Saturday, April 04, 2009

Hell freezes over as big ECM vendors suddenly embrace interoperability

Jeff Potts at has written an interesting post on the flurry of interest around the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) standard, which was very much in evidence at the recent AIIM show. I was at the show, and I too detected a huge amount of interest around the new standard.

But it's not a standard yet (and won't be, until the end of this calendar year at the very earliest), which makes the sudden interest in it rather unusual, to say the least. I have seen a lot of industry standards come and go over the past 20 years. But I have seldom seen as much interest in a not-yet-released standard as is happening now with CMIS.

What strikes me as particularly odd is the huge interest in CMIS on the part of big ECM vendors like Open Text, EMC (Documentum), Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle, to name a few. Actually, IBM and Oracle don't surprise me very much, since they're pro-standards in general. But some of the other big players built their businesses on proprietary, standards-averse lock-in-ware. To go from a lock-in model to a posture of "let's stand up in public and salute the interoperability flag" seems downright weird to me.

I have it on good authority that Microsoft is a particularly enthusiastic proponent of CMIS, which is even queerer, to me. This is a company that has done more (over the years) to oppose interoperability than any software company in existence. For them to be the out-front cheerleader on CMIS blows my mind (or what's left of it at this point).

What's super-weird, also, is the fact that almost all of the big companies pushing CMIS are involved in the JSR-283 (JCR 2) effort, which produced a final draft spec the other day. If you look at the Expert Committee members on the project page for JSR-283 (scroll down to see the names), you'll see EMC, IBM, and most of the CMIS cheerleaders listed (except Microsoft).

The big CMIS supporters have "supported" JSR-170 and JSR-283 all along, but never once showed the kind of enthusiasm for those JSRs that they are now showing for CMIS. Those companies could have issued press releases, given seminars at AIIM, etc., in support of JCR, but never did. Somehow, interoperability (which is what JCR was and is about) wasn't important to these big ECM companies when JSR-170 was ratified. But now it is. And CMIS is a long way from ratified.

Does anyone else see anything strange in this picture, or is it just me? Mind you, I'm all for interoperability and I'm all for CMIS. I'm just struggling to understand why the sudden interest in interoperability on the part of companies who didn't give a damn 5 years ago.


  1. Sorry to learn that Nuxeo is not part of the "big ECM vendor" club :(

    Well, maybe you're right after all ;)

    Let's have this conversation again in a couple of years :)

  2. Anonymous9:00 AM

    Kas, maybe they have learned things in the last five years?

    I think the market is driving them forward on this. With more legacy systems each year to deal with, having their stuff work together is becoming important. Clients don't want to have to worry about making everything work together. That and a simple, consistent, manner to work with SharePoint is important to them.

    The only mystery is Microsoft. Maybe they see it as a way to cement themselves as the collaboration client for everyone, allowing the other guys to sit in the back?


  3. Pie, agree w/you that vendors (even Microsoft, of course) have learned a lot about the need for interop in the last 5 years. Definitely. I think your comment about Microsoft makes a lot of sense. I've often wondered if Microsoft sees this as an opportunity to further entrench SharePoint. Better interop with SharePoint means fewer customers will "graduate" off of it, to a "real" ECM system (arguably; perhaps; maybe). Dunno. The real test will be to see if MSFT tries to hijack the standard before it's finalized. That would undermine the whole thing. Somehow I don't think they'll do it. I think they really do want this thing. I'm increasingly convinced it's part of their larger SharePoint strategy.

  4. Anonymous4:35 PM

    Maybe a few dinosaurs died or retired in the big companies in these last five years and they stopped lobbying against interoperability. Or the new management wants to take the company enthusiastically in a "new" direction as is classically done?

  5. I believe that CMIS garners much more interest than JCR because of a few key things:
    - it's simpler and thus easier to understand,
    - it's higher level and closer to generic application needs (store files with some metadata),
    - it leverages existing concepts, standards and buzzwords (AtomPub, SOAP, REST),
    - it's designed to be a common ground for existing systems from the start,
    - it's not Java-only,
    - it's being promoted by several big, established vendors and not just a single smaller and newer one.

    Regarding the fact that CMIS is pushed a lot by Microsoft, I think that they (and others) realize that while interoperability means less lock-in and thus less guaranteed revenue, it also means many more opportunities to attract new customers that wouldn't let themselves get locked in in the first place.

    Openness is the new game, and Microsoft wants to be a player too.

  6. I sense a change in general senior management with the realisation of how quickly and efficiently open social network systems gain mass usage and appeal. Maybe there has been a flow off to the traditional vendors, of reaching out with technology rather than a contained "locked-in" business model.

    It could be a realisation of bigger numbers in the end, perhaps not monetary but stability of revenue through mass usage and integration.

  7. Hi Florent,

    I think, in your post you can replace "CMIS" by "WebDAV" and all your statements still are true... ;)

    I strongly promote CMIS since it is very focused on "least common denominator" Document Management interoperability and hence would get a lot of interest at AIIM traditionally.

    I think a comparison between JCR and CMIS from a technical standpoint is neither correct nor relevant, and probably ends in the same conversations as the JCR vs. WebDAV, JCR vs. Atom discussions [1] where people usually realize that you can compare feature sets but one cannot make up for the other.

    For me it boils down to:
    Document Management Interoperability -> CMIS
    Standardized Content Infrastructure -> JCR



  8. thefool11:03 AM

    There are three reasons for an established company in some market to participate in a standards process. Usually all three are operating to different degrees in any one instance.

    The first is the straightforward one: so their product can interoperate with other existing products that their prospective customers have so the customer will be more willing to buy their product.

    The second is so they look like nice guys.

    The third is common when the standard process starts tending toward the baroque and complex: to keep their competitors busy wasting time implementing a complex standard that nobody will probably end up using anyway (see CORBA).

  9. After five years in which WCM/ECM consolidation unexpectedly did not happen (there still is a new CMS every day that I have not heard of before), the new reality is that all those systems are here to stay (for now, at least).

    So it makes a lot of sense to claim (or even implement) compatibility to others, because it allows you to get into business relationships that otherwise you would not.

    Fortunately, this is true on a small as well as a big scale. The smaller vendors like Magnolia who are sponsoring CMIS do so because it allows them to make use of infrastructure they don't have, or because it allows them to sell their software/services for smaller & faster projects (campaigns, micro-sites) to clients that have standardized on other platforms. Also, Open-Source vendors are about openness, so CMIS is interesting per default. [1]

    Large vendors have a similar reasons, as stated above - since the competition is here to stay, being able to reuse their information silo's gives them access to clients that otherwise would be much harder. I guess that is even true for Microsoft, as there simply is no single vendor that has the majority of the market - so there is room for growth, and CMIS-support is a strategy that could provide that.

    In any case, the clients and users are benefiting from this no matter which vendor will get most out of it.


  10. Perhaps this observation provides some good pointers as to why big ECM vendors suddenly embrace interoperability:

    "In early markets, the vendor with the best integrated solution often provides the best solution to customers and holds an advantage over the competition. Once they begin to over-deliver (providing new technology faster than customers can absorb it), customers start complaining about pricing. This is a “market” signal. It
    typically coincides with a time a technology domain is sufficiently mature that the tightest integration of innovation no longer provides the best value solution to customers’ problems. An abstraction layer can be defined to break open the technology and the market."

    More in this excellent paper:

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