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IBM – Time For Family Therapy?

Thirteen years ago IBM acquired Lotus and with that started IBM’s second entry into content management, Lotus Notes.  Then just over eighteen months ago, IBM acquired FileNet and with that the third entry into content management.  Is the “third time a charm” or is “history repeating”? 

The Step-Brothers
For those that don’t know their story, some time in the mid-80’s IBM added scanning capabilities to its DB2 platform.  This started their first move into content management as soon there after scanning came to include document management.  By the time of the Lotus acquisition IBM already had a solid foothold in document management.  The original intent of the Lotus acquisition was to bring collaboration to IBM’s offerings.  Notes was an ok email product but people had also been using it as a replicated store for documents.  With no communications between IBM DB2 and IBM Lotus Notes engineers, the creation of Domino was inevitable.  Content Manager had its first step-bother, but the two lived in different houses.

I’m not sure what the thoughts behind the acquisition of FileNet were.  Both had started with similar backgrounds in imaging.  But while one was one product of hundred within huge organization the other was the sole focus of a mid-tier company.  This is what probably allowed FileNet to have a larger market share than DB2 Content Manager.  From a technical perspective I never really saw a difference that would make acquisition worthwhile.  Mostly a push or where one had a slight weakness, the other had a slight strength but nothing that would complete the other.  But there signs that IBM was trying to get things right at the start.  They brought FileNet into the DB2 family and more specifically content management.  Better still instead of putting an army of Distinguished Engineers on task they put one.  Content Manager had another step-brother and was being asked to share a bedroom with them. 

Three months after the acquisition a client engagement gave me the opportunity to ask the question; which one survives.  To be fair it was too early to ask but I had been tasked with helping make a long-term enterprise strategy for content management.  I decided to evaluate each product on their individual strengths.  Unfortunately, looking for clarification on issues was often like pulling teeth.  I felt it was fair of me to ask as I had been in their shoes several times.  I expected them to have an answer of how the specialty product would be tied into the platform and roughly when.  

Who Get’s the Inheritance
Looking a year later, I still see no clarification on their website as to which product will prevail or how they plan to leverage each other’s strengths.  How can a company decide to invest resources in two competitive products?  It has to be hard to make a major purchase decision not knowing which platform will be the future platform, especially when a large content management customer, like Iron Mountain, decide to go with one platform (Content Manager) over another.

So what is the road map for content management at IBM?  You would hope that the message would be out there today.  But it’s not.  The IBM’s Information On-Demand conference won’t be held until October, so there still is time to get the story straight.  I’m not holding my breath. Maybe in another five years we’ll be hearing about IBM acquiring Interwoven or Vignette. 

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