Public ECM companies? Open source and SaaS are next

Just catching up on feed reading (impossible) after being out at AIIM so much last week and saw Dennis Byron’s post at Seeking Alpha about enterprise content management investment opportunities. He looked at the AIIM show floor through the lens of the public markets and found few investment vehicles, at least at present. He missed one or two – consolidation in 2006 did take Stellent and FileNet off the public market, but Open Text, Vignette and Interwoven remain (these last two were absent from the AIIM show floor).

Byron also identifies the right prospects for a year or two out. Alfresco (open source) and SpringCM (SaaS) both had big booths at AIIM and are two of the most interesting companies to watch in ECM at the moment. Alfresco may be a bit further along — John Powell, Alfresco’s CEO, is on record saying 2009 is a target for an IPO. But the two are comparably sized with 70ish employees and probably something like $10m for a bookings run rates (both have annual subscription models).

This is of course peanuts to the Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and EMC crowd that dominates ECM these days but may point to the future nonetheless — or at least a future. We consistently hear from traditional ECM players that open source and SaaS don’t come up much competitively, which I think is an indication that change will be slow in coming. It’s also a reminder though that “ECM” is a fractured market with many sub-sectors and room for many players (SpringCM and Alfresco don’t really compete, for example, even with business models aside). Success of new vendors and models doesn’t necessarily displace established ones particularly in ECM, which means many things.

AIIMing for social software

No surprise really that social software, social publishing and other types of socializing were hot topics this week at the AIIM show here in Boston. I started out the week at Drupalcon (co-located at AIIM this year), the community event for the open source Web publishing tool Drupal. This was my first time at Drupalcon, or really at any open source user event of this size. A couple things struck me. First and most superficially, I stuck out a bit both due to my rather corporate-looking business attire (sorry guys) and because of my gender — a comment was made at the start of the event that the attendees were 93% male.

But much more interesting was the level of engagement. Cheers and audience participation during the keynote by project lead Dries Buytaert were plentiful. The event was packed (there were 800 attendees and they had expected 500) and there appeared to be a high level of engagement among folks in the sessions and the hallways. (And I wasn’t the only one sticking out for looking a little corporate – I think the guys from Acquia, the new Drupal start-up were in the same boat. 451 Group clients can read our write-up on Acquia here (log-in required)).

AIIM didn’t have the same level of excitement but there was still a common thread between the two events. Part of Drupal’s popularity is due to its community features and the availability of modules to add capabilities like feed management, voting and so forth. Other vendors that fall into a broadly defined content management market are busy adding similar capabilities either to WCM tools that will ultimately deliver community features to site visitors or to content contributor UIs within apps themselves. I met with folks from Day Software, Alfresco, IBM, and Oracle and support for communities, collaboration and user-generated content are hot topics. Interestingly, it was not a focus during a meeting with Google — no social features appear particularly imminent for Google’s Search Appliances.

I also attended an interesting session held by Tony Byrne of CMS Watch. Tony looked at CMS architectures and how those companies wishing to implement external communities or to support user-generated content on external sites may end up with best-of-breed tools for architectural reasons, even though WCM vendors are adding support for these features themselves. Interesting stuff.

There was no sense of irrational exuberance at AIIM though, not like last year’s Enterprise 2.0 conference that had a jammed showcase floor and overflowing sessions. AIIM is a massive show though and as it is co-located with the On Demand show, it’s an odd mix of photocopiers, printing machines and enterprise software. Several ECM vendors I met with including SpringCM, Xythos (which I found out was acquired by Blackboard last year in a deal that has been kept totally quiet), Hyland Software and Tower Software are much more focused on more traditional ECM problems, from process management to archiving, which are alive and well.