Goodbye 2008, Welcome 2009

Okay so another year comes to an end and while we welcome the new year, here’s a look at some of the themes (in a random order) of the year gone by that might have an impact on the Content Technologies next year.

Verticalized Applications

Content Management Systems as horizontal solutions have been there for long and most known vendors provide similar features. The industry however is asking for more domain specific solutions built on standard CMS repositories. Based on this demand and the fact that this provides a differentiation to CMS vendors, I hope to see more and more domain or vertical specific solutions like Loan Origination, Claims Processing and other similar solutions/accelerators from many CMS vendors. Also, with the slowdown in economy, it is easier to sell a domain solution than a pure horizontal solution.

Portal and Content Consolidation

Many enterprises struggle with multitude of applications doing overlapping functionality. Organizations have multiple CMS repositories and many portals. This often leads to duplication of content varied user experience and huge costs. Because of huge cost pressures, many organizations have been considering consolidation of their content applications.

This will lead to following benefits:

  • Reduced Hardware Infrastructure as you don’t need those 5 different ECM repositories
  • Reduced employee costs as you do not need skilled people across 5 different portal servers
  • Standardized processes and hence increased productivity
  • Reduced employee training costs
  • Unified User Experience
  • Reduced Integration, Maintenance and Support Costs

I believe this could be a very important way to reduce and control costs as well as bringing in some standardization. So many organizations would start focused initiatives to consolidate their existing applications.

Open Source

Open Source Content Management and Portal solutions have matured quite a bit. Because of this and the fact that there is cost pressure on everyone, enterprises that would not even consider Open Source solutions are now more favorable towards them. They are becoming open to experimenting with technologies that are generally not considered *enterprisey*.  Many of the open source products are being tracked by waves and quadrants of major analysts and  that reflects a huge change. This is also good for the Open Source vendors because many enterprises use these analysts’ reports for shortlisting.  Many open source products have also released commercial versions and that is another reason that gives these vendors a foot hold within enterprises who did not want to use these citing lack of support options.

Another factor that encourages the use of Open Source products is that people want to quickly build “informal” applications which many commercial products can not do well. There are many popular Open Source (and free) products that do certain things much better.

Although, initial cost could reduce by using Open Source, organizations should carefully look at the impact over a longer horizon and should consider Open Source as another alternative in the market place. They should select Open Source based on overall fitment to their requirements and not just make a decision based on initial licensing cost.

Web 2.0

Widgets and Gadgets have been popular for quite sometime. Some products had gadgets much before portlet spec. I am sure many people have seen examples of counters, ad banners etc which are essentially widgets only. However, there is a considerable interest now in using these within the enterprises for more sophisticated portal like applications.

Currently, most social networking is horizontal – you become a member of a social network, I become one and we write scraps on each other. What next?  I believe Vertical Social Networking is becoming popular.  Some areas where we already see this or have potential are in the areas of Jobs, Real Estate and Classifieds. After all, It is easier to buy an old laptop from a contact’s contact rather than an unknown person who’s advertised in classifieds.

In order to reduce cost, many enterprises, especially those that require product support want to leverage the communities for customer support. They want people to help each other and come to their support only as a last resort. What this means is increasing use of tools that enable collaboration – wikis for example. Many enterprises are using these communities not just for support but also as a way to generate revenues.

Some organizations are also using web 2.0 as a means to Knowledge Management. Instead of regular process oriented KM which forces people to contribute, they want to use mechanisms that encourage people who in turn want to contribute. This is a huge shift – people don’t like contributing if they are forced to do it but are likely to contribute if they enjoy doing it. This also means a shift from “control and process” to “informality and accessibility”.

In spite of all this, I still think how to use Web 2.0 within the enterprise is still not very clear to many organizations and there is a huge scope for improvement. One of the reasons people cite is that workforce is used to applications that became successful on the consumer Internet and want to have same kind of experience for enterprise applications but they need to be very careful. Here’s a nice post by Vilas.

Alternate Delivery Models

There is more acceptance for SaaS based offerings. This is especially true for applications that are not business mission critical. Businesses are experimenting with SaaS based providers because this saves them dependence on their internal IT apart from other benefits like faster time to market, no capital expenditure, low risk and so on. Along with this,  alternate pricing models are also being looked at. Some examples are pay per document, pay per loan, pay per claim etc.

Standards

The portlet spec 2.0 or JSR 286 was released. Although the portlet standards (JSR 286 and JSR 168) have been relatively successful in terms of adoption and support, the content repository standard, JSR 170 has not been that popular. Meanwhile, vendors are collaborating on technologies that will help customers reuse existing investments. As an example, many vendors have come up with CMIS. Okay this is not a standard yet but is possibly in that direction. A standard like this is very much needed and hopefully CMIS will achieve what JSR-170/283 did not.

I would also hope that a standard emerges for Gadgets/Widgets.

Site Management and Personalization

Traditionally Content Management was decoupled from Site Management. However, marketing and business people now want more control and there is increasing convergence of Content Management and Site Management. This essentially means better user experience, rich and dynamic sites. This also means features like personalization are making a come back. This has also resulted because of cheap bandwidth and better client side technologies

Document Services

Document Composition and Generation is becoming part of mainstream ECM. There have been a few partnerships as well as mergers in this space. Related terms in this space are Document Output Management and Forms Management.

This was probably the last post of this year. Thanks for reading the blog and here’s wishing you a great year ahead.

Gadgets and Widgets as an alternative to Portlets

A new trend that I am seeing these days is emergence of gadgets (widgets, dashlets, blocklets) and mashups. These basically provide a quick and dirty way to create portal *like* applications. They are light weight and less expensive as compared to your typical portal servers.

iGoogle is probably the biggest example of their success on the consumer internet. For usage within the enterprise, IBM has a Mashups as well as a Widget platform. You develop components using widget factory which is based on portlet factory (erstwhile Bowstreet) and deploy them on the platform that runs on the embedded Websphere application server. Kapow Technologies and quite a few other vendors (including my company) also have a similar offering. Apache’s Shindig is an open source implementation of Open Social and Google’s gadget specification and lets you build iGoogle type applications.

Many customers are considering these for building their next generation of web properties. Many of them have been asking about Google’s and Yahoo’s offerings as well for their usage within the enterprise. The biggest reason is probably the fact that small applications can be relatively quickly built  and mashed up at the client side using light weight technologies based on Web Oriented Architecture (WOA) like REST, RSS etc instead of more involved server side technologies.  A widget can be written in many ways (java, ruby, php,…)  but  a J2EE portal’s portlet is *generally* written in JAVA and that gives more flexibility for bringing in or integrating with non java applications. So potentially, different technologies can co-exist and their functionality exposed via a uniform web interface. You can also integrate a gadget which is actually hosted by a 3rd part provider (like Google) within your environment.

Many Portal servers have been offering the ability to include Google gadgets within the portal server. So essentially they provide a gadget portlet using which you can integrate gadgets. IBM and Liferay both have this capability.

So will these replace portal technologies? I don’t think that is going to happen in the near future and the reason for that is the fact that portal ecosystem is much more evolved and matured as compared to gadgets/widgets. There are certain standards (e.g., JSR 286) that govern the portal world (at least the java portal world) and most portals support that. There are no standards yet in the gadget/widget world and if you really want to use, say a Google gadget within your environment, there would be non trivial issues to take care of. So for example, how do you do an inter gadget communication between your gadget and that hosted by a 3rd party provider? Even though a portlet and a gadget can co-exist within the portal server, getting your portlet to send an event (or talk to a gadget) is a different matter that needs to be addressed (okay –  Google and IBM have cooperated on IBM portlet Google gadget communication but it is still a non-standard way). IBM is working on a specification called iwidget but i do not think any other vendor supports that as yet. Similarly, Google also has a gadget specification.

There are also other issues related to integration with back end applications and more sophisticated personalization that need to be addressed. Till these are addressed, i think both have a place in targeting specific scenarios.

Blogs, Wikis etc.

Seth had recently posted about the use of Blogs and Wikis in the enterprise. He writes:

I too am suspicious (and a little surprised) when I hear these terms together because, other than the fact that they are relatively new to the “enterprise,” blogs and wikis have little to do with each other…

I have had similar experiences. We often get RFPs and RFIs that have  statements like:

  • “…. should support typical web 2.0 features”
  • “… built on the principles of web 2.0 …”
  • ” … release 1 should have basic web 2.0 features and release 2 should be a complete web 2.0 platform”
  • Many more similar statements

Everyone has a different view of what web 2.0 means for them and so it is important to crystallize the requirements like one would do for any other set of requirements. Because of the fuzziness associated with the term 2.0 and the fact that there are too many options out there, coming out with well defined requirements is very important to arrive at a solution, cost, estimates, product selection and a successful implementation. This article describes the popular scenarios quite well.

I am optimistic though that the situation will soon improve. We are seeing trends which show that concepts of web 2.0 are increasingly getting popular with the enterprises. Many companies that require product support for their customers are turning to these tools instead of relying on more formal traditional customer support tools. Similarly, many companies are using these tools for Knowledge Management activities. Instead of regular process oriented KM which “forces” people to contribute, they want to use mechanisms that encourage people who in turn “want” to contribute. This is a huge shift – people don’t like contributing if they are forced to do it but are likely to contribute if they enjoy doing it.