The Value of Partners in Microsoft’s ECM Ecosystem

REDMOND, Wash., May 16, 2006 – This week, as vendors from around the world gather in Philadelphia for the annual AIIM Expo information management event, PressPass sat down with Robert Bernard, general manager of the Global ISV group at Microsoft. Bernard, whose team works with industry-leading independent software vendors (ISV’s), explains how and why enterprise content management (ECM) came to be a key focus of the new Microsoft Office SharePoint Server platform, and discusses the benefits that customers are likely to see from the innovations the company is delivering with partner solutions.

PressPass: Can you explain how ECM has come to prominence and how ECM benefits customers?

Bernard: Enterprise Content Management (ECM) has become a strategic imperative for most organizations as businesses are seeing a huge explosion of structured and unstructured information that includes documents, e-mail messages, voicemail and video. There is a tremendous opportunity for technology to step up and provide a cohesive system for managing these valuable corporate assets. However, to date, that potential has yet to be realized. Currently, most organizations spend a great deal of time and energy rolling out an ECM solution and strategy, only to discover that its adoption throughout the organization is very low, due both to siloed implementations and to low usage, even in departments where ECM solutions have been deployed.

Microsoft has a different approach: What’s interesting about ECM is not just ECM as it stands alone in managing your content but how it fits into your overall strategy for managing processes and information, both structured and unstructured. If you look at the investments we’re making with the 2007 Microsoft Office System, Windows Workflow Foundation, Windows Vista and Windows Server “Longhorn,” the focus is on how the ECM market helps accelerate the management of information and processes. More than 80percent of the content created is in the unstructured space in an organization. Microsoft and its industry partners are helping enable people to create, manage and distribute content, as well as make business decisions efficiently and effectively. We’re enabling people-ready organizations.

With the upcoming release of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, which provides a broad set of ECM capabilities on a unified platform based on the widely adopted Office/SharePoint foundation, Microsoft reduces the overhead of ECM. The new technology enables information workers to participate in their company’s ECM strategy using desktop tools that are already familiar to them, such as Microsoft Office and SharePoint technologies.

However, while committed to delivering a comprehensive set of ECM capabilities out of the box, Microsoft understands that every industry and organization has unique needs. Thus, Microsoft supports an ecosystem of partners (system integrators) and ISVs, who bring their specific business experiences and products to create and sell solutions, complete solution components, fill in solution areas in the ECM product stack, and provide vertical expertise.

PressPass: What are some of the challenges companies face with ECM?

Bernard: Content explosion: One of the most fundamental and far-reaching changes that businesses have seen in the last few decades is the explosion of data they own and are required to process. The rising acceptance of IT systems in particular has put the tools for mass, ad-hoc creation of content into the hands of almost everyone connected with every enterprise. While this flood of information poses enormous threats to businesses who fail to rise to the challenge, it presents vast opportunities to businesses who have the resources to explore its benefits.

Compliance: But by many estimates, over 80 percent of content within the enterprise is unstructured. Businesses create data with every e-mail, image, slide, document, voicemail and video. Not only is the volume of data huge, but this unstructured content is complex, messy and difficult to manage. Worse, it is risky: it can contain vital trade secrets which are not properly protected, abusive e-mails which become the basis of lawsuits, or unplanned expenditure which can bring down a company.

To battle these potential risks, companies need to ensure that they don’t drown in this ocean of information. They must capture information as it is created – otherwise they risk losing valuable details. Not only do they need to manage the information once it has been captured so that it retains its integrity, but they must ensure that it is delivered to those who need to see it and kept from those who don’t. They must also store it safely so it can be reused, and comply with a broad range of legislation.

PressPass: What is the role partners play in this ECM offering?

Bernard: Microsoft’s ECM offering provides several capabilities out of the box, which ensures that organizations recognize the value of their ECM solution more quickly. However, the needs of businesses around the world are so diverse that companies have various applications that need to be integrated in a comprehensive ECM strategy. Thus, Microsoft needs partners in its ECM offering who present a diverse range of capabilities and support for its customers.

Partners are an integral part of Microsoft’s vision for ECM, and Microsoft’s ECM offering is designed to provide a lot of extensibility mechanisms for partners to integrate their products and build value-added solutions and services on top of Microsoft’s ECM platform. Additionally, support for industry standards such as Web services and SMTP allows Microsoft’s ECM offering to co-exist in a heterogeneous environments.

Microsoft’s move into the ECM space caused a lot of momentum in the market – and that momentum can be beneficial for partners. This momentum and industry excitement provides a huge opportunity for partners to build solutions and services Microsoft’s platform. Our partners have demonstrated their ability to provide the best possible products and services to the Microsoft customer community. By being based on the Microsoft .NET platform, their products are seamlessly integrated into Microsoft’s products.

Partners enhance and complement the Microsoft ECM platform. For example, I can think of three major areas where they add value:

  • Building compliance solutions

  • Delivering vertical/horizontal solutions

  • Rounding out Microsoft’s ECM suite with functional extensions

Microsoft is working very closely with its partners. Their solutions will obviously fit tightly with the Microsoft ECM framework and also address important customer needs.

PressPass: What ECM scenarios are top of mind with customers today?

Bernard: By looking at the explosion of logarithmic growth just in records and records management in the healthcare industry, I think the most obvious scenarios today are ones regarding compliance, digital asset management (DAM) and collaboration. With information going from analog to digital formats, hospitals have to manage, store, distribute and maintain privacy of terabytes of information today.

If you look at DAM and how companies are managing huge volumes of information, not only is compliance important, but being able to collaborate and obtain the most current version of this content is critical. That’s what is fueling the growth of the 70 million licensed users of SharePoint, where enterprises have to deal with this groundswell of communication in a community way.

PressPass: Microsoft seems now to be competing with its partners in the ECM space. What’s your take on this?

Bernard: That’s the normal reaction as you think about Microsoft’s foundational piece of the architecture and technologies. I don’t see it as competition as much as complimentary – we’re accelerating the ability for partners to create and deliver solutions for our joint customers. I see this as a way to accelerate the market. As proof, look at all our partner announcements at the SharePoint Conference 2006 and AIIM 2006. At AIIM we created a large partner pavilion with partners, not only demonstrating what they are doing on the current products but also on 2007 Microsoft Office System. Those partners included Captaris, FileNet, Hummingbird, Meridio, Interwoven, OpenText, SourceCode, as well as several others including : Xerox, Getronics, AIS, Informative Graphics, Syntergy, Vorsite, Workshare, Quality Logic, KnowledgeLake, Nuance. Together, we are raising demand and availability of solutions for customers. Our vision for ECM also includes providing an integrated platform that partners and developers can use as a basis for creating value-added services and products.

PressPass: How should customers evaluate partner solutions?

Bernard: It all depends on their unmet needs and what they’re trying to achieve as an organization. I believe ECM should fit into a long-term approach and strategy for how an organization manages all their systems – integration of ERP, CRM, BI and so forth. ECM should not be a standalone decision; it should be made in the context of how you approach structured and unstructured workflows and processes. That’s what “People-Ready” business at Microsoft is about. Taking a holistic, user-centric view and incorporating it into your processes.

PressPass: Why do partners want to work with Microsoft?

Bernard: I think partners want to work with Microsoft for the same reason Microsoft wants to work with partners. We have a unified focus on the end customer. We share those customers, and it’s in everyone’s interest to provide a seamless integrated experience.

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