Paper trail

It’s one of the oldest creative writing tricks in the book, and it’s typically introduced in Grade 5 English classes: Take an inanimate object and write an autobiography from the object’s point of view. In my class, the protagonist was the now-forgotten Canadian one dollar bill, and we chronicled

its journey from tree to recycling plant. I don’t remember what we called these stories, but “”currency lifecycle management”” was not among the titles.

IT managers might want to apply a similar exercise following the news this week of EMC’s US$1.7 billion bid for Documentum. As with every other area of IT industry consolidation, the business software makers are undergoing a period of introspection where they re-evaluate their core competencies. Their conclusion: you can specialize in storage, application integration, provisioning or extraction, but all business drivers are linked to problems with handling corporate data.

In this case, the Documentum deal is perfectly in keeping with EMC’s strategy of bolstering its strength in enterprise hardware through the strategic cherry picking of niche software firms. It wants to offer what it calls information lifecycle management, which recognizes that there are issues of concern beyond merely the backup and recovery capabilities of Legato, another acquisition from earlier this year. If customers are having trouble storing data effectively, they will most likely need help accessing and controlling it once it’s safely in the SAN. It’s therefore wise for EMC to add a few more lines to its company mission statement.

No doubt the purchase of Documentum, which has offices in Oakville, Ont. and counts Petro-Canada among its customers, marks the start of another buying spree among wary IT industry competitors. We’ve already seen this pattern within the customer relationship management space (Vancouver-based Pivotal Corp. was acquired late last week) and the business intelligence sector.

This morning, in fact, I attended a BI conference where some of these issues were discussed. It’s interesting that in their overview of the BI market, keynote speakers discussed issues that could just as easily be applied to document or content management. The consolidation may put customers off from making purchases in the event their vendor is acquired (though the acquiring firm would be foolish to alienate its new customers). Those that take the plunge may choose Microsoft because of the platform on which its applications rest, or they will choose products that offer functionality that addresses their specific needs (indeed, business intelligence is sort of like managing both existing documents and the ones that haven’t been created yet).

Of course, any Documentum user must have seen the writing on the wall. Start with the name, which is already out of date. We’ve moved from documents to files to “”content”” whatever form it might take. The balancing act for companies like EMC is to present the acquired products as best-in-class, rather than add-ons to its flagship software or hardware offerings. Content management may be the one of the few places left where users would choose a company that focuses only on one thing.

Companies will choose between IBM, EMC or specialists like Open Text depending on where the content management project needs begin. Storage will certainly be one of those places. Others include regulatory compliance (like Canada’s privacy legislation and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act) customer/employee self-service initiatives (via Web-based portlets and intranets) or more over-arching knowledge management projects. The life of information can take as many twists and turns as those of the humans who manage it. It’s all in how you tell the story.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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