What Constitutes Industry Leadership?

File:Aston Martin DBS V12 coupé (front left) b-w.jpgOne of the debates that I have often had with other Information Professionals is the question, Who are the “Leaders” in our industry? This was always up for a good debate because we could never agree on the basic ground rules:

  • What role does the technology play?
  • Do you measure by sales or install base?
  • Do we care what Gartner, Forrester, or others say on the topic?
  • What players are even in our industry?

With all these open questions, it is a debate that usually lasts until someone gets fed up and forces a topic change upon the group by asking, Who is buying the next round?

This is a question that is important for me to address and I thought I would open it up for discussion.

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

Here is the basic premise of any Leader, people follow. It doesn’t matter what an appointed leader, or other players, are doing, people take their cue from the actual Leader. In the Content Management industry, it is usually the vendor(s) that are being copied by other vendors and being brought-up in almost every pre-sales discussion.

As I look out at the vendor landscape, I can classify vendors into one of three camps:

  • Followers: They may lead in their niche but they haven’t been widely perceived as innovative in quite some time.
  • Pretenders: These are vendors that think they are leaders but aren’t perceived that way. The older the vendor, the more likely they are a Pretenders.
  • Leaders: These people are actually leading the industry.

While I have definite opinions on who are “Leaders”, let’s take a moment to define the qualities that an industry leader should have.

Not About the Technology

2011 Toyota Corolla -- NHTSA.jpgThe key thing I want to stress is that it isn’t about the technology. You could have the best tech that money can develop, but if the world either doesn’t know about it or can’t seem to get it to work, it doesn’t matter.

Leadership is not about having the best product.

Leadership is about having the best vision, communicating on that vision, and delivering on that vision.

If you want to be considered a leader in the market, you need to deliver on a clear vision. This vision needs to be out there year-round, not when a new product release or annual conference takes place.

Who Are the Leaders Now?

This is a tricky question, but I’ll throw out two names for consideration, Box and Microsoft.

Box is easy. They have a vision and they are in the news ALL THE TIME. They may not have all the nice features that we tend to like in our Content Management solutions, like metadata or retention, but they are putting forth a vision and moving forward. In case you haven’t noticed, people are listening.

As for Microsoft, they are in every discussion when I talk to people that aren’t schooled in “Real Content Management”. They are a major player and their Office 365 product is a compelling proposal. They lead by doing and let their community do the talking for them.

Notice who I didn’t list?

Alfresco Moving Forward

Bugatti Veyron 16.4 – Frontansicht (1), 5. April 2012, Düsseldorf.jpgIf I had to draw a line in the sand, I’d say that Alfresco is not actively Leading the Content Management industry. Unless the conversation focuses upon Open Source companies or vendors that are regularly replacing Documentum installations, Alfresco isn’t a name that consistently enters the conversation.

That said, I wouldn’t have taken this position with Alfresco if I thought that the pieces necessary to be a Leader were lacking. Alfresco has good technology and our vision of the hybrid cloud is compelling. That vision is evolving and I think that many will be impressed by what we do over the next year.

My job, get that vision out there and to get people talking about it. When I do that, Alfresco will be classified as a Leader.

Time to get to work.

[NOTE: If you have a case for someone to be a Leader, please make it below.]

6 thoughts on “What Constitutes Industry Leadership?

  1. Everyone is a leader. It just depends on the definition. Analysts have theirs and you have yours. It REALLY does not matter. The problem is that businesses and their buyers have no clue, so without analysts they would have no idea what to buy. They would not even know what their problems are …


  2. I would agree that Box is leading. Microsoft is not a leader, but the community around their products includes a large number of leaders who are making the case for those products. Ford wasn’t a leader when the build the Excort, but is was the most popular car on the planet for a while.


  3. Bryant Duhon (@AIIMcmty) says:

    I agree with most of this, though I think you’re undervaluing the role the product itself plays in leadership. Reading this again, leadership and marketing/PR aren’t always the same thing. I don’t think you can be a leader without at least a good, functioning product. You’re right in that it doesn’t need to be the best thing since sliced bread, but it’s at least gotta work OK.

    For IT, I think leadership starts with product and then can be either elevated by marketing/visibility efforts or your marketing/visibility efforts suck and you reside in the vast land of “I’ve got a great product, but why won’t anyone pay attention to me?”


    • Bryant, you are correct. There has to be a functioning product and the Marketing/PR cannot be full of lies. That is an underlying assumption that I didn’t really cover. If the product isn’t any good, it won’t take long for the vendor to enter the Pretender ranks and for people to start discounting the marketing.


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