Alfresco’s announcement this week of a new digital business platform is another clear indicator of ECM vendors making a move to the world of digital transformation as content gets swept up in a wave of new Apps and solutions for B2B and B2C processes.
Alfresco was founded in 2005 as an open source alternative to the heavy lifting ECM vendors like Documentum and FileNet who at that time were being acquired by even larger companies as part of infrastructure plays targeted at the Fortune 1000. It has had some success in open source ECM solutions but this might be an even bigger play for a company full of talented product people who has never really hit the growth trajectory that many may have expected. One key element needed to fuel fast growth is being as relevant and close to buyer behavior as possible and this move to a digital business platform is a broad and bold move as the Alfresco founders and management team continue to seek that lucrative IPO they have talked about for so long.
The new digital business platform comes with an application development framework built on Angular JS (2.0), with RESTful API’s for integration and extension to other Apps and a Quick Start cloud version based on AWS. This shows there has been some serious product development and that this is not all marketing re-positioning.
This in many ways shows the way forward for ECM & BPM vendors and is similar to the strategy UNDRSTND Group has been promoting to its clients and the market over the last 12-18 months. ECM vendors and their ISV partners can debate if ECM is “dead” or not as a market (its not btw – $6bn markets don’t just die!) but in terms of enticing customers to spend money on new projects not just support and maintenance, a focus on digital transformation and the tools, Apps and solutions needed to manage digital content is a critical part of any product strategy and positioning.
Founder & Managing Partner – UNDRSTND Group
Probably nowhere in the world has the strange state that ECM technology finds itself in been on better display than it was at IBM’s World of Watson Conference (WoW) recently in Las Vegas. It is clear that valuable mindshare has been ceded to other technologies, that momentum has been lost, and there are poor perceptions and challenges that the ECM industry must address all around. Paradoxically, the opportunity and potential for future growth and success is also well within reach! All this was on display in living color for the price of a conference badge and a willingness to subject oneself to Las Vegas for a few days.
Before I get to ECM’s tale, a few thoughts on WoW in general (I’m pretty sure IBM doesn’t want this TLA to catch hold, but it is just too hard to resist). As you would expect, WoW was a non-stop showcase of IBM’s dreams and aspirations for all the things it is throwing under the Watson and Cognitive Computing banner. IBM made a point to highlight commercial Watson successes (to quell the critics who say Watson is technology with limited near term business purposes), alongside the myriad futuristic concept use cases that are not yet completely viable. Many of the concepts are truly inspiring ideas that would not just line the pockets of big business, but actually improve the lives of people around the world. So, I give kudos to IBM for the boldness of its bet on Watson and its aspirations to build a smarter planet. If they pull it off, delivering both the altruistic use cases and commercial success to stem the tide of their long running revenue decline, they will have earned the right to be a proud “Big Blue” once again.
ECM’s tale is not so straightforward. For me, it started at a pre-conference event where a Watson “Marketecture” Chart was shown and ECM found itself relegated to that dreaded spot at the bottom of the chart – basically the plumbing in the basement of a fancy new home, far away and out of sight of the guests (aka customer). Later in the session, and totally out of context in the Watson and Cognitive lovefest, an IBM Case Manager and Box integration was briefly and awkwardly highlighted. And such is the state of ECM at IBM and the world at large. One minute forgotten, the next given a brief chance in the spotlight, just in case somebody is still interested.
The paradox continued as the work that IBM is doing with Box was on display in many places throughout the conference. I found the new offerings linking IBM’s traditional ECM portfolio with Box compelling, along with soon to be launched Box Relay (a lightweight easy to use collaborative workflow tool built from scratch on Box). In addition, Box’s role as a content repository for use cases such as external collaboration were well articulated and the point was made repeatedly that Box is complementary to, and not a replacement for, IBM’s flagship ECM products. Still, as a veteran of these IBM Conferences, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that Box got more attention in one Conference than all of IBM’s own repositories combined across the last several of these events.
IBM’s ECM Team wouldn’t go to the basement quietly. The availability of the main ECM stack as a single tenant, managed service in the Cloud with SaaS licensing is real and having some limited commercial success. They also have much improved Mobile Clients and just maybe can start to stem the tide of ceding ECM centric mobile use cases to other technologies. They also highlighted Datacap Insights which seems to have broken the code on extracting intelligence from large/complex documents such as mortgage files and medical records. And this is real Cognitive computing with broad applicability across myriad high value use cases … Watson folks are you listening? Finally, they did a bit of their own futuristic positioning discussing how ECM stack offerings could transform into plug and play services as part of another IBM high flying product – Bluemix. Cloud/SaaS, Mobile, Cognitive, Collaborative, new modular deployment options … seems to check a lot of boxes (pun intended).
Still the relevancy topic looms large. How IBM can focus on analytics and cognitive strategies while giving little credence to the part of its portfolio that has the best chance of unlocking the knowledge in documents and other unstructured content necessary for those efforts to succeed holistically? This baffles me! And outside of a few, often sparsely attended backroom breakout sessions, the many and varied customer successes based on the traditional ECM portfolio were never mentioned. Meanwhile, Watson Robots dotted the hallways ready to engage in conversation on the topic of your choosing. I would have liked to have asked one of the robots what ECM is, but I’m guessing the answer to that question has never been programmed into their knowledge base!
Managing Partner – UNDRSTND Group
I am an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) bigot. I admit it without shame. If ECM had a color, I would bleed it. If ECM had a flag, I would salute it. I was there when the term “ECM” was invented and remember how we struggled with the term because we knew it wasn’t about the technology it was always about the solutions. ECM was forced into becoming a “platform” because it proved to be one of the very best ways to deliver real business solutions especially when combined with Business Process Management – and because I know these solutions help customers make remarkable improvements in their businesses, improve customer service and save millions of dollars I will defend our birthright to the death…….. Or at least until someone proves me wrong!
You must be wondering: “What has got this guy in such a lather?” Well, since you asked, I’ll tell you. It is because other technologies are encroaching on ECM’s sovereign territory as a solutions platform that can scale across a wide variety of business needs and provide scalable and reusable technology assets. The problem is we’re simply not defending our ground as fervently and passionately as we should and we’re allowing less compelling technologies to take the high ground in digital content and associated customer experience management processes. Did you ever see anyone say they increased customer service 100% with Dropbox, or achieve $20mn in cost savings with Yammer . This is why I am in a bit of a lather!
I just finished reading a series of interesting articles from McKinsey that deliver a very compelling case for companies to focus technology investment today on the Digital Customer Experience (the articles cover more ground than this, so I might suggest that you read them yourselves if you want the whole story). For my purpose, it’s the tremendous opportunity for business transformation enable by digitization that McKinsey is calling out that simply screams “ECM” at me.
My concern comes from the perspective that I believe I’m part of a dwindling number of ECM subject matter experts and that this knowledge and skill is going to be needed more in the future than ever before. The fact that the average business executive will not read those McKinsey articles and say to themselves “I think ECM will help me solve these problems” is as much a marketing problem for our industry as anything else. McKinsey doesn’t use the articles to tell you what technology to buy, and as such they don’t make a case for or against ECM – but we all know ECM vendors across the world are abdicating the digital content and customer experience solutions market to technology providers who know a lot less about customer business problem, sell products that are not as flexible or configurable and frankly don’t have the war wounds and scars needed to be able to implement best practice solutions that will help re-engineer business processes for a new digital age! In my opinion the ECM industry needs to step up and position itself as a critical technology platform in the transformation of a customer’s digital experience. And frankly I am thinking it doesn’t matter if we call these technologies ECM or even Information Management any more – I am more worried that we are focused at being crystal clear in helping customers digitize their critical business moments to help transform their processes for the future – and in my opinion we are collectively doing a poor job!.
It seems to me that the voice of the ECM industry is ceding the high ground of delivering complete high value solutions. We all know ECM is more than just an easy to deploy and use scalable repository in the Cloud – that’s the easy bit – and as we as an industry rush to address our long standing Achilles heel of deployment and usability challenges while also catching the Cloud wave we should not cede the ground of delivering real business solutions, especially in the growing market of transforming the digital customer experience as described by McKinsey. And yes, I’m fully lathered up now and I hope a few of you other ECMers are as well!
Brent Bussell – Managing Partner at UNDRSTND Group
Docville 2016 – June 6th 2016 – Brussels, Belgium
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending Michael Ziegler’s Docville 2016 event here in Brussels. I attended this same event 2 years ago and was pleasantly surprised at the size and quality of the attendance. Not your “normal” trade/vendor event, Michael focuses heavily on networking, collaboration in roundtable sessions on tough topics and issues and attracts over 100 of Europe’s best and brightest ECM ISV’s and channel partners.
The event was themed around the challenges and opportunities of digital transformation and how the ECM community should respond and engage to the changes in market dynamics brought about by Cloud, SaaS and Mobile innovations.
I was fortunate the share the keynote session with Michael (request a copy of presentation here) and then attended a number of the roundtable sessions – as the day drew to a close the session leaders reported back to all the attendees their findings and conclusions…..and that is where I got to thinking about how you can create an early morning caffeine-like kick start to an industry that has been around since the mid 80’s and despite surviving and thriving during prior technology transitions just looks a bit tired and hung over… so here is my Double Espresso for the European ECM Community…
Digital Transformation has been underway for years already, companies like Box and Dropbox have already ridden the wave of Cloud based File Sync & Share for digital content, Kodak disappeared under the waves to be replaced by the new Goddess of photographic images – Instagram! The journey has been underway for some time but frankly some of the attendees at this event seemed like they hadn’t even been given a map yet and some looked pretty lost in my opinion.
The narrative used by the ECM community to explain why it is relevant in this digital transformation landscape is still pretty weak and needs a major upgrade – even the term “Enterprise Content Management” which was dropped by most customers a few years ago remains central to the discussion when frankly it should be consigned to a discussion of heritage and history not vision and innovation. Slack, one of the new leaders in the world of digital transformation and content collaboration has spent more in two years on marketing their solutions that are content and task centric than probably IBM/FileNet and EMC/Documentum put together!
The pace of change in our digitally content challenged sector is simply too slow – in Silicon Valley the pace is relentless, fueled by VC investments and private equity funding, the lights burn bright into the night and Stanford grads create new ideas, build a product, deploy it on the AppStore and then trash it and move onto the next opportunity in a matter of weeks. I am not saying this is the best way to innovate but certainly seems like Europe is lagging in terms of vision and the investment needed to move the ECM solutions market to the next level.
Take a simple challenge like defining the use cases for capturing images on a mobile device and moving them into the document recognition and classification steps of a workflow process – aka Mobile Capture. I sat through 2 round tables where frankly the thinking hadn’t moved on much from 3 years ago where an auto accident claims demo using mobile capture was show cased at Kofax’s user event in Las Vegas – surely with all the challenges in digital transformation and capturing information effectively at or near the point of its origination there must be 100’s of potential uses case to be solved – what about just looking at healthcare, at home health diagnosis, medication prescriptions etc?
For me the missing element here falls into two related camps. Firstly, ECM vendors interested in driving digital transformation need to engage more proactively with new potential customers and not just keep rolling back into existing clients who have invested millions $ in massive ECM infrastructures – let the support guys look after the big implementation but sales and marketing guys need to be looking for new use cases, new solutions opportunities, talking to prospective customer who don’t care about “ECM” but do care about managing digital content inside and outside their businesses using mobile devices and slick, smart processes. Speaking to the same people will get you the same answer – go speak to some new people and you’ll get a different and potentially better answer that will help fuel your growth.
Secondly, I would focus every single ounce/gram of effort on exploring the Customer Experience Management space for solutions and opportunities that need a strong digital content capability. Organizations will always find it hard to control the flow of information coming into their business from their customers, even with mobile apps pre-packaged to accept certain types of data and information customers are still going to take a photo of a document, a car accident, their prescription, their dog(!) and send it in as proof of something or other. Forrester have done some great research in this space over the years and continue to do so – I would start but gaining as much knowledge and expertise about CxM type problems and opportunities and then go sell solutions that solve those problems.
Basically it’s time to wake up, get a big, strong pot of coffee and start to think hard about where the growth and opportunity is for this great ECM community and market…. It’s either that or go back to bed and pull the covers over your head and make out nothing changed!
If you are the owner of a small software business, I’m sure that you have paid particular attention as the news hits of another peer company selling at a very high valuation in relation to their revenue and profit. And after you roll your eyes or shake your head with envy, you quickly do the math on the potential sale price for your business at the same multipliers. Following that is the brief daydream about what that sale would mean for you, your family and other stake-holders. And of course, that luxury purchase you have always denied yourself that would also be enabled by the sale.
You probably wouldn’t be human, if you didn’t take part in this ritual. But alas, the daydream is brief and you are quickly brought back to reality. And reality might include asking the question, once again, of what your company is currently worth and what would warrant a higher valuation. The easy answer, as always, is sustainable revenue growth and related profit. And of course those are worthy goals for all enterprises, but there are other factors that could be worth exploring.
Some thoughtful brainstorming about what would earn (yes, I said earn) your company a higher valuation multiplier would be the most constructive and possibly lucrative thing to do. So, let’s consider four steps, or questions, that we could ask and explore the answers that might lead to a breakthrough value creation strategy for your business:
1. What are the companies that would likely benefit most by owning your business and what are their strategic initiatives? If you find some commonality here, the plan might include moving your company in a direction where it could add more value to the achievement of the business goals of your possible suitors.
2. What is driving growth in your industry and how is your business positioned to leverage those drivers? So, for example, Cloud and SaaS are big growth drivers in many segments of the software industry. And smaller software companies whose expertise and offerings would enable larger companies to move more quickly into Cloud and SaaS, would surely garner higher valuations in today’s market.
3. What would possible suitors not like about your business? To truthfully answer this question might require a qualified third party analysis. But such an effort might reveal some relatively easy fixes that could make your business more compelling and valuable to possible acquisition partners in a short period of time.
4. What would a potential buyers perception be of the health and growth of your business if they simply visited your web site? Many companies who have an acquisition strategy start their evaluation process with simple steps like reviewing your web site and how you talk about solutions and customers, looking at your social media presence and how others talk about you, and assessing your financial viability via tools like Crunchbase. An agreed set of messaging that is consistently executed across all these platforms means a potential buyer gets the message you would want them to hear – loud and clear.
So, the next time a peer company sells at a high valuation, let’s raise a glass in congratulations to the owners of that business. Then think about the questions they may have asked themselves on the valuation front a year or two ago and the actions they likely took to earn a higher valuation. Finally, and most importantly, let’s then role up our sleeves and get to work on our valuation. And of course, it is okay to also spend a minute dreaming about that luxury purchase we will make when we are the ones making the news of another high valuation sale.
A man walks into a home improvement store and heads for the power tools section. A few minutes later, an eager young store clerk sees the man in front of the drills looking perplexed. The clerk rushes over and starts explaining the speeds and feeds of the various drills for sale. But the man seems to only get more frustrated and eventually he shouts out “But I just want to buy a 1/4” hole!”
Go ahead and give me a big eye roll or shake of the head. I deserve it for dusting off this corny, old and overused sales training story. But I think it is more applicable than ever for the new world of solution sales and Apps that we live in today. So please give me a chance to connect the dots.
Companies large and small and across all industries are clamoring for cloud based SaaS solutions today. They see less and less value in investing in long development cycles so that they can own bespoke in-house solutions. They just want the desired business outcome and benefits. Kind of like the man who only wants to buy a 1/4” hole and could care less about owning a drill to hang on the peg board in his garage.
Okay, I connected those dots, but what does this mean for sales messaging? Well let’s recall the lesson that the old story was meant to teach: it is all about the business result that the customer is seeking. The point being that it is more important than ever that our sales messaging be customer centric, outcome oriented and value focused.
So, in this environment, it makes sense to inspect our sales messaging to make sure we’re selling holes, not drills. In that vein, I think there are four quick checks we can conduct on our sales messaging to see if we’re on target:
- Establishing a Business Challenge/Opportunity – all good sales messaging starts by finding a business pain worth solving or in some cases a business opportunity worth exploiting. If you don’t create a compelling desire in your customer to take action, then the rest of your story will fall on deaf ears.
- Features/Functions Only Value is in Context of Solving the Problem – it is easy to get excited to tell your customer about all of the great capabilities of your solution. But today, customers see talk about a ton of features as a sign that your solution is complicated, probably expensive and hard to use. So, any detailed talk about features/functions should be tied directly to proving that your solution will solve the business problem.
- Communicating the Value – we’re talking discrete business value, with hard financial savings or demonstrable improvements in customer service and engagement being the most preferable. Companies are very sensitive to avoiding investment in automation for automation’s sake. No hard ROI, no increase in customer loyalty, no deal.
- Don’t Oversell Your Company – we all love to talk about our company and how great we are, but to a customer it can be like looking at pictures from your vacation. Talk about your company should be the last thing you do and should be brief. The key points to convey are that your company is credible, has the expertise to deliver the solution and the staying power to continue to innovate and support them as a customer in the future.
A quick review of your key sales messaging using these four tests followed by tweaks where dictated by the effort should help you make sure that your team is selling holes … not drills. And with that, I think I’ll put that old story back in the box where it belongs and not test my luck with your patience again too soon.
About Undrstnd Group
UNDRSTND combines the strategy, product positioning and sales acceleration capabilities of a management & marketing consultancy with the value creation skills of an M&A advisor – based on real world, operational experience of creating strategies, go to market plans and executing M&A with world class software & systems companies in the ECM, BPM & information management market.
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