Has Microsoft learned to share?

The enterprise content management market
has undergone seismic changes in the last few years, as the forces of
consolidation have rewritten the landscape, introducing heavyweight vendors,
such as IBM, Oracle and EMC. But the most disruptive force could yet prove to
be the growing influence of software titan Microsoft, and its increasingly
competitive SharePoint product.

In the year ending 30 June, 2007,
Microsoft’s SharePoint Server business generated revenues in excess of $800
million – a fraction of the company’s overall business, but in the ECM sphere,
such sales demand attention. Moreover, that revenue represents a 35%
year-on-year increase. Even Microsoft has been taken aback by the demand for
SharePoint, confides Rob Gray, product marketing manager for Microsoft in the UK. It has
expected sales to pick up, as is common, after the release
of the first service

SharePoint’s impressive sales also belie a
difficult start: the product was late and when it did finally ship parts of the
supporting literature were incomplete.

Nevertheless, responses to the product have
been enthusiastic. “Microsoft is only just catching up with best practices and
advice on how to use SharePoint in different environments,” notes Tony Byrne,
founder of content management analyst CMS Watch.  “Customers have been surprised by the
complexity of it underneath the covers.”

SharePoint Server 2007 builds on the product’s
reputation as an excellent document sharing tool thanks to its strong hooks
into Microsoft’s Office software. The additional functionality includes
enterprise search, records management and basic business intelligence tools and
even social networking facilities with a tool called ‘MySite’, which offers a
similar approach to the popular social networking site MySpace, allowing users
to host their own MySite pages on the intranet where they are able to post
contact details, documents and links.

But the sheer breadth of additional tools
in SharePoint Server 2007is also a weakness. CMS Watch’s Byrne warns that
SharePoint has severe limitations where organisations are planning to use it as
more than a basic file-sharing and collaboration tool. “If [customers] have
some vision or fantasy that they want to do more than that then they had better
have some good consultancies and some good IT support on hand because it’s
going to be complicated.”

However, Microsoft insists that its
partnership agreements can seamlessly fill any gaps in its ECM portfolio. It
comes with interfaces to allow integration with packages such as Documentum,
Open Text and others. Under this arrangement, users are the winner, insists
Microsoft’s Gray. “They are getting more Documentum usage by using the
SharePoint interface because it is more friendly and easier to use but they
still have the robust, compliant and certified back-end,” he says.

This approach has certainly been welcomed
by some user organisations. When the Ministry of Defence was looking to upgrade
its records management capabilities it chose to work with Microsoft and one of
its partners, records management company Meridio. The project has now been
rolled out across some 330,000 desktops nationwide.

Whether Microsoft’s competitors in the
content management space are still keen to integrate with remains to be seen.
The Redmond-based giant has a long history of entering maturing markets with
generic product offerings, increasing the depth of their own offerings
gradually, and using their financial strength to drive down prices and kill off
competition. However, there are now several deep-pocketed competitors jostling
for position in the ECM, so for now Microsoft may be willing to accept that
sometimes it really is better to share.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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