“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.

6 thoughts on ““Dear Documentum – Fix the Problem. A. Friend”

  1. The movie was actually based on a book by Michael Crichton – very dated from a technology perspective now but still a good read if you can get past the idea that the innovation was spin rate on a cd-rom drive.

    Documentum has a simpler UI – eRoom, but if R&D dollars are any indication the East coast collaboration tool never got the respect it deserved from the West coast ECM crowd. Now its too late. I doubt we’ll ever see an eRoom 8.

  2. Right it was a Michael Crichton book. But the innovation in content management was not the cd-rom drive, it was the on-line virtual file room where you could put on virtual reality goggles and walk around the library of company documents.

    By the way another of Crichton’s book also included Documentum in it. Rumor has it that Airframe was based on the Boeing plant out of long beach. If you remember the maintenance manual system that was used, if real that would have been Documentum.

  3. I remember the scene now that you mention it. Very cool. I read Airframe as well – wasn’t Long Beach the a MacDonald Douglas plant? In which case – if memory serves – eMod was the system , Documentum w/ SGML – “Genetically” the system was the forerunner to Creative Concepts Corps’ FlightLine product. (now part of Jouve) I think the book may predate the system though.

    We are starting to sound like 2 old guys reminiscing over a checkerboard.

  4. dozyarmadillo – You make a great point. What’s especially telling is that John Newton, the co-founder of Documentum, leads Alfresco, which means that he recognized the need for a change in the UI.

  5. First – Nice site!

    Second – Your UI points are valid. One of the things that I’ve been hearing a lot about lately is that users already are comfortable working in Office, Windows, etc. and that it would make addoption easier to go with SP/MOSS platform instead of something else.

    Third – Let’s never forget the cost aspect. The functionality in the newest releases of SP/MOSS is making it increasingly difficult to justify the cost of other ECM providers (read Documentum). As SP/MOSS continues to evolve in functionality and scalability this will increasingly be the case (imo).

    Finally – To you tagline (Fix the Problem), many Directors/CIOs can’t wait to dump Documentum. EMC’s arrogance his going to be their downfall.

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