Open Text Closes on Spicer Slice

July 11, 2008

Open Text acquired privately-held Spicer Corp. You can read Christian Daems’s “Open Text Acquires Division of Spicer Corporation” here.

You may be wondering, “What’s an Open Text?” The company is a player in enterprise search. Among its search properties are an SGML database and search system, the Fulcrum search and retrieval system, BRS Search (a variant of IBM’s original STAIRS mainframe search system), and the Information Dimension’s BASIS data management and search system. In the first edition of Enterprise Search Report, I provided some background information on these systems, and I don’t know if the 4th edition, which I did not write, retained my original baseline on the company.

Open Text was a category leader in collaboration. I recall seeing a demonstration of the system in Washington, DC, many years ago. LiveLink is a content management, collaboration, and search platform. The company hopped on the email search and management bandwagon as soon as news of corporate fraud gained momentum.

What’s a Spicer? According to the Open Text news release, which you can read in its entirety here, tasty part that Open Text bought is the

division that specializes in file format viewer solutions for desktop applications, integrated business process management (BPM) systems, and reprographics.

Spicer provides file viewing software. Instead of launching a third-party application to view a file in a results list, the Spicer technology displays the file without recourse to the native application. Advantages include speed because the native application like Adobe Acrobat is a fat little piggy, chomping memory and time. The other advantage is an opportunity to step away from Stellent’s Outside In viewing technology, which is getting more expensive with each license cycle. Spider also has some security functions that Open Text wants. You can read the full Spicer story here.

This acquisition accompanies Open Text’s purchase of Corbis eMotion. This is an electronic media management tool, primarily used to keep track of images. Could Open Text be contemplating a push into enterprise publishing systems to compete with IBM and Hewlett Packard? If so, Open Text may want to buy Nstein and beef up its tagging capability.

What’s the connection with enterprise search? Not much in my opinion.

Open Text has become a mini-IBM, offering a range of products, services, and features. My thought is that search technology is not delivering the slices of bacon that Open Text’s management and stakeholders want. Furthermore, the competition in email and litigation support is increasing. The core content management system customers are pushing back because CMS is a mess for many customers and vendors. Upstarts like Brainware and ZyLAB are pushing into accounts once viewed as captive to Open Text’s unit managers. The collection of search technologies is difficult to explain, expensive to maintain, and confusing to some of the new Open Text hires whom I have encountered at trade shows this year.

Open Text, after Research in Motion and Coveo, is a darling of the Canadian high-tech sector. The Canadian government doesn’t want another Delphes-like misfire to tarnish the reputation Industry Canada and provincial governments work hard to communicate.

In my opinion, the Open Text buying spree delivers these benefits in my opinion:

  1. Customers which can be given an opportunity to buy more Open Text products and services
  2. Media buzz which translates to investor communications
  3. Filling in gaps in order to make repositioning easier and more credible if the CMS push back becomes more aggressive.

I am probably an addled goose, but I find Open Text’s messaging about search muddled. Click this link to see a search for “search retrieval” on Open Text’s Web site with its own search system. I hope you find the results crystal clear. I don’t.

My working hypothesis is that when companies buy a number of search technologies, I think the cost of explaining each system is high, maybe as expensive as maintaining, supporting, and enhancing the menagerie search systems.

Yahoo fell into this swamp. IBM is in the swamp’ as well. Microsoft has just waded in with a pack of search technologies. If my research is on target, the more search technologies a company collects, the less effective the company becomes in search, content processing, and text processing.

I think companies need to manage the search brands, messaging, and costs; otherwise, cost control becomes very difficult. Even worse, no customer knows what to buy when for which particular search problem. In my own experience, the engineers who have to keep these complex search systems working and in fighting trim are not given the time, resources, and freedom to make Rube Goldberg devices hum like a Toyota computer controlled welding machine. Customers want search to work, and my research suggests for most users search is a source of dissatisfaction.

With enterprise search getting close to a commodity function, some drastic MBA-type positioning is needed right after a finance type with a sharp pencil tallies the cost of search roll ups.

Agree? Disagree? Help me learn.

Stephen Arnold, July 11, 2008

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