Leveraging Open Source and the Cloud for Your Open ECM Platforms

[Originally published on the TeraThink blog]

We’ve been talking about how to leverage open APIs to connect content-centric solutions together. The goal is to leverage the success from deploying point solutions without creating the numerous silos that typically accompany that approach.

The question that arises is what kind of platform providers are incented to create and maintain open APIs? Any vendor can claim to have an open API. Unless supporting those APIs long-term is core to their business model, those APIs may vanish or become closed in the future. While any enterprise content management (ECM) vendor may have open APIs, open source and software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors are the ones whose business depends on open APIs.

The Open Source Advantage

Open source software (OSS) is a natural tool in creating open ECM ecosystems. Being open is core to who they are, making their APIs open by default. Documented and supported APIs are very useful, but when the code is open source, a new level of capability can be taken leveraged.

There have been many times where an API has not done what was expected. With closed platforms, I could spend hours, sometimes days, playing with the API to try and learn its nuances. Eventually I would learn a product well enough that I could guess what was happening inside the black box of code when I got an unexpected result.

With OSS, this is no longer an issue. If an API returns a surprise, I can look to see what the API is actually doing behind the scenes. I can take that information and modify how I approach the problem. Sometimes I may write code to make the API behave in a more predictable manner.

This ability makes OSS a very powerful tool. The changes that I make may even become part of the core product if I submit the code to the project. That means custom code can become out-of-the-box functionality. It may not always happen but when it does, it is very reaffirming.

Leaving Worries in the Clouds

The other API-centric business model is the cloud model, specifically SaaS. In many ways these vendors seem the exact opposite of the OSS ones as they keep the entire application infrastructure locked up in their data centers. This is what makes the need for open APIs critical for helping businesses. When building a scalable, single purpose, SaaS application, they need to leverage other SaaS providers to build out complete solutions.

For SaaS solutions that are working to deliver content management and not simple file sharing, the open API is a way to expand into different industries. Cloud vendors cannot build, much less deploy, solutions for every possible business need. They depend on partners to build solutions using multiple systems, cloud and otherwise, to build targeted web and mobile applications.

The cloud’s other primary benefit is removing the non-business work from building a solution. An organization needs to execute on their mission better than their competitors. For most companies, having to build and maintain a large IT infrastructure is not core to their mission. Leveraging cloud solutions frees the need to worry about storage, network, and servers. A businesses efforts become focused upon solving the needs of the business.

Consistency is Money

For both models, the piece that keeps the vendor listening is their subscription business model. Customers pay as they use the system. There is no large, up-front cost to buy licenses. Aside from helping a pilot project avoid a large purchase of licenses, it forces vendors to keep current customers happy.

The model of both vendors is annual recurring revenue (ARR). If a company can keep its current customers happy and add a few more, their revenue grows. Even with no new customers, revenue will not shrink if no customers are lost. Given that it is easier to keep a customer than it is to find a new one, this gives existing customers leverage in the business relationship. Existing customers can get as much attention from the vendor as new customers. If you’ve ever tried to get a vendor’s attention after you’ve already bought all the licenses you need, you will appreciate this healthier dynamic.

Exceptions to Every Rule

It is important to keep in mind that this discussion represents default benefits from different vendors. There are vendors in both categories whose commitment to being open and supporting open APIs is limited. It is vital to study companies and determine how much of what they claim is the truth versus marketing speak. Inversely, there are some proprietary on-premises vendors that are committed to being open and are very responsive to their customers. It pays to check.

Still, the other benefits of the two platforms are hard to argue against. The subscription model is itself a great way to mitigate risk. It allows for a quick trial run with minimal investment. Even OSS can be quickly tried by spinning-up a few instances of the software in Amazon.

What’s holding you back? If you have any questions, leave a comment or drop us a line.

(This is the third post in a series on creating successful, open ECM platforms. The series began with a discussion on stopping closed content silos.)

[Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on the blog of Dominion Consulting. On November 1, 2017, Dominion Consulting merged with TeraThink and are now operating jointly as TeraThink. All blog posts migrated from the Dominion Consulting website have been updated to refer to ourselves as TeraThink.]

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