Sunday, June 1, 2008

What will Microsoft do next? Future of ECM Software Industry

The nature of competition in the ECM industry is changing, the disruption of the industry by SharePoint is well under way. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 is really the first version of the SharePoint technology that you can even begin to consider as an ECM product/solution/platform and I expect Microsoft will use the same evolution strategy it has used to successfully compete in other areas to compete in the ECM software market by offering a controlled migration up the ECM software technology trajectory.

Advanced Functionalities
I expect Microsoft will continue to improve SharePoint and move it up the ECM software technology trajectories. It expected to offer improved Business Process Management (BPM) and Compliance features will provide potential beachheads it will use to advance upstream. In addition, it will continue to provide Application Programming Interface (API) support so third-parties can develop/integrate off-the- shelf and custom workflow packages for specific industry verticals. With respect to compliance functionalities, it is expected to provide deeper integration between its records management features (which still needs improvement) and Microsoft Office Outlook application/Microsoft Exchange Server. Most knowledge workers spend a significant amount of time working in Microsoft Office Outlook compared to any other desktop product, this integration will put Microsoft right at the hub of the content transaction flow, a critical point to enforcing retention policies.

Visual Studio Integration, Training and Certification
With its unsurpassed experience with Developer tools, it is expected to provide deeper integration into Visual Studio and .NET platform for developers. This integration will include tools and platform technologies to support authoring on its ECM platform, which will, amongst other things, lower the skills required to create complex work flows. In addition, it will offer training and certification programs for developers and administrators which has the net effect of reducing the total cost of ownership of SharePoint technologies.

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server versions
As Microsoft moves SharePoint technologies up the technology trajectories with Advance functionalities, it is expected to maintain its low-end products to prevent low-end market disruption by another vendor. It already offers a free version that ships with the Windows Operating System - Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) - and will probably offer a Professional version for Departments and an Enterprise version for Corporations. SharePoint in the future which will allow organizations to integrate and manage all of its SharePoint deployments. These versions will not only satisfy the needs at the different levels of the organizations, it will also include functionalities for corporations to deploy enterprise-wide policies that can be applied to all MOSS deployments such as the central content repository for all content regardless of which sharepoint version is used to store the content.

Will incumbents pull pushes? It is hard to tell, if the way they have responded to the threat of SharePoint todate is anything to go by, the following lessons learned from the effects of networks and positive feedback in railroad gauges summarize what I expect:

"Those left with the less popular technology will find a way to cut their losses, either by employing adapters or by writing off existing assets and joining the bandwagon"

I don't expect EMC, to put up a strong challenge as MOSS becomes dominant in the Enterprise. At the core of its business is really information storage and regardless who wins, as long as the content is stored on EMC devices, EMC will be a happy camper. IBM will certain give a good fight but again, IBM has demonstrated that it will sell anything the customer wants as long as it can make service dollars from such deals. I expect both to continue to invest in sustaining technologies such as Adapter to MOSS or move their products to serve niche markets. Their value network and cost structure will make it extremely difficult for them to launch any meaningful defense against a competitor such as Microsoft. But then, this is the technology industry afterall and there is nothing to say that these companies won't happen on their own disruptive technology or some yet to be named startup won't disrupt the industry.

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