The opening keynote at #AIIM16 here in New Orleans was a thought provoking experience for me and I suspect the other 1000 or so people in the audience. John Mancini, President of AIIM, presented an interesting retrospective on the last 20 years of the ECM market, drawing comparisons between 1996 and today. Some absolutely magical memories such as Microsoft Office 95 being installed from a fancy new CD Drive or more likely using 45 floppy disks to account for the 88Mb needed!

But it wasn’t so much the journey and how we got here as the future and what happens next that really asked the hard questions. As businesses all around the world struggle to cope with the consumerization of IT, the impact of cloud and mobile and the emerging Internet of Things, it is clear much has to change in terms of the corporate mindset, investment strategies and execution if companies are going to thrive, or even just survive, in this new world.

Mancini did an excellent job laying out the cultural and technological challenges that face both vendors and buyers in the audience but it wasn’t until he started sharing some financial data that it really hit home. Did you know that the combined valuations of Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google surpass the entire GDP of South Korea? And did you know that the valuation of UBER at an amazing $68bn is bigger than General Motors at $50bn!

Yes we all know that the world is under-going a “digital transformation” as a result of the mobile revolution and the ability to “appify” almost any business or consumer facing process these days but translating this to the reality of our business strategy and plans appears to be a real challenge. In my meetings here at #AIIM16 the biggest issue seems to be the lack of detailed research and planning on how this “digital transformation” is going to affect the business of existing ECM vendors. Surely if the impact is going to be so big and so transformative then every CEO of every software company and ISV in the ECM industry would be spending lots of time figuring out what are the strategy implications and what it means to transition to this digital world (versus being “born digital” like Google, Facebook etc)…. but apparently not, which brings me to the Echo Chamber analogy.

An Echo Chamber (according to Wikipedia – the born digital Free Encyclopedia) is a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system. At the end of Mancini’s keynote, a very wise audience member asked the question “Are we all just in the Echo Chamber or are we doing something about this challenge?” I think we may just be sitting in the Echo Chamber because despite numerous examples and reminders the ECM industry doesn’t seem to be taking the situation seriously. One example – an AIIM member said that Dropbox and cloud based content sharing solutions are banned in his company… but 20,000 Dropbox accounts are registered to his employees using their company email addresses! Another example – SLACK, a provider of “Team Communication” apps founded just over 3 years ago that shares documents and messages in a weirdly Lotus Notes like solution, has raised $540mn already and was cited as the sort of vendor AIIM would like to attract. I suspect sadly they don’t know what AIIM is and why it would be important to them because they are too busy spending their $540mn building a truly digital business. If Dropbox, SLACK and many other examples of “born digital” content management offerings are so prolific and growing so fast how could anyone running an ECM solutions business not be thinking very, very hard about what it means for them and their business…. unless they are living in the Echo Chamber I guess!

At UNDRSTND Group we are working with clients where we are challenging their thinking by reviewing their strategic positioning, their growth initiatives and how they believe they will grow value in their business as the world around them undergoes this digital transformation – I just hope I don’t have to go into the Echo Chamber to have the conversation, I may never come out!



In a world where SaaS is the panacea to all IT problems it was interesting to meet up today at AIIM16 with Alan Pelz-Sharpe of Digital Clarity Group. Alan is a long time digital content watcher having spent time on the client side implementing ECM systems, followed by time as an analyst at Ovum and 451 Group among other roles.

Alan was extremely excited about his new role at Digital Clarity Group and especially because he feels it has a new and somewhat unique view on providing insight focused at system integrators and professional services vendors. He started our conversation by stating that 70% of IT projects fail and there is a lot of research to support his view!

The challenge is that, even though the actual deployment of software has become easier with SaaS, IT projects continue to run over budget, are delivered late and sometimes just flat out fail to deliver what they promised.

Even proven SaaS solutions like are gaining a reputation for being hard to configure and failing to deliver against expected benefits. I personally went through a very painful experience of replacing an underperforming and frustrating SFDC implementation with Microsoft Dynamics CRM not that long ago and frankly as a user I was never satisfied with either. So why is it that SaaS solutions appear to be no better in meeting customer expectations than their forerunners?

In the ECM space I think we all know the answer because we have all had our own experience of failed deployments of our own technologies. It is nearly always the services and solution delivery and not software that causes the problem. The quality of skills, knowledge and best practice has always been lacking, and that is in a segment of the market that has been trying to perfect its implementation methodology for 25+ years! So what would be the risk factor if you want to deliver a new digital content transformation solution to support an eCommerce initiative to your client – higher than an Accounts Payable Automation solution I assume?

There would seem to be an opportunity here for service providers who have learnt their lessons the hard way in the ECM solutions space which often combines a high degree of process improvement, metadata schema design and end user adoption best practices. Why not take all those skills and apply them to a new generation of digital transformation solutions, often content centric and nearly always demanding process redesign. Selecting the product , SaaS or otherwise, is the easy bit, delivering a complete solution on time that works is a rare commodity – for ECM ISV’s this could be a big opportunity as the arrival of Cloud and SaaS solutions hollows out the margins available in software licenses. Certainly worth a thought and for UNDRSTND Group’s clients in the services space I will certainly be asking the question……

I arrived at the AIIM ’16 Conference here in New Orleans to be met by a bit of a storm (possibly in a tea cup but not sure just yet). John Mancini, long time President of AIIM, spokesperson for at least 2 full blown product/market lifecycles in the document related technologies world and one could argue maybe 5 or 6, has a new role. In transition from his role as leader of the industry’s long standing community organizer, John has established a new venture – – apparently focused on sharing his deep knowledge of what it takes to communicate with an audience effectively through content marketing, public speaking and advisory type consulting.  John is a true Subject Matter Expert and someone I have had the pleasure of working with over my many years in and around the Enterprise Content Management space. I have probably had as many conversations with John about the future of the digital content market as anyone and one thing I know for sure is that the absolute biggest problem is that it has a serious issue  explaining to people what the heck it is that all the technology and solutions do! As a long time CMO in the ECM industry it has been a frustration for years that collectively we can’t do a better job of explaining what our value proposition is. As Ted Smith, founder of FileNet Corporation and the father of the whole industry, once said “We are product rich and marketing poor”, sadly  that became a mantra for a whole industry for almost a generation.

If John Mancini, or anyone else for that matter, can help our industry explain itself better to each and every potential buyer in the market then good luck to him and anyone else who tries because I think we all know that is the biggest problem our industry has always faced.

In our early client engagements at UNDRSTND Group we have certainly found that understanding the intrinsic value proposition of the technology and then applying that effectively to drive growth is absolutely the #1 issue our clients face in building value in their businesses. I welcome John to the world of consultancy with open arms but I would also encourage AIIM and its Board of Directors not to be distracted by the perceived “competitiveness” of John’s new venture, there is lots to be done and it is going to take more than a few good men and women to drive the continued growth of the ECM industry as it takes account of the digital transformation opportunity that confronts it. We need AIIM to continue its good work of prior years and keep the community moving in the right direction!

A couple of smart sales consultants first raised this question to me some years back. And, my initial response was to get defensive and assure them that this was not an issue for our company. But it made me curious and over the following months I sat in on more base level sales presentations as they were delivered to early cycle prospects (something management personnel can get out of the habit of doing, especially if you have a seasoned sales force). And boy was I surprised … and not in a good way.

Unfortunately, the sale consultants’ concern was valid. Our sales message was not being delivered as designed. In some cases the variances were minor and probably didn’t impact the result much. But in too many cases, the variance was enough to significantly distort the message and decrease the effectiveness of our sales efforts.

Now, your first thought could be that this is easy to diagnose: bad sales team, bad sales messaging or a combination of the two. This of course could be the cause of such a problem and if so, should obviously be addressed post haste. But what I found was a more nuanced set of cause and effect scenarios that lead to the problem, including:

1) Key Points Fail Challenges – points in your messaging get challenged in unexpected ways or with unexpected veracity. Your sales reps fail to defeat the challenge when their response goes off book and both the rep and presentation lose credibility. Next time out, the sales rep softens or all together deletes the point from the message to avoid a repeat occurrence. This happens a few times and the overall message is substantively changed.

2) Sales Entrepreneurship/In My Own Words – Many sales reps are entrepreneurs at heart. In addition, it is human nature to be more comfortable presenting material that is more in our own words. Thus, the sales rep modifies the presentation and likely does a better job presenting, but just not the message you want delivered.

3) Opportunity Dynamics – you built a 30 minute sales presentation (maybe with particular industries or company size in mind) for a half business/half technical audience. But your sales team rarely encounters that exact scenario. The sellers then feel compelled to modify the material to try and fit their specific opportunity and inadvertently change the message in the process.

You might encounter other reasons for this challenge. I did as well, as this was just my top three list. But the good news from my experience is that a few key changes in your business process will catch and fix the vast majority of causes and in our case we figured out the needed fixes by considering this list. The most important of those being:

1) Marketing/Sales Collaboration – typically marketing builds the messaging and presentations and sales delivers them. If you are figuratively throwing your messaging and presentations over the wall from marketing to sales, you create significant risk of message modification. Building a small sales review team to work with marketing and fostering an environment of marketing and sales collaboration on this front will go a long way towards mitigating the risk.

2) Modular Messaging/Presentations With Guidance – it is a bit more work but highly valuable to build messaging and presentations with opportunity dynamics in mind. Core content, business and technical audience content, key industry content and guidance on how to select content for different scenarios including shorter and longer periods of time to present the message.

3) Training and Oversight – even with a seasoned sales force it is risky to assume that sellers can teach themselves how to deliver new sales messaging. In addition, some in the office or in the field review (even if spot checks) is needed to make sure that the messaging is working and that the sellers are delivering it as designed.

Let’s put this in perspective. Your organization has worked hard to build offerings that add true value in your target markets. But if that value is not effectively communicated to prospective clients, what does it matter? Taking the time to understand the challenges related to accurate and effective sales message delivery and making the investment in a few straight forward and relatively inexpensive fixes could ultimately be the difference between failure and success for your business.

Brent Bussell
Managing Partner