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“Dear Documentum – Fix the Problem. A. Friend”

I was reading Johnny Gee’s BLOG and his article “Why can’t search be more like Google?” and I flashed back to a day in 1998 when several of us were invited to the Demo Room of Building 1 at Documentum. There the ten of us were introduced to Project Alchemy, which would later become the first web client from Documentum. We were given a 45 minute demo of the product and then asked if there were any questions. After a few moments of silence someone in the audience broke the dam and suddenly the questions started flowing, “why this” and “why not that?” Finally our barrage of questions was stopped by another question, “well what does a web UI look like then?” Our combined audience voice replied, “Yahoo!”

Now Johnny makes great technical points but to me those are only limitations. If two bicycle salesmen from Dayton, Ohio had been stifled by the existing limitations, we would spend weeks traveling across country by train. Back in 1998, Documentum knew it needed a web product but what we did, like many others did, was to look at our existing desktop client product for inspiration. Documentum had a long legacy of solid API’s (as we all know version 1.0 had no UI) but in the end the decision was made to leverage a client look-and-feel that was far too complex for what defined the web.

For me I see comments like “why can’t Documentum X be more like” Yahoo or Google, points at the continuing problem of UI complexity. People are so familiar with search results pages looking like Yahoo or Google why not give them what they expect. And now Microsoft is showing everyone up. Almost regularly I hear about MOSS not cutting it in features but it’s always their UI that sells their solution. It’s simple, it’s clean, and it’s not complex. And it’s not only Documentum that’s having this problem, OpenText, IBM, and even Interwoven and Vignette are all seeing MOSS take market share away. Yet not one vendor is improving their UI.

We in the tech industry know how insulated the space is. How many of us cringe when asked at parties what we do for a living, hoping to avoid the often inevitable reply , “Hey, I have a computer.Can you fix it for me?” Not everyone is a computer geek and loves to tinker with technology. Content management is a complex tool but a consultant’s money is made on developing elegant solutions that make the complex look easy. Isn’t that what many of our clients ask us to do every day?

For many years I thought the cutting edge virtual reality navigation of a document library in the Michael Douglas and Demi Moore movie Disclosure was the message for content management’s future. Little did I know it was really the short emails Douglas’ character received throughout the movie. They read:

“Fix the problem.”
– A. Friend

The fact that your product isn’t “scalable enough” or “SOA enough” or “XML enough” or “REST enough” may not be the reason Microsoft is taking your customers. The problem is somewhere else – maybe it’s been right in front of you all along.


(3/5/08)  Not only are we saying it but it seem so too is EMC with a report they sponsored with AIIM.  The report says that current offerings are to difficult to implement.  Only time will tell if they listen to themselves.

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