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The first major consolidation in the enterprise content management (ECM) marketplace occurred when IBM bought FileNet in 2006, the first time two major players united to form one large, multi-repository mega-suite. Over the last six years, OpenText has been on a tear in the ECM space buying multiple companies, along with the recent purchase of Documentum.

The Evolution of ECM Components and the ECM Suite

Initially, the ecosystem of ECM was composed of a variety of vendors, each fulfilling a specific function. Documentum, FileNet, OpenText, and others established an ECM repository. Component companies offered viewing, annotation, publishing, scanning, and other capabilities around the repository. While customers had to pick additional components, innovative companies would compete for customers based on product features as well as price.

As repository vendors began to look at selling a more complete solution, partnership agreements were constructed to allow the repository vendor to sell component products, either as a separate SKU or buried within another product. The "ECM suite" began to evolve, as these repository vendors began buying component companies. By 2002, Gartner was evaluating ECM vendors based on their full suite capabilities, including different components.

The benefits of an ECM suite are easy to understand. By buying from one vendor, organizations expect:
  • Pricing leverage on different portions of the ECM solution
  • Consistency in support and other vendor relationships
  • Integration between different packages and solutions
Early on, ECM suites developed from working relationships between non-overlapping vendors. An easy example is Captiva/InputAccel, which was acquired by EMC. At the time, Captiva was doing well, but most of Captiva’s traction was with Documentum accounts. By merging, both Documentum and Captiva could increase their revenues, since:
  • Documentum could add additional items (and revenue) to its product list
  • Captiva/InputAccel could have access to all of Documentum’s install base and sales representatives to sell
In addition, the combined entity could better control costs, as overlapping management, marketing, and sales efforts could be made more efficient. Lots of examples of non-overlapping combinations continued throughout the early 2000s.

ECM Consolidation: The Suite Includes Multiple Repositories

The benefit of the ECM suite for the software vendor is the ability to cross-sell additional software and services to the same customer purchasing the repository. The benefit for customers is the ability to easily add additional integrated services and software around their existing repository. However, with a multi-repository suite, different products won't always easily integrate with all repositories, despite being from the same vendor.

Even before purchasing FileNet, IBM had multiple repository products, as did OpenText prior to purchasing Documentum. Customers, who are invested in one repository, are rightly concerned about continued investment in their repository and connectivity to other tools going forward, given the multiple alternatives available to the vendor. Most of us in the ECM space would say that many of the suite vendors have chosen to not invest in their traditional ECM components. Instead, they are focusing on cloud, analytics, and consulting services rather than improving their ECM suite.

Is the ECM Mega-Suite Sweet?

So, is the arrival of the ECM “mega-suite” a good thing for customers? In some cases, it can be a boon for organizations, since component vendors can get access to the capital and opportunities to dramatically improve their products. In other cases, the consolidation can be a tipping point, as the software grows stale under new management.

There's a saying that analysts like to quote, “Companies don’t buy software; they rent it,” driving home the point that it is not always about what the software does today but where it will go in the future. We always recommend looking both outside and within the vendor suite for innovation and those alternatives with an eye to the future. There are lots of great examples of innovation coming from outside the vendor suite that organizations should consider.

For more information on innovative ECM approaches, don't miss our special session, "Beyond the Big Three: Alternative ECM Technologies," at DSF ’17, May 1-3, 2017 in Downtown Chicago.

Dave Giordano is the Founder and President of Technology Services Group (TSG), a Chicago technology consulting firm with 40+ enterprise content management (ECM) consultants. Previous to founding TSG in 1996, Dave worked for nine years for Accenture (Andersen Consulting). Follow the TSG Blog or follow them on Twitter @tsgrp.