CMIS and industry standards in ECM

The rumored multi-vendor ECM interoperability effort has been unveiled.  IBM, Microsoft and EMC (and others) have collaborated on a draft specification – Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) – that is meant to addresses basic interoperability and accessibility for repository-based content.  The goal is to make it easier to pull/push managed content to/from other apps without the need for custom integrations or third-party connectors.

Some write-ups are already out there, with more detailed explanations:

CMS Wire – Industry Heavy Weights Move to Standardize Enterprise Content Management

Microsoft Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Team Blog – Announcing the CMIS Specification

Chuch Hollis – CMIS — it’s not JAS (just another standard)

John Newton’s Content Log – Alfresco releases first CMIS implementation

Chuck Hollis, as usual, has a particularly concise and on-target analysis.  He notes several of the following points that the standard effort has going for it, and I’ve added a few of my own:

  • Interoperability is a real and growing problem (James McGovern has several intereting posts on this topic).  The industry needs to start to take some steps to solve it.
  • This effort, though clearly still 1.0, has the right vendors behind it as it involves Oracle, Adobe and, Alfresco (kudos to still-small (and open source) Alfresco for getting a seat at the table on this one), along with the leads IBM, Microsoft and EMC.
  • The multi-platform / multi-language approach is a must — a Java-only standard would have left SharePoint out of the picture and not covering SharePoint interoperability would seriously hamper the effectiveness of any ECM standard at this point.
  • By working at a services layer and utilizing REST and SOAP, layering on top of existing systems and not requiring major re-writes or upgrades will be more feasible and potentially have the quickest impact.  This may also limit the sophistication of the what the standard is able to accomplish, but it’s better to get some lightweight interoperability with a larger number of existing systems.

What are the drawbacks or potential pitfalls?

  • It will likely be 2010 before we see commercial products supporting CMIS, though Alfresco has already announced an implementation of the draft spec in its Labs (fka Community) edition. An open source vendor of course has more flexibility in pushing out (unsupported) code than a commercial vendor, though Alfresco’s REST architecture makes this more straightforward.  (Alfresco does plan to support the draft spec in its commercial Enterprise code during the ratification process; no word on whether commercial vendors will follow suit).
  • Early integrations will in some cases be wrappers, perhaps shipped as downloadable modules outside of regular release cycles.  We’ll have to watch to see what this means and enables.
  • Standards efforts often go nowhere fast.

I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones that occur to me at the moment.

At this point, all we can do is note that the vendors have made the effort to develop the standard and watch as it is handed over to OASIS for ratification.  It’s a slow process – the vendors involved began work on this in 2006, which is indicative of the pace of such projects.

Alfresco plays Microsoft’s SharePoint game

Last week it was EMC’s Documentum group taking on SharePoint and this week it’s Alfresco, interesting not just because both Documentum and Alfresco were founded by the same person.  I had the chance to speak with that person, John Newton, this morning about Alfresco Labs 3.0 (Labs is the new name for Alfresco Community, which is the unsupported, uncertified version of Alfresco’s open source ECM software).

Alfresco has been positioning itself as the open source alternative to SharePoint for awhile and this announcement puts more wood behind that marketing arrow (Alfresco is undeniably good at marketing).

By working with the documented server protocols that Microsoft made available after its tangle with the EU, Alfresco built interoperability with the Microsoft Office desktop apps and with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server to make Alfresco a more viable replacement for SharePoint or to make it easier for the two to co-exist.  The most useful part of this will be the ability for end-users to work with an Alfresco repository via Office apps in the same way they work with SharePoint.

As is generally the case in ECM, SharePoint and Alfresco aren’t apples-to-apples in all senses and Alfresco isn’t necessarily attempting to replicate all the search, business intelligence and portal pieces of SharePoint just yet.  But this definitely provides an alternative for those organizations looking for basic content services a la SharePoint in a non-Microsoft or mixed server OS, database and browser environments.

Open source at Enterprise 2.0

I attended a star-studded open source panel this morning, with Bob Bickel of Ringside Networks, Jeff Whatcott of Acquia and John Newton of Alfresco. The panel and audience members discussed adoption of open source specifically for social applications.

There was a bit of discussion on market readiness for open source in this sector. A comment came from the audience that Alfresco, the most established of the three vendors, started with an “easy target” – that is, replacing document management systems that were largely understood and seen as commodities. The same audience member noted that applying commercial open source to emerging social applications may be more difficult, as these are viewed as more strategically important for IT and management.

Ringside is really only just now getting started so it isn’t too far down the road in selling to enterprises, but Bickel came from JBoss and so recounted some of his experiences there with overcoming adoption hurdles at the application platform layer. Acquia is also a new company but it is attached to the popular Drupal project. Acquia hopes to help legitimize Drupal for the enterprise.

Other questions from the audience focused mostly on the complexity of deploying some open source tools (lack of documentation etc.) and licensing issues.

The issue of how little open source was represented at this conference, something I had also noticed, also came up. John Newton said he went from booth to booth on the show floor asking “are you open source?” He got few “yes” answers. Alfresco / Acquia were on the show floor along with a big Sun / MySQL booth but of the 52 vendors on in the demo pavilion, that was about it for vendors with primarily open source business models (a few like Socialtext and Jive Software dabble some in open source but it’s not their primary model).

It’s interesting that at a conference that was all about communities and user-generated content, the vendors represented didn’t have more of a focus on community-generated software. The emphasis in conference sessions and certainly among the vendors on the show floor was much more around software that is easy-to-procure and easy-to-deploy for business users…in other words, lots of SaaS.

Why? I met with John Newton after the panel and he said he thought it was just the vendors present, not a real reflection of the amount of social software currently deployed as open source. I think that’s true as most organizations definitely have WordPress, MediaWiki and Roller deployments but none of these tools were represented at the conference. (Aaron Fulkerson from MindTouch was there (commercial open source wiki vendor) but MindTouch didn’t have a booth.)

Jeff Whatcott also noted off-panel that he thinks the SaaS and open source models will advance in parallel in this market but there will eventually be a “come to Jesus” moment when organizations realize the benefits of community development and the need to have the flexibility to develop, integrate and customize this stuff. I agree that these two models will continue in parallel for awhile or perhaps more than awhile as there are likely to roles for both SaaS and open source in the social software (or collaboration) market for the foreseeable future.

Update: I neglected to mention in this post originally that John Eckman from Optaros did a wonderful job moderating this panel.  My oversight for not mentioning that.