Documentum… still rockin’ in the free world

Music has played an outsized role in my life, I was a hardcore punk rocker in the late ’70s, sang in a New Wave band, wrote for Jazz magazines and today I DJ house music. What I know for sure is that every genre of popular music at some point reaches a peak and then a short while later is declared to be dead. But as any budding musicologist will tell you, that’s not how it works. Such genres don’t die; they just find their place and continue, with a somewhat smaller but loyal and regenerative audience. It’s going too far to say the same about enterprise software, but there are some analogies. Massive-scale ECM (Enterprise Content Management) has been declared dead on multiple occasions, most recently in a now-infamous blog by Gartner in 2017. It’s not dead, it lives on, with a smaller but loyal and regenerative following. As with music genres, only fanatics remember the second-tier artists, but the big stars remain famous. Disco has the likes of Chic, Punk Rock the Sex Pistols, and Jazz has Miles Davis. ECM in turn, has FileNet & Documentum. We recently revisited FileNet (still alive and kicking) and thought it time to check in with our old friend Documentum (also alive and kicking). What we learned is that although Documentum has been through many breakups and comebacks, the core mission remains true.

Today Documentum has signed with OpenText after going through labels such as EMC & Dell, and its latest releases and tour schedule will make its loyal fans smile. When first signing with OpenText for $1.62B a few years ago, many were worried that we were going to see its back catalog exploited. But instead, a lot of investment and work has been underway to modernize and reinvigorate Documentum, while being careful not to alienate its long time fans. You can read our more sober and businesslike analysis of that work here.

The fact is that ECM at scale is a small but very lucrative niche, many like to talk about how their systems can scale to tens of billions files, but few can and even fewer have the experience or technology to do so. The world’s largest ECM implementations, those that massively scale in the largest Banks & Governments, are rare ducks and will remain so. And two names continue to dominate that niche, those of IBM FileNet and OpenText Documentum. In the future, one or two others will play in the same niche, most notably Amazon AWS and Alfresco. The thing is, managing content and processes is complex and challenging, what works for one will not work for another. Box & Dropbox will check the right boxes for some, Laserfiche, AODocs & MFiles for others. For those at the extreme, those that need to manage truly massive volumes of content, there will only ever be a few that are up to the job. Neither IBM FileNet nor OpenText Documentum is without flaws, and the challenges they bring and encounter will generate, at times, plenty of negative feedback from the community. But like it or not, thems your options, flaws, and all. 

Just like IBM, OpenText is a large company with a broad portfolio of technology ranging from AI (Artificial Intelligence) to Records Management and all stops in between. We are starting to see some of that now enter into Documentum; the modernization of this platform is well underway. But like FileNet before it, this specific end-user community is a tough nut to crack. It’s one that doesn’t like and often fears change. Keeping such customers happy is an epic undertaking, and that is probably the most significant challenge OpenText faces with Documentum. Quite frankly, it will be an uphill struggle, for in my 20 years as an analyst, I have never once encountered a delighted owner of a massive ECM implementation. Even so, grumpy as they may be, they are remarkably loyal and reluctant to change. And that is why I have no doubt, many, if not most, will still be running Documentum at scale a decade or more from now.

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