October 2, 2015
Enterprise management systems (ECM) were supposed to provide an end all solution for storing and organizing digital data. Data needs to be stored for several purposes: taxes, historical record, research, and audits. Government agencies deployed ECM solutions to manage their huge data loads, but the old information silos are not performing up to modern standards. GCN discusses government agencies face upgrading their systems in “Migrating Your Legacy ECM Solution.”
When ECMs first came online, information was stored in silos programmed to support even older legacy solutions with niche applications. The repositories are so convoluted that users cannot find any information and do not even mention upgrading the beasts:
“Aging ECM systems are incapable of fitting into the new world of consumer-friendly software that both employees and citizens expect. Yet, modernizing legacy systems raises issues of security, cost, governance and complexity of business rules — all obstacles to a smooth transition. Further, legacy systems simply cannot keep up with the demands of today’s dynamic workforce.”
Two solutions present themselves: data can be moved from an old legacy system to a new one or simply moving the content from the silo. The barriers are cost and time, but the users will reap the benefits of upgrades, especially connectivity, cloud, mobile, and social features. There is the possibility of leaving the content in place using interoperability standards or cloud-based management to make the data searchable and accessible.
The biggest problem is actually convincing people to upgrade. Why fix what is not broken? Then there is the justification of using taxpayers’ money for the upgrade when the money can be used elsewhere. Round and round the argument goes.
September 26, 2015
I don’t play baseball anymore. I did. I was okay, but one of the fellows who lived in my neighborhood in central Illinois played very well. He played everyday. After a stellar high school career, he became a fielder in the major leagues. The pressure was too much. He made bad decisions. He tried to claw back to the starting rotation. Instead of swinging with the relaxed, fluid motion I recalled from our days of playing together, he tried to hit a home run every time at bat. His confidence dwindled away, and he became a person who did not perform. Last I heard, he had fallen victim to his inner demons and was searching for a panacea. But, in my opinion, he struck out. Bad management.
Definition of panacea:
noun 1. a remedy for all disease or ills; cure-all. 2. an answer or solution for all problems or difficulties:
I thought about this person when I read “Deal Divided H-P Leaders” in the September 26, 2015, Wall Street Journal. You may need to pay to access this article which is available at as “Hewlett Packard’s Then Chairman Ray Lane Tried to Quash Autonomy Acquisition.”
The main point of the write up is that HP wanted a panacea, and the senior management of HP thought Autonomy, a search and content processing company, was the answer to HP’s revenue challenges.
The Wall Street Journal points out that the Chairman of the Board of Directors was supportive of the multi billion dollar deal and then wanted to kill the deal.
Also, the WSJ identifies what I would call a “management” problem; to wit:
HP missed other red flags in assessing the Autonomy deal. In 2013, the Journal reported that outside auditors for Autonomy had noted that an Autonomy executive had alleged improper accounting practices at the company [Autonomy]. However, HP executives briefed on the allegations hadn’t passed them along to HP’s Board or to Mr. Apotheker [president and Autonomy deal supporter].
The Wall Street Journal article includes a point I made in my 2003 analysis of Autonomy, a version of which appeared in the first edition of the Enterprise Search Report.
Revenues from software which allows employees to locate information germane to work activities has for decades faced a major hurdle; namely, making sales and keeping customers. The problem, which persists today, is that enterprise search vendors have a tough time making basic key word search command the type of license fees and corporate commitment which enterprise resource planning, accounting, and compliance-related systems demand.
Enterprise search vendors have, again for decades, explained that search and retrieval was something more than finding a needed document. The buzzwords used for decades invoke “knowledge management,” “business intelligence,” and “customer support.” Each of these is baloney, but enterprise search vendors trapped. Making search work in the fast changing content environments in which organization operate was a tough technical problem. The costs of engineering fixes was uncontrollable, and, not surprisingly, enterprise search vendors layered on additional functions in an effort to make sales, charge more, and stay in business.
Autonomy, along with IBM and OpenText, were firms which grew search via acquisition. Autonomy was perhaps the most successful of the roll up tacticians. The firm acquired Verity, a system which dated from the 1980s and added it to Autonomy’s earlier video management acquisitions, document management acquisitions, and other bits and pieces accumulated since Autonomy opened for business in the late 1990s.
Each acquisition added revenue to Autonomy’s financial reports and the customers of these acquisitions became candidates for other Autonomy products. At the time of the HP purchase decision, Autonomy had about six or seven times the revenue of Endeca, another late 1990s search vendor. (Oracle bought Endeca for $1.1 billion in 2011. Other search vendors sold in the 2008 t0 2014 period traded from much lower purchase prices; for example, IBM bought Vivisimo for $20 million, a figure which was equivalent to one year Vivisimo revenues.)
HP did not, in my opinion, understand that search and retrieval was a business that broke the backs of many bright MBAs and whiz kid engineers. HP assumed that its management team would triumph in generating billions from Autonomy’s core technology. I think some of Autonomy’s innovations are important, but I know that Autonomy was able to generate six or seven times the revenue of the number two search vendor in 2011 because it managed a portfolio of content processing companies and did a pretty good job of generating revenue from lines of business ADJACENT to search and retrieval.
HP wanted the 1990s technology of Autonomy to generate billions. HP quickly learned that its view of Autonomy did not match what Autonomy’s management team built.
I am not sure how bright folks at HP could not look at the failures of Convera, Delphes, Entopia, Siderean, and other search vendors and not ask, “What’s different about search?”
HP wanted a panacea. HP demonstrates the type of problem my friend who became a major league player had and still has. In the big leagues, swinging for the fences, seeking a silver bullet, and looking for a quick fix is easy. Finding a fix for a company with problematic business models and conflicting management views is very difficult.
What does the HP experience suggest? After decades of enterprise search hyperbole, reality is different from the word picture sales professionals create in the minds of those whose desperation clouds their thinking.
My view is that HP has struck out. Bad management in my opinion.
Stephen E Arnold, September 26, 2016
September 26, 2015
One of my two or three readers sent me a link to “Rethinking Enterprise Search for the Big Data Age.” The write up explains that old-school search won’t do the trick in today’s digital content environment.
I learned that the Manna Search and Discovery Platform is built on a modern Hadoop stack that leverages HDFS, the Accumulo graph database, Apache Spark, heaps of Scala code, and a host of various machine learning algorithms for teasing knowledge out of reams of unstructured data.
The write up veers into a swamp I try to avoid. I am not sure what knowledge is, and I have a heck of a time figuring out how data becomes information. The knowledge part is a mystery for brighter “sparks” to pursue.
The Maana system is a “search and discovery platform.” The write up quotes a Mr. Thompson who explains:
You can tell Maana, ‘I want to know all pieces of equipment that have led to most unplanned downtime,” Thompson says. After telling it to look in the Gulf and entering the appropriate EQP code, the system returns of histogram of pieces of equipment with the most amount of downtime. “So you get very quickly through a simple search and filtering operation a visual representation of the underlying data.”
The magic is that the system:
can join multiple disparate data sets and enable users to search and discover data across them in a semantic method. “It’s very simple to navigate the entire information space, which may be being fed from many different sources simultaneously,” Thompson says. “But you’re working at level of domain concepts.”
Okay, a modern Version of a federating system with clustering, correlation, classification, data mining, semantic, and correlation features.
The open source software issue is an interesting one. The write up points out that Maana relies on Apache Spark. However, I did a quick memory refresh on the Maana Web site which states here that the system is not based on Lucene/Solr.
The company is backed by Conoco Phillips, Chevron, Frost Data Capital, and GE Ventures. I also noticed that Intel has a stake in the company. Intel, in my opinion, continues to explore content processing. After the company’s adventure (maybe misadventure with Convera (formerly Excalibur Technologies), Intel took a stake in Endeca. Endeca sold itself to Oracle and Intel has obviously moved on to Maana.
Will the LucidWorks approach to Big Data capture customers who want to make sense of Big Data? Will Elasticsearch make inroads? My hunch is that Big Data will come under the influence of the systems built to deal with flows of real time data from disparate sources, including audio and video. Most of these firms use open source search and retrieval tools as a utility.
Maana appears to be positioning itself to be a key player in Big Data access. I will wait to see which horses make it to the finish line.
Stephen E Arnold, September 26, 2015
September 23, 2015
Microsoft SharePoint. It brings smiles to the faces of the consultants and Certified Experts who can make the collection of disparate parts work like refurbished John Harrison clock.
I read “Microsoft SharePoint ECM Suite for Content Management.” The write up explains that SharePoint became available in 2001. The write up does not reference the NCompass Labs’ acqusition or other bits and pieces of the SharePoint story. That’s okay. It is 2015. Ancient history in terms of Internet time. Also, what is content management? Does it include audio, video, and digital images? What about binaries? What about data happily stored on the state of Michigan’s mainframes?
Jack Benny’s Maxwell reminds me of Fast Search’s 1998 approach to information access. With Fast Search inside, SharePoint delivers performance that is up to the Maxwell’s standards for speed, reliability, and engineering excellence.
The write up reveals that SharePoint evolved “gradually.” The most recent incarnation of the system includes a number of functions; specifically mentioned in the article, are:
- A cloud based service
- A foundation for collaboration and document sharing
- A server. I thought there were multiple servers. Guess not.
- A designer component for creating nifty looking user experiences. Isn’t Visual Studio or other programming tool required as well?
- Cloud storage. Isn’t this redundant?
I prefer a more modern approach to information access. The search systems I use are like a Kia Soul. The code often includes hamsters too.
Here’s what the write up says about search:
Microsoft FAST Search, which provides indexing and efficient search of content of all types.
I like the indexing and “efficient” description. The content of “all types” is interesting as well.
How well does Fast Search in its present incarnation handle audio and video? What about real time streams of social media like the Twitter fire hose? You get the idea. “All” is shorthand for “some” content.
I am not captivated by the whizzy features in SharePoint and its content management capabilities. I am not thrilled with building profiles of employees within an organization. I am pretty relaxed when it comes to collaboration. Phones work pretty well. Email is okay too. I work on documents alone and provide a version for authorized individuals to review. I need no big gun system necessary needed. Just a modern one.
What about Fast Search?
Let me highlight a few salient points:
- The product originated in Norway. You know where Trondheim is, right? Oslo? Of course. Great in the winter too. The idea burst from academia prior to 1998, when the company was officially set up. That makes the architecture an agile, youthful 17 years old.
- In 2008, Microsoft paid $1.2 billion for a company which was found wanting in its accountancy skills. After investigations and a legal proceeding, the company seems to have had revenues well below its reported $170 million in 2007. Until the HP Autonomy deal, this was a transaction that helped fuel the “search is a big payday” belief. At an estimated $60 million instead of $170, Microsoft paid about 20 times Fast Search’s 2007 earnings. After the legal eagles landed, the founder of Fast Search found himself on the wrong end of a court decision. Think lock up time.
- Fast Search is famous for me because its founder told me that he was abandoning Web search for the enterprise search market. Autonomy’s revenue seemed to be a number the founder thought was reachable. As time unspooled, the big pay day arrived for Google. Enterprise search did not work out in terms of Google scale numbers. Fast Search backed out of an ad model to pursue an academic vision of information access as the primary enterprise driver.
- The Fast Search solution which is part of SharePoint has breathed life into dozens of SharePoint search add ins. These range from taxonomy systems to clustering components to complete snap in replacements for the Fast Search components. Hundreds upon hundreds of consultants make their living implementing, improving, and customizing search and retrieval for SharePoint.
Net net: SharePoint has more than 150 million licensees. SharePoint is the new DOS for the enterprise. SharePoint is a consultant’s dream come true.
For me, I prefer simpler and more recent technology. That 17 year old approach seems more like Jack Benny’s Maxwell than a modern search Kia Soul.
Stephen E Arnold, September 23, 2015
September 22, 2015
I read the news on LinkedIn. (Registration may be required, gentle reader.) A post by a forum moderator raised the question, “Should be expand enterprise search?” There are other signs of trouble in search land as well. The Paper.Li enterprise search curated newsletter is about Big Data, analytics, education, and—almost as an afterthought—enterprise search in the form of endlessly recycled references to mid tier consulting reports based on what are in my opinion subjective criteria.
Is the implosion of enterprise search complete? Has the shockwave of the Fast Search financial charade caught up with today’s vendors? Is the shadow of the billion dollar bust that was HP’s acquisition of Autonomy/Verity been the straw which broke the camel’s back? Was it the mid tier consulting firm’s enterprise search report which ignored the major player in open source information access? Was it the constant repositioning, faux news releases, and posturing on webinars the karate chop across the throat of search marketers?
I don’t know.
From my point of view, there are high value solutions to the challenge of providing employees with access to certain types of content. One can use the appliance approach of Maxxcat? There is Elasticsearch? The Blossom Software solution is pretty darned good. Specialist solutions are available for parts. There are even semi automated systems to help a user make sense of the noise filled streams of social media content. Think Recorded Future.
Gentle reader, starting in 2003 when I began work on the Enterprise Search Report, sponsored by, of all things, a content management specialist, there were some brand leaders. But these have fallen into disgrace, been absorbed into larger firms with little incentive to invest in research, or crashed and burned as a result of failed implementations.
What remains today are some grim facts:
- Search is perceived by many information technology professionals as a problem. Enterprise search implementations are often doomed from the git go because few want to hook their careers to projects which have for decades failed to keep users happy and been unable to provide useful results without constant infusions of money, computing cycles, and whiz kids.
- Open source solutions are available, and they are pretty good. Large companies have the time, staff, resources, and incentive to get away from the proprietary solutions which limit what the licensee can do with the system.
- Search is an inclusion in the most advanced systems. Consider Recorded Future, Diffeo, or any other cyber centric, next generation system. System is available, but these systems solve specific problems. Search is sort of an apple pie, mother, and love type solution. These generalizations are tough to apply in a business like manner in organizations struggling to pay their bills. Most organizations just use what’s available? Even AutoCAD includes a search function. Oracle, bless its proprietary heart, provides a database licensee with a good enough solution. For those wanting a more robust solution, the Secure Enterprise Search system is available without charge. Yikes.
In my own experience, the sins of the earliest enterprise search vendors like Fulcrum Technologies and Verity have bulldozed a highway built on quicksand. Today’s vendors talk about search in terms of buzzwords like these:
- Customer support. The idea is a variation of ClearForest’s pitch that one can find answers to customer issues by indexing text.
- Big Data. I am confident that when I look for information in a Big Data set, I want to use search as a secondary tool. Enterprise search vendors offer analytic routines as add ons or as spin on counting terms which have been extracted.
- Taxonomy. I love this concept. A company needs to index its content. Nothing improves search, which has not been improved too much in the last 50 years, like machine indexing. Just don’t pin down the vendor on the amount of human intervention that is required to keep the automated system on track.
- Natural language processing, semantics, and artificial intelligence. The idea is that a search system with smart software can figur4e out what a human generated document means and make it available to a user easily or, in some cases, BEFORE the user knows she needs access to the information in that document.
There are three problems which vendors and their customers have to wrestle into submission.
First, vendor and customer have to agree on exactly what the information access system is supposed to do. In my experience, this is an important step which is usually given modest, if any, attention. The reason is that instead of narrowing the focus to a specific problem, the problem gets defined in ever widening circles of functionality. The result is cost overruns and disaffected users.
Second, the vendors’ marketing argues that certain functions and benefits are a consequence of installing their software. The flaw is that marketing is easy; implementing a search system which the customer can afford to maintain is very hard. Add to this disconnect the characteristic of some vendors to sell software which is half baked, or, in some cases, not even completed. A certain vendor was kicked off a government procurement list for getting caught with software that did not work.
Third, the customers know that finding information is important. Most enterprise search vendors cannot provide access to the type of content which is growing rapidly and gaining importance with each passing day. I am talking about indexing audio, video, social media generated by employees and contractors, and digital images. The focus has been for a half century on text. That does not work particularly well if one does not select a solution from a handful of vendors with solutions that actually work. Need I repeat Blossom, Elastic, and Maxxcat?
What about today’s flagship vendors? If one embraces the analysis of the mid tier consulting firms, the solutions are ones that are proprietary and have some profile and money due to the ministrations of addled venture capital players looking for the next Google.
There are solutions. Until the LinkedIn pool of job hunters and consultants comes to grip with software that works in a reliable manner, it is unlikely that the enterprise search discussion on LinkedIn will rise above thinly veiled marketing.
Search, gentle reader, is important. There are solutions which work. The problem is that in today’s go go world, those with a veneer of knowledge and expertise are guided by individuals who may be failed webmasters, unemployed journalists, English majors, and self appointed experts.
I have no solution to the crisis in enterprise search. Google muffed the bunny. Microsoft has its Powerset and Fast Search technologies. IBM offers Watson.
Maybe these solutions will work for you. They won’t work for me. Search experts, crisis time. My vantage point is from rural Kentucky. The experts in Manhattan and San Francisco have a much better view. What they see, however, is quite different from what I observe. Just make search bigger. The problems will just fade away, right? Grass is easy to grow in scorched earth, correct?
Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2015
September 17, 2015
Oracle is an interesting company because it owns a number of enterprise search and content processing technologies. For example, decades ago, the company bought the often overlooked Artificial Linguistics. Then Oracle complemented its “Text” and “Secure Enterprise Search” technology with Triple Hop. Gentle reader, I am confident you know about Triple Hop’s clustering methods. Then in a spate of content processing fury, Oracle bought RightNow (Dutch developed indexing technology), InQuira (natural language processing crafted from two early Sillycon Valley search vendors), and Endeca, the now long in the tooth, computationally intensive “Guided Navigation” outfit. And we must not forget the retrieval functions of PL/SQL. Oracle has almost as many search and retrieval systems to nurture as that high flying OpenText outfit in Canada.
With such a backpack of information access goodies, should we expect a revenue report bursting with good news? It struck me as I read “Oracle Beats Profit Estimates by a Penny a Share but Revenue Slides” that search and retrieval may not be a zoo with golden geese.
Oracle delivered earnings which made the fine Wall Street MBAs glow. However, the revenue did not win a gold star.
Set aside Oracle for the nonce.
Think about Hewlett Packard (Autonomy stuff) and IBM (Watson stuff). Both of these outfits are reporting declining revenues too. Both have bet large sums on information access.
My question is, “Will a payoff arrive?”
My other question is, “When the payoff arrives, will it make up for the loss in revenues from old line products and services?”
My hunch is that these big bets on search are current and future ponds of despair.
Now set aside these floundering blue chips.
What about the up and coming search vendors? Life is not easy for vendors of search and content processing technology. There are some bright spots, of course, but vendors with deep roots in traditional search craziness are likely to find revenues insufficient to pay for customer support, bug fixing, and implementation of new technical methods.
Google before its founders did an arabesque into Alphabet figured this out with the high interest credit card of technical debt. When will HP, IBM, and Oracle get the message?
Stephen E Arnold, September 17, 2015
September 16, 2015
A video from the Big Data Landscape, part of their Big Data TV series, brings us an interview with Recommind’s CEO, Bob Tennant. The 11-and-a-half minute video and its transcript appear under the headline, “How Recommind Grew to $70M in Big Data Revenue.”
The interview by Dave Feinleib explores Recommind’s right-moves-at-the-right-time origin story, what its intelligence and eDiscovery software does, and why Tennant is confident the company will continue to thrive. This successful CEO also offers advice for aspiring entrepreneurs in any field, so check out the video or transcript for those words of wisdom.
Interestingly, the technology Tennant describes reminds us of early Autonomy methods [pdf]. He discusses working with unstructured data:
“So what you have to do is try to understand at a deeper level what’s happening semantically. What Recommind does is marry up a very highly scalable system for dealing with unstructured information– and the kind of database you need for doing that is different than what you would utilize for online transaction processing. But it also marries that up with a very deep knowledge of machine learning, which is the root of the company and where our post-docs were doing their research, to help understand what the key pieces of information in the sea of textual stuff are. And once you understand the key pieces, then you can put that into applications for further use or you can provide it to business intelligence applications to make sense of, or you can feed it elsewhere. But that’s very different from dealing with very structured data that most people are familiar with.”
Launched in 2000 and headquartered in San Francisco, Recommind provides search-powered analysis and governance solutions to customers around the world. The company’s Malolo technology stack is built upon their CORE information management platform.
Cynthia Murrell, September 16, 2015
September 16, 2015
What never ceases to amaze me is that people are always perplexed when goals for technology change. It always comes with a big hullabaloo and rather than complaining about the changes, time would be better spent learning ways to adapt and learn from the changes. Enterprise search is one of those technology topics that sees slow growth, but when changes occur they are huge. Digital Workplace Group tracks the newest changes in enterprise search, explains why they happened, and how to adapt: “7 Ways The Goal Posts On Enterprise Search Have Moved.”
After spending an inordinate amount of explaining how the author arrived at the seven ways enterprise search has changed, we are finally treated to the bulk of the article. Among the seven reasons are obvious insights that have been discussed in prior articles on Beyond Search, but there are new ideas to ruminate about. Among the obvious are that users want direct answers, they expect search to do more than find information, and understanding a user’s intent. While the obvious insights are already implemented in search engines, enterprise search lags behind.
Enterprise search should work on a more personalized level due it being part of a closed network and how people rely on it to fulfill an immediate need. A social filter could be applied to display a user’s personal data in search results and also users rely on the search filter as a quick shortcut feature. Enterprise search is way behind in taking advantage of search analytics and how users consume and manipulate data.
“To summarize everything above: Search isn’t about search; it’s about finding, connecting, answers, behaviors and productivity. Some of the above changes are already here within enterprises. Some are still just being tested in the consumer space. But all of them point to a new phase in the life of the Internet, intranets, computer technology and the experience of modern, digital work.”
As always there is a lot of room for enterprise search improvement, but these changes need to made for an updated and better work experience.
September 15, 2015
“The Price of Silence on Wall Street” provides a bit of information about the role of intermediaries in the HP deal for Autonomy. I find it difficult to figure out if the bank was doing its normal sales job for a juicy deal or if the bank was doing some fancy dancing.
Here are portions of the write up I highlighted when I was out of Internet range in a far off land. There is some value to printing online article for offline reading.
He [a bank whistle blower] says he believes people need to know about certain acts related to Barclays’ role in Hewlett-Packard’s $11.1 billion acquisition of Autonomy, a British software company, in 2011. Barclays was a financial adviser to HP on the deal and the sole provider of a one-year, $8.3 billion loan to be used, in part, by HP to buy Autonomy. Since then, the Autonomy acquisition has generally been viewed as a disaster. In 2012, HP wrote down the value of Autonomy by $8.8 billion, and said that some $5 billion of it stemmed from a willful misrepresentation by Autonomy’s management of the company’s financial performance (Autonomy’s management disagreed, and the two sides headed to court).
Mr. Sivere [bank whistle blower] says he believes there is more to the HP story, in particular that Barclays may have breached its internal ethical walls regarding the deal, allowing some confidential information from the banking side of Barclays to be used by Barclays traders. He reached this conclusion in his role as a compliance officer and after he saw internal digital correspondence between the two groups that made him nervous that the wall had been breached. In 2013, Mr. Sivere tells me, he filed an internal report at Barclays that questioned the ethics and legality of what he had witnessed. He reported his concern that confidentiality had been breached around certain foreign-exchange trades; around so-called Contracts for Difference trades, known as C.F.D.s; and around certain representations that Barclays had made to HP when it provided the $8.8 billion loan.
Mr. Sivere wrote in his letter to the Barclays board, he also believed that Barclays entered into certain suspicious derivative transactions with HP at the time of the Autonomy acquisition. “Some of these transactions included FX trades, a dollar/sterling option and C.F.D.s traded prior to the announcement (and also the bridge loan pegged to a possible manipulated Libor rate),” he wrote. “The unwinding of such derivative transactions most likely occurred during 2012 which should have raised suspicions of what exactly the Hewlett-Packard write-down was related to if not for Autonomy’s purported accounting improprieties, misrepresentations and disclosure failures.
The article includes other interesting information. I urge you to read it.
My view is that the HP Autonomy deal remains interesting to me. The amount HP paid for Autonomy set a high water mark for a content processing acquisition. This write up suggests that there is information about the deal which has not been revealed in publicly accessible articles.
The parallels with the Fast Search & Transfer matter may be worth exploring.
Stephen E Arnold, September 15, 2015
September 11, 2015
I know what a printer is. The machine accepts instructions and, if the paper does not jam, outputs something I can read. Magic.
I find it interesting to contemplate my printers and visualize them as an enterprise content management system. Years ago, my team and I had to work on a project in the late 1990s involving a Xerox DocuTech scanner and printer. The idea was that the scanner would convert a paper document to an image with many digital features. Great idea, but the scanner gizmo was not talking to the printer thing. We got them working and shipped the software, the machines, and an invoice to the client. Happy day. We were paid.
The gap between that vision from a Xerox unit and the reality of the hardware was significant. But many companies have stepped forward to convert knowledge resident systems relying on experienced middle managers to hollowed out outfits trying to rely on software. My recollection is that Fulcrum Technologies nosed into this thorn bush with DOCSFulcrum a decade before the DocuTech was delivered by a big truck to my office. And, not to forget our friends to the East, the French have had a commitment to this approach to information access. Today, one can tap Polyspot or Sinequa for business process centric methods.
The question is, “Which of these outfits is making enough money to beat the dozens of outfits running with the other bulls in digital content processing land?” (My bet is on the completely different animals described in my new study CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access.)
Years later I spoke with an outfit called Brainware. The company was a reinvention of an earlier firm, which I think was called SER or something like that. Brainware’s idea was that its system could process text which could be scanned or in a common file format. The index allowed a user to locate text matching a query. Instead of looking for words, Brainware system used trigrams (sequences of three letters) to locate similar content.
Similar to the Xerox idea. The idea is not a new one.
I read two write ups about Lexmark, which used to be part of IBM. Lexmark is just down the dirt road from me in Lexington, Kentucky. Its financial health is a matter of interest for some folks in there here parts.
The first write up was “How Lexmark Evolved into an Enterprise Content Management Contender.” The main idea pivots on my knowing what content management is. I am not sure what this buzzword embraces. I do know that organizations have minimal ability to manage the digital information produced by employees and contractors. I also know that most organizations struggle with what their employees do with social media. Toss in the penchant units of a company have for creating information silos, and most companies look for silver bullets which may solve a specific problem in the firm’s legal department but leave many other content issues flapping in the wind.
According to the write up:
Lexmark is "moving from being a hardware provider to a broader provider of higher-value solutions, which are hardware, software and services," Rooke [a Lexmark senor manager] said.
Easy to say. The firm’s financial reports suggest that Lexmark faces some challenges. Google’s financial chart for the outfit displays declining revenues and profits:
The Brainware, ISYS Search Software, and Kofax units have not been able to provide the revenue boost I expected Lexmark to report. HP and IBM, which have somewhat similar strategies for their content processing units, have also struggled. My thought is that it may be more difficult for companies which once were good at manufacturing fungible devices to generate massive streams of new revenue from fuzzy stuff like software.
The write up does not have a hint of the urgency and difficulty of the Lexmark task. I learned from the article:
Lexmark is its own "first customer" to ensure that its technologies actually deliver on the capabilities and efficiency gains promoted by the company, Moody [Lexmark senior manager] said. To date, the company has been able to digitize and automate incoming data by at least 90 percent, contributing to cost reductions of 25 percent and a savings of $100 million, he reported. Cost savings aside, Lexmark wants to help CIOs better and more efficiently incorporate unstructured data from emails, scanned documents and a variety of other sources into their business processes.
The sentiment is one I encountered years ago. My recollection is that the precursor of Convera explained this approach to me in the 1980s when the angle was presented as Excalibur Technologies.
The words today are as fresh as they were decades ago. The challenge, in my opinion, remains.
I also read “How to Build an Effective Digital Transaction Management Platform.” This article is also eWeek, from the outfit which published “How Lexmark Evolved” piece.
What does this listicle state about Lexmark?
I learned that I need a digital transaction management system. A what? A DTM looks like workflow and information processing. I get it. Digital printing. Instead of paper, a DTM allows a worker to create a Word file or an email. Ah, revolutionary. Then a DTM automates the workflow. I think this is a great idea, but I seem to recall that many companies offer these services. Then I need to integrate my information. There goes the silo even if regulatory or contractual requirements suggest otherwise. Then I can slice and dice documents. My recollection is that firms have been automating document production for a while. Then I can use esignatures which are trustworthy. Okay. Trustworthy. Then I can do customer interaction “anytime, anywhere.” I suppose this is good when one relies on innovative ways to deal with customer questions about printer drivers. And I cannot integrate with “enterprise content management.” Oh, oh. I thought enterprise content management was sort of a persistent, intractable problem. Well, not if I include “process intelligence and visibility.” Er, what about those confidential documents relative to a legal dispute?
The temporal coincidence of a fluffy Lexmark write up and the listicle suggest several things to me:
- Lexmark is doing the content marketing that public relations and advertising professionals enjoy selling. I assume that my write up, which you are reading, will be an indication of the effectiveness of this one-two punch.
- The financial reports warrant some positive action. I think that closing significant deals and differentiating the Lexmark services from those of OpenText and dozens of other firms would have been higher on the priority list.
- Lexmark has made a strategic decision to use the rocket fuel of two ageing Atlas systems (Brainware and ISYS) and one Saturn system (Kofax’s Kapow) to generate billions in new revenue. I am not confident that these systems can get the payload into orbit.
Net net: Lexmark is following a logic path already stomped on by Hewlett Packard and IBM, among others. In today’s economic environment, how many federating, digital business process, content management systems can thrive?
My hunch is that the Lexmark approach may generate revenue. Will that revenue be sufficient to compensate for the decline in printer and ink revenues?
What are Lexmark’s options? Based on these two eWeek write ups, it seems as if marketing is the short term best bet. I am not sure I need another buzzword for well worn concepts. But, hey, I live in rural Kentucky and know zero about the big city views crafted down the road in Lexington, Kentucky.
Stephen E Arnold, September 11, 2015