can independently verify, I’ll leave it at that.

Do you know what summed-up CenterStage’s future? I heard Webtop mentioned as part of presentations 3-5 times more often than CenterStage. If that doesn’t mean anything, nothing does.

The Trinity of Collaboration

During Rick Devenuti’s keynote, the future of collaboration was clearly outlined. EMC will offer to solve the problem in one of the following three ways:

  • SharePoint: Need to collaborate in the department and beyond? SharePoint is your tool. In fact, you are likely already using it. It is a way of life in the corporate world and EMC is focusing on making SharePoint work better. After all, if SharePoint doesn’t work well, someone may choose a solution for which EMC isn’t needed to provide the backbone.
  • Box: In the surprise of the show, EMC announced a strategic alliance with Box. This is aimed at those that need to collaborate beyond the enterprise and do it on the move. Four months ago, this partnership was unfathomable. While independent of Whitney (Tidmarsh) Bouck’s move, that change likely strengthened/accelerated the alliance. While integrating using the previously announce EntropySoft-based ECM Cloud Connect offering, tighter integration is planned. Lee Dallas talks about this as acceptance of Employee Managed Content within the EMC mindset.
  • Cisco Quad: The Quad product is a more traditional social, real-time collaboration platform. This addresses the more Virtual War-Room type of collaboration that can be very useful. Jeetu has posted a “conversation” with Cisco talking about how the two offerings strengthen each other.

No matter what you think of the strength of the products, this shows EMC outsourcing collaboration. In fact, the less you think of the offerings above, the stronger the capitulation EMC is making.

Why outsource collaboration? Simple, as Jeetu stated in his keynote, EMC cannot out-innovate silicon valley as a whole. This is an honest, and accurate, understanding of reality.

Of course that is why you buy companies that fill a gap. You take both their existing innovations and the innovators. From there, you try and nurture the products into something bigger.

Not that it always works that way.

My Quandry

Parts of me are sad, upset, angry, and a whole assortment of increasingly bitter emotions. I love eRoom and collaboration. Watching this happen just drives me nuts.

I wish they would just open-source the eRoom code so it could evolve again and not just limp along in a perpetually supported state. It’s like a zombie of your kid or spouse. You just know that given time a cure will be found and you can’t bring yourself to kill them off.

This emotion makes it really hard for me to step back and evaluate these decisions. No matter how you slice it, Documentum isn’t targeting collaboration. They might say they are with CenterStage, but any collaboration achieved is a side-effect of sharing content. It is the same level of collaboration offered in the 90s by most of the document management players.

Oh, the execs still say they do collaboration, until you confront them. You point out that all the new and planned features for CenterStage are Content Management features, not collaboration features. They hang their hat on the data table in v1.1. Eventually, they agree that CenterStage, and other clients, help people collaboration, but that the colaboration is a side-effect of the core purpose of the interfaces which is to allow better management of content.

Now maybe they were just trying to get me to go away, but they had to know I would share. To be honest, it is okay. EMC can’t be all things. They want to focus on what they feel they do best, Content Management, Governance, and Business Process Management.

That is fine. It is probably the right move given the heavy investment needed elsewhere (e.g. xCP 2.0, Next Gen Information Server). That won’t stop me from mourning a little bit.

Or a lot.

3 thoughts on “Collaboration, Just a Documentum Side Effect

  1. Ok, I’ll break the “comments ice”. Completeley agree.
    There are very few large companies which know how to do consumer software. And collaboration users are very much like regular consumers (Sarah?).
    Right now EMC is not one of those companies. It could be a good platform/core company (and the NGIS sure looks excellent for that)… Being both? That’s double-tough.

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  2. Maybe they are just waiting for a clear collaboration winner out of Silicon Valley to buy, in the meantime they concentrate on getting Documentum ready for public cloud.

    I do think that with public cloud there are a lot of changes still to come in collaboration, in fact, I think the way we work and view content management is going to change a lot in the next couple of years.

    So for now it’s maybe not a bad strategy to concentrate on what they do well, and then when the landscape is set for collaboration, buy a leader in the field.

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  3. Nico, I think you nailed it. I tried not to imply that this was bad. Painful for us collaboration/eRoom people, but that doesn’t make it a bad move. They have a lot on their plate and they can’t do it all without massive investment.

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