What does this year hold for content technologies? As the
holiday season winds down and we all gear up for 2007, we offer 12 predictions
for the next 12 months.
On the whole, we expect to see more incremental changes, rather than epochal
shifts. Despite all the industry mergers, new product versions, and ceaseless
march of acronyms, the content technology industry does not in fact move very
Nevertheless, the sum of these incremental developments could have a significant
impact on your enterprise. In particular, we think 2007 will be characterized
by the “elusive quest for simple.” Microsoft, IBM, Google, and others
will continue to invest heavily in promoting their new, inexpensive collaboration,
content management, portal, and search technologies as simpler alternatives
to older, stodgier tools.
But “simple” doesn’t always come with more usable
interfaces, and fashioning applications that skeptical employees can employ
successfully will still fall largely to the implementation team (read: you).
Meanwhile, motivating, incenting, or compelling information workers to manage
content more effectively still typically means getting people to change the way
they are used to working (read: higher-risk project). Fortunately, there is an
upside: more capabilities in the hands of managers that used to reside in the
domain of technologists.
The diffusion of knowledge and technologies is indeed empowering managers in
new ways. However, as buyers’ advocates, some of our forecasts are perhaps
a bit more aspirational than predictive. So be it. Vendors shift when buyers
ask — or demand — it.
1. Google de-googles its appliance
The Google Appliance will continue to disrupt the enterprise
search market much the way Microsoft SharePoint swept inexorably into the
collaboration and portal space. Google has found strong unmet demand for
basic, relatively inexpensive search with an emphasis on Office and Web
documents, while its main competitors still search for alternate hooks. As Enterprise
Search Report readers know, traditional search software products can do oh
so much more than Google’s appliance, but do you really need all that? Maybe
you do. Interestingly, Google has begun to add more tuning controls to its
appliance, including, significantly, weighting — a complex but oft-useful
approach to improving results. This is perhaps a tacit admission that Google’s
argument held less water with enterprise customers than first presumed. Simple
is hard, and enterprise search will remain as preternaturally hard at the end
of 2007 as it was at the beginning. Plan accordingly.
2. AJAX UI backlash
Everybody knows that content managers have endured abominable user interfaces
since the inception of automated content management tools. Many vendors are
presently working feverishly on revamped, AJAX-based interfaces they hope will,
deus ex machina, give them UIs that businesspeople actually welcome using.
Well, early results suggest that many of these slick interfaces are less than
functional and reliable. Contributors hate buggy interfaces even more than
clumsy ones. On the plus side, vendors are slowly hiring usability experts
and information architects to revamp the contributor experience — particularly
in the areas of system navigation, search, tagging, editing, and publishing.
Where things remain tricky is when you need functionality from multiple applications
in one interface, further complicating the integration problem. In any case,
fashioning usable interfaces is never simple.
3. Web managers embracing the delete key
Perhaps at the urging of U2’s
Bono, many enterprises are beginning to conclude that it’s high time to
“Walk On” — get rid of web content they don’t need anymore.
Not all content is worth managing, and for many the timing is opportune.
More enterprises are approaching a second generation of Web CMS deployment (either
choosing a new product or finally moving off a bespoke system) and deciding
to leave obsolete content behind during the migration. This doesn’t mean that
in this new era of compliance you can throw everything away. Successful implementers
will embrace the content audit process before learning to be better off publishing
less. So “simple” will be hard at first, but worth the effort in
the long run.
4. She’s got the power: the web marketing manager ascendant
More Web CMS software vendors are embracing scenario-based selling —
most specifically, to the marketing department. And with good reason. Even
if most content technology budgets still lie in the realm of IT, the marketer
is asserting her power: she cares not whether it’s Java or .NET, commercial
or open source, she just wants useful tools for her team to target customers
effectively and begin to integrate user-generated content. To be sure, getting
businesspeople more involved in technology selection tends to make the process
take longer as end-user scenarios are demoed, tested, and analyzed. Managing
multidisciplinary selection teams is never simple, but better to invest time
choosing the right tool now if you want to obtain a decent ROI later.
5. Website simulations finally arrive
This is an extension of that last prediction. Marketing people want to know
the potential impact of the changes they propose. How will modifications affect website effectiveness if we
tweak a personalization routine? Alter the way content is tagged? Revise visitor flow
through AJAX-powered pages? Simple questions;
complicated answers. Business intelligence and business process management
tools have included modeling and simulation capabilities for some time, but
they remain largely absent from content technology products in general and Web
CMS tools in particular. Even Office 2007 comes with a new feature to preview
format changes before you make them. Understanding visitor behavior will become
increasingly important here as marketing managers ask, “What’s the likely
impact to traffic patterns if we do X?” The latest version of The CMS
Report identified a trend towards integrating analytics and content management.
That trend will accelerate in 2007.
6. Falling seat prices
With the aggressive pricing of Microsoft and Oracle ($50 a seat or less) in
the ECM sector — along with more hosted offerings coming on-line, plus
the maturation of open source options from Alfresco and Nuxeo — the days
of the $350 seat pricing are drawing to a close. There are simply too many lower-priced
options available these days for there not to be pressure on the high end of
the market. To be sure, the specialist “power user” seats will remain
pricey, and even Alfresco’s commercial support prices are far from cheap. But
the idea of charging hundreds of dollars for regular (occasionally check docs
in and out) users is no longer tenable. Canny buyers will recognize that ECM
is a fancy acronym for old fashioned document management and press ECM vendors
to bring prices down, or take a walk. This much at least is simple: buyers in
2007 will remain firmly in the driving seat.
7. Taking a second look at your repository
If your business-critical content is sitting in a proprietary repository you
might be wondering in 2007 whether this remains a smart move. With the major
infrastructure players now driving into ECM, and specialists vendors like Open
Text claiming loudly that they will in future build on top of common database
repository platforms, it might be time for a renegotiation with your vendor
of choice (if they haven’t already been acquired!). The days of getting
locked into a proprietary repository — with specialist skill sets required
to access, maintain, and administer it — are numbered. If the upheaval
to move content out of the niche repository into a more broadly supported platform
environment is onerous, then maybe 2007 will be the year to look for a new supplier.
8. Rediscovery of workflow
Mid- and large-sized enterprises have all gone through significant restructuring
over the past few years; outsourcing and increased automation combined with
an increasing reluctance of employees to commit careers to one employer have
combined to shake corporations significantly. Those considering compliance,
document, email, or content management solutions to resolve the issue of lost
and irrelevant information are coming quickly to the conclusion that processes
need to be defined and then enforced. Combine this with a reawakening of BPR
(business process re-engineering) methods and we can see workflow tools (often
branded as business process management) coming back into vogue in a big way.
Whether they will prove to be any more successful this time around remains to
be seen — but it’s time to dust off your process modeling skills and map
those content-oriented activities.
9. Portal platforms will diversify
A genuine interest in portals by both senior business management as well as
the giant software vendors will further push portals up on enterprise technology
agendas. We still won’t see “one ring to rule them all” über-products,
but rather, more vendors will offer multiple different portal platforms to fit
enterprise requirements. While enterprise portals will not replace Web CMS
tools in 2007, they will increasingly be seen as platforms for publishing content
outside the firewall as well as inside, even though (as the new SharePoint experience
suggests), this transition may not be smooth.
10. Portal dashboards meet standards.
As organizations increasingly realize that the enterprise portal dashboard
concept is holding back usability progress (and therefore business success),
alternatives will emerge, if only slowly. Some portals will become more decidedly
single-purpose (e.g. collaboration), while others will become multi-purpose
(e.g. e-business and enterprise integration). Either way, buyers will still
have to customize the portals themselves, but it is well worth it, as productivity
goes up and frustration goes down. As always, UI designers will find succor
in basic web guidelines that co-incidentally can solve common accessibility
problems. The new portlet specification, JSR-286, could help reduce some of
the interface work required towards the end of year, but its deepest impact
will likely come later, after broader adoption.
11. Long live (lightweight) SOA
Much of what is offered by portal vendor Web Services APIs
is nothing new. The same goes for mash-ups, which have been really around as a
concept since frames and iframes were introduced in the mid-90s. Whereas
Services-Oriented Architectures (SOAs) have been mainly pushed by vendors
through complex solutions, mash-ups are much easier and quite popular among
buyers. Intra-enterprise mash-ups will become socially accepted in 2007 as a simpler
option for solving content integration challenges, reducing some project
12. You will need to explain Text Mining
Sometimes called “text analytics,” the text mining industry is presently
comprised of a collection of little-known tools that attempt in different ways
to glean the same kind of intelligence from unstructured information that data
mining packages yield from structured data. Business intelligence (BI) vendors
have been among those taking note, partnering with text mining suppliers as
customers increasingly look to mine text as well as data. Given the plethora
of methodologies here — from linguistics and semantic approaches to statistical
and spatial analysis — most text-mining tools still work for very limited-use
cases. But one of them could be your use case. Be sure to prototype
carefully before you buy, because this software typically needs a ton of “training”
to show effective results, but your first trick will be to give your CFO a simple
explanation of what the technology actually does.