Articles specific to Oracle software products, including the former Stellent product line

Great New Site: Oracle ECM Alerts

If you watched Michelle's Oracle ECM Community Call on March 10 -- or you spotted one of the leaks in the twitscape -- you would have heard about the new site for Oracle ECM announcements: ECM Alerts.

She worked really hard to put this together and promote it, and already its Google Rank is impressive...

The goal behind the blog is to give a forum for Oracle ECM Product Managers to announce the latest news about each of their products. It will contain product release information, integrations, samples, and general how-tos for most of the products in the Universal Content Management suite. The site makes a good use of tags and categories, so you can subscribe to only the product announcements that matter for you. And because everything is piped through Feedburner, you can subscribe to alerts by email or RSS.

The product managers seem to like the idea, and already there are a good number of product alerts. I'd wager that it will take a few more weeks to get everybody on board with this... after which it will likely be the best place to get Oracle ECM Announcements.

For existing ECM customers who were used to the Stellent customer newsletters, this will be a welcome addition.

The White House is using Drupal

The White House just launched their latest Democracy 2.0 web site: It helps you get up-to-date info about how your stimulus money is being spent. Its pretty slick, although it appears to be down right now. Its running the open source Drupal content management system... which is the same CMS I use to run my own blog.

As Alex noted in the comments, they are using a customization of theme recovery_v3, and they appear to have re-written a lot of the components from scratch. Might they contribute their customizations back to the Drupal community?

Another stimulus-related web site you should check out, which lets citizens vote on prospective city projects that might get some of the federal money. These are not yet approved by the federal government, so voice your opinion before its too late!

Naturally, I would have gotten a warm fuzzy if used Oracle ECM, but I'm just jazzed that they are using version control at all! I'd like to take this to the next level, and force Congress to use something like Subversion to write legislation... Then we'd know exactly who to blame for specific bills ;-)

Why Google Will Never Be Good At Enterprise Search

Jake recently had a good post over at Apps Labs about the importance of "Social Search". He has promised a part 2 today... so I encourage you to check it out.

The question is, how do we make enterprise search better? Some people complain that enterprise search should behave more like Google search, which I vehemently disagree with, for one primary reason: enterprise search is a FUNDAMENTALLY different problem than internet search. Here are some examples:

The internet search problem is like this:

  • Heavily linked pages, which can be analyzed for "relevance" and "importance"
  • Spam is a constant problem
  • People don't want you to monitor their behavior
  • People obsess about their Google Page rank
  • People obsess about their hit count
  • People aren't looking for the answer, they are looking for an answer

The whole problem reminds me of a scene from The Zero Effect:

Now, a few words on looking for things. When you look for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad... because of all things in the world, you only want one of them. When you look for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good... because of all the things in the world, you're sure to find some of them.

Internet search is like looking for anything at all... whereas enterprise search is like looking for something specific:

  • People don't want general information; they want the 100% definitive answer
  • The trust level is usually higher between co-workers, than between random web surfers... or at least it should be. Otherwise, you got bigger problems than information management.
  • You know exactly who is running the search
  • You know exactly what department they are in, and what content they are likely to need
  • You know exactly their previous search history, possibly even their favorite "tags"
  • Spam is minimal, or non-existent
  • Content uses few, if any, hyperlinks to help determine relevance
  • People usually write content because of obligation, and do not usually care about making it easy for their audience to understand

Trying to solve both problems with the same exact tool will only lead to frustration...

Now... Solving this problem with social tools is a much easier, and arguably better approach. People usually don't want to know the answer, people usually want to know who knows the answer. This is an observation as old as Mooer's Law (1959) about information management:

“An information retrieval system will tend not to be used whenever it is more painful and troublesome for a customer to have information than for him not to have it.”

Fifty years later, and folks still don't quite seem to get it... The average user does not want to read enterprise content! They don't read documentation on the subject, nor do they read books on the subject, nor do they read blogs on the subject... In general, people don't care to actually learn anything new; they just want the quick answer that lets them move on and get back to their normal job. Most people look for information so they can perform some kind of task, and then they'll be more than happy to forget that information afterward. Its a rare individual who learns for the sake of knowledge... These folks are sometimes called Mavens, and everybody wants to be connected with these Mavens so they can do their jobs better. As a result, these Mavens will always be overwhelmed with phone calls, emails, and meeting invites.

As those mediums became flooded, some of your resources fled to other places -- like Twitter, or Facebook, or enterprise social software -- and forced would-be connectors to follow. This constant movement (or hiding) helps a bit... but its only a matter of time before those mediums get flooded as well, and the noise overwhelms the signal.

In order to truly solve the enterprise search problem, you need to first understand why people may choose to never use enterprise search, no matter how good it is... then try to bring them back into the fold with socially enabled enterprise search tools. Don't just help people find information; help them find somebody who understands what the information means. Connecting people with mere words can easily backfire, and might actually make these people a burden on society. Instead, connect them with real, live humans who are eager to teach the knowledge being sought. At the same time, you need to work hard to protect these Mavens, so they don't flee your system in favor of another.

This is a problem that Google's search engine cannot solve -- mainly for privacy and trust reasons -- but it is 100% solvable in the enterprise. I'm just wondering why so few have done it...

99 Bottles Of IdocScript

There's a great developer site out there called 99 Bottles Of Beer. It shows you how to output the lyrics of the oh-so-annoying camp song in well over 1000 different programming languages.

Woah... 1000 languages, you say? Yes, there are well over 1000 known programming languages, but please keep in mind how developers think. Most of these languages are klunky, impractical, or intentionally impossible to use. These are sometimes called esoteric languages, or even Turing tarpits. Here are some of my favorite bizarre programming languages:

  • Whitespace: no letters, no numbers, no symbols... the only valid syntax is tab, space, and carriage returns.
  • LOLCODE: the syntax looks like something you'd see on a LOL cats poster. I HAZ A BEERZ ITZ 99! IM IN YR LOOP! IZ VAR LIEK 0? KTHXBYE!
  • Piet: just damn pixels on a screen... no letters even!
  • Cow: instead of number and symbols, you only get moOmOOmoOmOoOOM.
  • Brainf**k: trust me... you do NOT want to maintain code written in this language...

Kidding aside, there's a pretty good argument that learning how to print out 99 bottles of beer is a useful exercise when learning a new language. You need to learn the syntax of variables, conditionals, text output, and loops. Not to mention the fact that every language has nuances that can sometimes help you to further minimize your code base, but not sacrifice clarity... there's probably a dozen ways to write it in each laguage, each with different benefits.

So -- seeing how Oracle UCM was being left out -- I submitted the below code to their site. 99 Bottles of Beer, in IdocScript:

<$numBottles = "99", bottleStr = " bottles "$>
<$loopwhile (numBottles > 0)$>
	<$verse = numBottles & bottleStr & "of beer on the wall,\n" &
		numBottles & bottleStr & "of beer!\n" & 
		"Take one down, pass it around,\n"$>
	<$numBottles = numBottles - 1$>
	<$if numBottles > 0$>
		<$if numBottles == 1$>
			<$bottleStr = " bottle "$>
		<$verse = verse & numBottles & bottleStr & "of beer on the wall!\n"$>
		<$verse = verse & "no more bottles of beer on the wall!\n"$>

Nifty, eh?

Naturally, there are multiple ways to do this... you could use resource includes, localization strings, result sets, etc. But that's part of the fun of learning a new language. I'll leave it as an exercise for my audience to make it better.

Enterprise 2.0 Tip: Data Mine Email Archives to Generate A Social Map

One of the biggest challenges in social networks is keeping them updated. When you first log in, its a blank slate, and you have to find all your friends and make connections to them. This is a bit of a pain, so sites like Facebook and LinkedIn allow you to to import your email address book. They then data-mine the address book to see who you know that might already be in the network, which helps you make lots of connections quickly.

Ignoring the obvious security and privacy concerns, there are still two big problems with this:

  1. These systems find connections, but they ignore the strength and quality of those connections.
  2. You have to constantly import your address book if you keep making new friends.

In my latest book, I give some practical advice about how Content Management fits in with social software and Enterprise 2.0 initiatives... One of the ideas that I liked to drive home is that not all connections are equal, and it takes a lot of effort to keep quality information in your social software systems. Who is connected to whom? Which connections are genuine? And who is just a "link mooch" who is spamming people with "friend" requests just to ratchet up his ranking?

That latter one is particularly problematic on LinkedIn... Its littered with sub-par recruiters who send friend request spam so they can get something from you... but they never care to do anything for you.

Luckily, in the enterprise these problems can be solved relatively easily: data mine your email archives for who is connected to whom! By monitoring a host of statistics on who emails whom, about what, and when, you have a tremendously powerful tool for building social maps. You can determine who is connected to whom, who is an expert on which subject, and where the structural holes are in your enterprise. And you never need to maintain your connections! Any time you send a message to a friend, your social map is automatically rebuilt for you!

In order to do so, you'll need to run some data mining tools to find answers to the following questions:

  • Who do you send emails to? These are the people you claim to be connected to.
  • Does this person reply to your emails? If so, the connection is mutual.
  • How often do you email? A one-time email is probably not a connection, but a weekly email might be a strong connection.
  • How long does it take them to reply to you? A faster reply usually means your communications get priority to them, and they feel a stronger connection to you.
  • How long do you take to reply to them? Again, a faster reply from you means that their communications get priority from you, meaning you feel a strong connection as well.
  • Do you answer emails about a topic, or just forward them along? Just because you are the "point man" for Java questions, that doesn't mean you "know" Java... but it probably means you "know who knows" Java, which is sometimes even better.
  • Does one person usually do all of the initiation of new emails? If so, then this might be a lopsided friendship, or it might just mean that one person has more free time.
  • What are the topics of conversation? In reality, the more often you discuss work, the weaker the connection! If you also discuss gossip, news, current events, sports, movies, family, or trivia, then you probably have a stronger connection. The more topics you discuss, the more likely you are to be close friends.
  • What is the flow of email from one department to another? If its peer-to-peer, then these departments are comfortable sharing information. If it always goes through the chain of command, then these departments are socially isolated, and probably unlikely to trust each other.
  • Who do you email outside the company? If an employee in the marketing department emailed a friend who works at the company Ravenna, and your sales person is trying to connect with somebody at Ravenna, then these two employees might want to connect.

Unfortunately, many employers have a policy against using company email for personal communications. Ironically, this policy could hurt the employer in the long run, because analyzing the violations of that policy are frequently the best way to determine who is well connected in your company! So, before you deploy any social software in the enterprise, encourage your employees to goof off via email (within reason), and set up some technology to data-mine your email archives (like Oracle Universal Online Archive, or something similar). Then keep tuning your map based on the email messages people send.

That will help you hit the ground running with enterprise social software...

Book Tour Time!

UPDATE: This book tour has been rescheduled for March 17th-19th.

Well, its not really a book tour... but Andy and I will be visiting 3 cities for roundtable discussions on "Pragmatic Content Management". Oracle is organizing the whole shindig, and space will be limited... Andy will be giving a talk on Pragmatic ECM strategy, then I will present on implementation advice. Then there will be a 30-minute roundtable discussion, and we'll wrap it up before lunch.

For more specific information, please read the official invitation from Oracle. Here are the cities and dates:

If you want a book signed, please register and drop by!

The Semantic Web: Impossible In Theory, Impractical in Reality

I'm a power hater. I don't hate often, but when I do, I do it with gusto. So I have to say, this pile of vaporware called "The Semantic Web" is really starting to tick me off...

I'm not sure why, but recently it seems to be rearing its ugly head again in the information management industry, and wooing new potential victims (like Yahoo). I think its trying to ride the coattails of Web 2.0 -- particularly folksonomies and microformats. Nevertheless, I feel the need to expose it as the massive waste of time, energy, and brainpower that it is. People should stay focused on the very solvable problem of context, and thoroughly avoid the pipe dreams about semantics. Keep it simple, and you'll be much happier.

First, let's review what the "Semantic Web" is supposed to be... A semantic web is about a system that understands the meaning of web pages, and not merely the words on the page. Its about embedding information in your pages so computers can understand what things are, and how they are related. Such a beast would have tremendous value:

"I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize." -- Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the W3C, 1999

Gee. A future where human thought is irrelevant. How fun.

First, notice that this quote was from 1999. Its been ten years since Timmy complained that the semantic web was taking too long to materialize. So what has the W3C got to show for their decade of effort? A bunch of bloated XML formats that nobody uses... because we apparently needed more of those. By way of comparison, Timmy released the first web server on August 6, 1991... Within 3 years there were 4 public search engines, a solid web browser, and a million web pages. If there was actually any value in the "Semantic Web," why hasn't it emerged some time in the past 18 years?

I believe the problem is that Timmy is blinded by a vision and he can't let go... I hate to put it this way, but when compared against all other software pioneers, Timmy's kind of a one trick pony. He invented the HTTP protocol and the web server, and he continues to milk that for new awards every year... while never acknowledging the fact that the web's true turning point was when Marc Andreessen invented the Mosaic Web Browser. I'm positive Timmy's a lot smarter than I, but he seems stuck in a loop that his ego won't let him get out of.

The past 10,000 years of civilization has taught us the same things over and over: machines cannot replace people, they can only make people more productive by automating the mundane. Once machines become capable of solving the "hard problems," some wacky human goes off and finds even harder problems that machines can't solve alone... which then creates demand for humans to solve that next problem alone, or build a new kind of machine to do so.

Seriously... this is all just basic economics...

Computers can only do what they are told; they never "understand" anything. There will always be a noticeable gap between how a computer works, and how a human thinks. All software programs are based on symbol manipulation, which is a far cry from processing a semantically rich paragraph about the meaning of data. Well... isn't it possible to create a software program that uses symbol manipulation to "understand" semantics? Mathematicians, psychologists, and philosophers say "hell no..."

The Chinese Room thought experiment pretty clearly demonstrates that a symbol manipulation machine can never achieve true "human" intelligence. This is not to imply human brains are the only way to go... merely that if your goal is to mimic a human you're out of luck. Even worse, Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem proves that all systems of formal logic (mathematics, software, algorithms, etc.) are fundamentally error-prone. They sometimes cannot prove the truth of a true statement, and other times they prove the truth of false statements! Clearly, there are fundamental limits to what computers can do, one of which is to understand "meaning".

Therefore, even in theory, a true "semantic web" is impossible...

Well... who the hell cares about philosophical purity, anyway? There are many artificial intelligence experts working on the semantic web, and they rightly observe that the system doesn't have to be equivalent to human intelligence... As long as the system behaves like it has human intelligence, that's good enough. This is pretty much the Turing Test for artificial intelligence. If a human judge interacts with a machine, and the judge believes he is interacting with a real live human, then the machine has passed the test. This is what some call "weak" artificial intelligence.

Essentially, If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then its a duck...

Fair enough... So, since we can't give birth to true AI, we'll get a jumble of smaller systems that together might behave like a real, live human. Or at least a duck. This means a lot of hardware, a lot of software, a lot of data entry, and a lot of maintenance. Ideally these systems would be little "agents" that search for knowledge on the web, and "learn" on their own... but there will always be a need for human intervention and sanity checks to make sure the "smart agents" are functioning properly.

That raises the question, how much human effort is involved in maintaining a system that behaves like a "weak" semantic web? Is the extra effort worth it when compared to a blend of simpler tools and manual processes?

Unfortunately, we don't have the data to answer this question. Nobody can say, because nobody has gotten even close to building a "weak" semantic web with much breadth... Timmy himself has said "This simple idea, however, remains largely unrealized" in 2006. Some people have seen success with highly specialized information management problems, that had strict vocabularies. However, I'd wager that they would have equivalent success with simpler tools like a controlled thesaurus, embedded metadata, a search engine, or pretty much any relational database in existence. That ain't rocket science, and each alternative is older than the web itself...

Now... to get the "weak semantic web" we'll need to scale up from one highly specialized problem to the entire internet... which yields a bewildering series of problems:

  • Who gets to tag their web pages with metadata about what the page is "about"?
  • What about SPAM? There's a damn good reason why search engines in the 90s began to ignore the "keywords" meta tag.
  • Who will maintain the billions of data structures necessary to explain everything on the web?
  • What about novices? Bad metadata and bad structures dilute the entire system, so each one of those billion formats will require years of negotiation between experts.
  • Who gets to "kick out" bad metadata pages, to prevent pollution of the semantic web?
  • What about vandals? I could get you de-ranked and de-listed if you fail to observe all ten billion rules.
  • Who gets to absorb web pages to extract the knowledge?
  • What about copyrights? Your "smart agent" could be a "derivative work," so some of the best content may remain hidden.
  • Who gets to track behavior to validate the semantic model?
  • What about privacy? If my clicks help you sell to others, I should be compensated.
  • Will we require people to share analytical data so the semantic web can grow?
  • What about incentives? Nobody using the web for commerce will share, unless there's a clear profit path.

I'm sorry... but you're fighting basic human nature if you expect all this to happen... my feeling is that for most "real world" problems, a "semantic web" is far from the most practical solution.

So, where does this leave us? We're not hopeless, we're just misguided. We need to come down a little, and be reasonable about what is and is not feasible. I'd prefer if people worked towards the much more reachable goal of context sensitivity. Just make systems that gather a little bit more information about a user's behavior, who they are, what they view, and how they organize it. This is just a blend of identity management, metadata management, context management, and web trend analysis. That ain't rocket science... And don't think for one second that you can replace humans with technology: instead, focus on making tools that allow humans to do their jobs better.

Of course, if the Semantic Web goes away, then I'll need to find something else to power hate. I'm open to suggestions...

No Wonder Enterprise Content Management Confuses People

Yikes... Confusing, unclear, and cluttered since July of 2007... Not quite a ringing endorsement from the "crowd," eh?

The Wikipedia article for the Association for Information and Image Management isn't any better... at least Stellent's tiny tiny page is excusable since it doesn't exist as a company anymore. Considering the fact that folks like IBM, Oracle, EMC, and Microsoft all have product suites in this industry -- and considering how all of them tout blogs and wikis -- you'd think that somebody would have cleaned up Wikipedia by now.

I guess we all have better things to do...

Personally, I find this a refreshing reminder that the "semantic web" will NOT save you. Unless you do the hard work of creating new business processes around new information management technology, you'll just be cluttering your enterprise with ever more outdated, useless, and false data.

Oracle Backups and Archives In The Cloud

Back at Oracle Open World 2008, Oracle gave some lip service to how they would get into cloud computing... in case you are not familiar with the term, "cloud computing" is a way of designing your systems so that your data resources (and sometimes your services) behave as if they are "in the internet cloud." Its a combination of a service-oriented architecture, software-as-a-service, and storage-as-a-service. Developers love it, but system administrators are still a bit weary...

Basically, you rent the computational power and storage you need, and only pay for what you use. In theory you can rely on your provider -- such as Google or -- to take care of backups for you. Its a great idea for startups (Twitter does it) and mid-sized companies, so they can keep costs down, while still leaving room to grow. For large companies with their own dedicated data centers, cloud computing makes less sense for production software... but its usually a great idea for development and testing.

Anyway... I was curious how Oracle's "Cloud" strategy would develop... and I was pleasantly surprised to find some recent collaboration between Amazon and Oracle. They put together some Best Practices for Oracle In The Cloud, which I found on Justin Kestylyn's blog:

"Oracle in the Cloud" AWS Webinar
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: amazon aws)

I really like the idea of encrypting database backups, and storing them in the cloud. That's an excellent idea, for pretty much anybody... and it is supported back to Oracle Database 9i. Check out the Cloud Backup Whitepaper for more info...

I also really see the value for using the Amazon cloud for the persistence layer for archives. The Oracle Universal Online Archive could be a real killer app, but proving its value will need about a Terabyte of storage, just to do a proof-of-concept. Unfortunately, that's not exactly something you can run on a VM Ware virtual machine... but you could do it as an Amazon Machine Image (AMI).

I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more and more archiving solutions that use Amazon's Cloud for persistence...

Transforming Infoglut: Available now!

I had expected that it would take another 3 weeks to release this, but my second book is now available for purchase! As promised, this is more of a business strategy book, and less of a technical book... however, Andy and I did sneak in some good implementation details along the way. We designed this book so every member of your ECM team should get something useful out of it.

The purpose of the book is to present what we call a "pragmatic strategy for content management." For multiple reasons -- both political and technical -- it is rarely feasible for all of your content management products to be from one vendor. Perhaps you just merged with another company and you each have different vendors; perhaps you need blogs and wikis now and cannot wait for your ECM vendor to create a decent offering; perhaps SharePoint has grown like a fungus in your enterprise, and now you need some way to manage the insanity.

Some say the solution is rationalization: consolidate all content into one system... but that's not the whole story. You don't want to wind up like those poor saps running Lotus Notes, do you? Your users will rebel if you take away their nice collaboration tools, or if you tell them they can't have new ones. Entire departments will collapse if you eliminate content silos without any concern for users' productivity.

Instead, the pragmatic approach is to do the following:

  • Consolidate content when possible into a "strategic ecm infrastructure." This can -- if desired -- be the single repository that satisfies all your content management needs; however this is not a requirement.
  • Federate content services to tactical and legacy applications. This means managing content in other repositories with a combination of enterprise search, universal records management, and enterprise mashups.
  • Secure content wherever it lives. Ironically, in most cases your data is only secure when it is not in use! Once you move it from one system to another, it is at risk. Your information should always be secure, whether it is locked down in a database, or in a USB thumb drive at the bottom of your sock drawer.

The book is 250 pages long... but you don't have to read the whole thing. The chapter breakdown is as follows:

  1. The State of Information Management: a good grounding in what exactly ECM is all about, and why it is important.
  2. A Pragmatic ECM Architecture: the steps you need to take in order to realize the value of an ECM initiative.
  3. Assessing Your Environment: make a big list of what needs to be done, and by whom. Which content should be consolidated, and which is best left where it is?
  4. Strategic ECM Infrastructure and Middleware: this is the "strategic" part of the puzzle. Consolidate to this system whenever cost-effective, and extend it to your portals and enterprise applications with SOAs, ESBs, or ECM standards (WebDAV, CMIS, etc.).
  5. Managing Legacy and Non-Strategic Content Stores: all the tools for "tactical" integrations with systems that are not (yet) cost effective to consolidate. Your content management strategy should never punish you for failing to consolidate: the goal is to make content manageable.
  6. Secure Information Wherever It Lives: tools for making sure content is secure, even when it leaves a secure repository.
  7. Bringing Structured and Unstructured Strategies Together: your ECM initiative should be a part of a broader information management initiative. This chapter presents tools that helps you bridge this gap.
  8. ECM and Enterprise 2.0: here we present a (better) definition of Enterprise 2.0, and how ECM fits into the ecosystem. It presents a strategy for Pragmatic Enterprise 2.0, and explains how many Enterprise 2.0 initiatives could fail without a comprehensive strategy.

Chapters 1, 2, and 8 are relevant no matter which vendor you use for Enterprise Content Management. We do mention Oracle numerous times, but you can just BLEEEEEEP over that if you use tools from different vendors.

Chapters 3 through 7 show how to implement a "pragmatic ECM strategy" using Oracle tools. Some of this data may or may not be relevant to non-Oracle customers. In most cases, you should find it helpful to see what is possible, so you can determine the distance between where you are now, and where you want to be tomorrow.

I worked pretty hard on this, and I'm relatively pleased with the results... but I'm sure the haters out there will find something to complain about ;-)


CMS Watch Predicts Oracle Will Suck in 2009

Well... this is pretty negative...

CMS Watch came out with their 12 predictions for 2009, and number seven was "Oracle will fall behind in the battle for knowledge workers." Here's the relevant quote:

At one level, Oracle had a banner year in 2008: completing or consolidating numerous large acquisitions that bring in heavy streams of ever-beloved maintenance revenues. But 2009 will expose Oracle's weakness with front-office applications at a time when Microsoft, IBM, and many smaller players are fighting for the hearts and minds of knowledge workers.

Customers are already feeling indigestion, as different Oracle teams market overlapping and often incomplete solutions. For example, Oracle is struggling to combine four different enterprise portal offerings, and many customers are chafing at the financial and architectural challenges of aligning with the putative winner, Oracle WebCenter Suite (OWS). Similarly, collaboration and social software services remain divided between OWS and the new Beehive offering -- a bad situation made worse by the fact that both are really development platforms and not finished toolsets. Meanwhile, longtime Stellent UCM customers complain that Oracle is moving away from the product's Web CMS roots to emphasize heavy-duty document and records management.

Some thoughts...

First, the acquisition of BEA did really shake up Oracle's whole knowledge management / collaboration / Enterprise 2.0 strategy... and yes, there is considerable overlap in the product offerings. However, ultimately this will be a good thing, because only the best of the best will become strategic products under the "WebCenter" brand. This will take time to digest... it may or may not be "all better" by the 11g release in 2009, but I remain optimistic based on the previews I've seen... so the architecture will likely become much more simplified.

Although, I do have to agree that a lot of Oracle's offerings here are platforms, instead of complete applications -- Stellent/ECM being one exception. The WebCenter platform will never be huge, unless it has pre-packaged "Killer Apps" built on it. This is a general fact about all platforms, and is very much true here as well. There are several in the works -- collectively called "Fusion Applications" -- but I have no clue when they will be released.

Second, regarding the financial challenges, I guess I don't know what he means here... the current WebCenter bundle is a bit pricey, mainly because it's a bundle of so many different tools. Remember, WebCenter is a brand, and not just a single piece of technology. Oracle will probably figure out smaller, cheaper bundles that sell better, so I don't see this as that much of a long term problem. Maybe some folks are upset about the price of migration from older platforms to WebCenter... but nobody is forcing them to upgrade. They'll have to do a technology refresh at some point, and Oracle will continue to support and make new released of their non-strategic product lines... so I guess I'll need to hear more before I can respond.

Third, regarding existing Stellent UCM customers, Oracle is actually moving in both WCM and document/records management at the same time. The heavy-duty document and records management offerings are badly needed by many of their existing enterprise customers, so there's a lot of sales opportunity by productizing a few enterprise-level integrations. While at the same time, they spent a lot of time and energy in the next version of Site Studio (Web Content Management) including their Open WCM initiative... This will be big in 2009.

The Stellent faithful have been hearing this line for a long time, but their patience will be rewarded as soon as January.

For those who watched the December 10 customer call, you'd know that you will be able to play with this next-generation of Site Studio relatively soon. A lot of it will be released as Site Studio 10gr4 at the beginning of 2009. The rest will be released in 11g, which is slated for some time in 2009. Alan Baer will be doing a Deep Dive into Oracle Site Studio 10gr4 in January, if you want to know more.

And finally, we should note that of the dozen 2008 predictions by CMS Watch, they claim seven came true, three did not, and two are in the "maybe" pile... so take this prediction with a grain of salt. Oracle has several decent ECM products due out in 2009... so this warning could be both a wake-up call, and a self-denying prophesy.

HUGE Opportunity in Content Management: Electronic Medical Records

President elect Obama announced parts of his economic recovery plan in his weekly "radio" address. There are a lot of good pieces to it that should help America's down economy, and some that will be a huge boon for the Enterprise Content Management industry:

In addition to connecting our libraries and schools to the internet, we must also ensure that our hospitals are connected to each other through the internet. That is why the economic recovery plan I’m proposing will help modernize our health care system – and that won’t just save jobs, it will save lives. We will make sure that every doctor’s office and hospital in this country is using cutting edge technology and electronic medical records so that we can cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help save billions of dollars each year.

Gee... Obama says medical records should all be electronic to help save the economy? I agree! And there's nothing like a presidential endorsement to boost your industry, eh?

Many ECM experts have been preaching this for years... in fact, a lot of them have recently reminded folks about how much hard cash you save with a coherent, electronic, information management system. Just recently, over on the AIIM Blog, John Mancini's most popular posts are all about using ECM to cut costs. Oracle recently started their Survive Or Thrive with ECM web conferences, which give hard data from customers about how ECM made them more efficient. There should be one or two per month for a while... The presentation by Emerson Process has some especially useful statistics for Return On Investment.

Aside: I know some free-market fundamentalists hate the idea of government spending, but this kind of initiative is necessary. The economy is in the early stages of a deflationary spiral... which makes banks are scared to loan cash, consumers hesitant to spend cash, and debtors without cash will find themselves deeper in debt. Deflation may be a good thing for gas and house prices... but the spiral soon forces business to sell products for less than the costs of production. In order to stay in business, they are usually forced to lay off workers...The best way to stabilize deflation is for the government to purchase a wide range of commodities.

This month, there is a great article in Forbes about deflation... what are its risks, and how to we stop it? Instead of throwing money at banks and wall street, the best option is for the government to purchase glass, steel, concrete, computers, light bulbs, and stuff like that. This drives up overall demand, which reduces supply, which stabilizes prices, and ensures businesses don't have to lay off workers.

The Forbes article questioned whether Obama could launch an initiative of sufficient size and usefulness in time... but I'm hopeful, because everything Obama proposed -- make government building more energy efficient, launch a large-scale broadband initiative, repair broken school buildings and bridges, and force municipalities to "use or lose" their federal grants -- all sound practical and swift. The government will soon be buying up a bunch of commodities, and using them to make America more efficient. This will create new jobs, stabilize prices, and get the economy going again. More projects are needed, but this is a promising start.

The potential extra business for my industry is just an added bonus ;-)

In Defense of Content Silos...

"A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention" -- Herbert Simon

For the longest time, many people believed that one of the biggest information management problems is simply getting access to data. Previously, data was hidden away in a "silo," making it difficult to obtain, because you had to deal with an "information broker." You know the stereotype: somebody who rations their hoard of information for job security purposes, and refuses to share unless forced to... Not always, but many times this "broker" frequently acted more like a "bottleneck."

20 years ago, this led people to believe that if we could only bypass these brokers, and access the information directly, then all our problems would be solved! If only we could get the raw, unfiltered data, we would be much more efficient!

It turns out, not so much...

If you want a successful ECM/Knowledge Management/ Enterprise 2.0 initiative, one of the biggest mistakes you could make is to focus too much on sharing information.

Don't get me wrong: there are many situations where sharing information is vital... however, those situations are pretty obvious. You won't need to look hard to find them, and solving information access problems is fairly straightforward. Sometimes its technical, in which case basic content management tools can help out. Some times the problem is political, in which case the optimal information management strategy requires you to first understand the cultural reasons why your employees refuse to share information... after which you can either chose a software solution, or just force everybody to go to anger management training.

But... assuming that you break down the cultural bottlenecks to innovation, now you have another problem: "infoglut." In other words, information overload. Emails you don't read, presentations that don't make sense, reports that don't flow, the proliferation of websites, blogs, wikis, and social software across the enterprise... people talking a lot, but communicating very little.

In many ways, the best solution to infoglut is to bring back the information broker. Now that information is completely free, you need some kind of filter to let you know what information is relevant. This does not mean that you should bring back the information bottlenecks... instead, you need tools that makes the information broker more effective. This may include:

  • Smarter search engines: the current ones try to determine relevance just based on keywords, which doesn't work so well. Google's search engine does a great job on the heavily hyperlinked web, but its a terrible tool for the whole Enterprise. Smarter search engines need to use identity management and analytics to know what content is currently popular with people similar to the current user. They also need a human to maintain a controlled thesaurus, in order to get a vague idea about what content is similar.
  • Polite relevance filters for email: how many of you would love to have a customer support queue for your email inbox? "Thank you for your email! I currently have 1000 unread items in my inbox, all flagged 'important.' The average wait time for a response is 97 hours." Of course, you might also need one for your phone...
  • Recommendation sites: these allow your greater audience to "vote" on what content is relevant. Examples include Digg and Reddit, which are both good, but only for highly broad topics. I know what's hot in "Technology," but not what's hot in "Embedded Linux."
  • Better tools for human information brokers: I firmly believe the broker is the solution, not the problem. Instead of replacing them with technology, work with them to design systems that are more effective at brokering information. If they see their influence increase the more they share, they will do everything they can to get the right information to the right people at the right time. There isn't much commercially software along these lines at the moment... but that doesn't stop sites like AllTop from doing it anyway.

In short, don't blindly bash content silos and information brokers. Sure, they kept data hidden from you... but it was data you probably didn't want to see in the first place. Replacing a human broker with a Digg-clone may work for a while... but that's easy. And since its easy, soon everybody will be doing it, and it will cease to be a competitive advantage. As I've said many times, no technology can ever replace a human being who actually gives a damn.

Technology should empower your brokers, not replace them. Otherwise, you'll soon be swimming in useless information... just like everybody else.

UPDATE: There's a bit of confusion about what I mean by "broker." I do not mean to imply that information should go back to being "locked away." That is both illogical and impossible. Rather, I'm stating that the role of the "broker" has changed into being more of a "filter," and is arguably more important than ever. As Clay Shirky says, "It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure." Sometimes a broker is one person, sometimes its several people, sometimes its a software algorithm. None is superior to the other: they all have merits. Therefore, its important for the filter to be a combination: better search algorithms based on relevance, Digg clones for the enterprise, and better tools to help individuals who choose to become brokers. This means multiple silos will be built upon the same raw information, based solely on which filter you pick. Like it or not, its already happening... and people will use whichever one makes them more productive.

Communication Tip: Never Speak More Than 40 Words

The Trappist Monks are widely known for making the best beer in the world... most of it is made in monasteries located in Belgium, using centuries-old processes. These Trappists are the quintessential monks: quiet, pious, hard working, and frugal. And man, they make great beer!

Contrary to popular belief, Trappist monks do not take a vow of silence; rather they vow to speak only when necessary. Which, surprisingly, is almost never.

To gabby outsiders, they speak so little that we just assumed many of them took a vow to never speak... Who wouldn't be making idle chit-chat while brewing a batch of awesome beer!?!? The alternative was just too bizarre for us to comprehend: speaking is rarely necessary, even when creating a world-class product.

And this rule applies for people who aren't even monks. Let me explain...

Last year I was introduced to a technique called Non-Violent Communication, which had many excellent suggestions for effective dialogs and running productive meetings... They stressed that besides empathy, the most important communication skill is brevity. Specifically, you should limit yourself to no more than 40 words before coming to an actionable request.

State your case quickly, express what you need briefly, and then make a positive request of one specific person.

For example, a manager shouldn't just call a meeting, let out a deep sigh, and lament about how the sales numbers really suck this quarter... and then go on and on and on about what's wrong. That's a waste of everybody's time. I'm certain your employees already know that the numbers are bad. I'm certain your employees already know they "shouldn't drop the ball next time." They know, they know, they know... and now you just wasted an hour of everybody's productive day.

They don't care about what they shouldn't do... they only care about what they should do in order to move things forward.

Instead, try to realize that speaking is rarely necessary, even for a world-class team. Get clear on what it is that you need... determine specifically what actions need to be taken, and by whom. If you don't know what actions need to be taken, then your request would be to have your team help you find out. State your case in 40 words or less, make your request, and move on to new business.

Naturally, there are some concepts that are difficult to explain in fewer than 40 words. In those cases, you should write a report. No, I don't mean a mind-boggling array of Power Point slides... I mean a real, honest to god report. Publish it to your content management system, where it is widely available, then share it with your team. That way, your request would simply be "Please read my report, and send me your comments." Otherwise, the data will still be there in the future, on the off chance that anybody needs it.

Verbose information belongs in a published report, or a wiki... not in an email, and not in a meeting. Keep this in mind at all times, or you'll never make anything as good as a bottle of Westvleteren 12...

Oracle Community Call For ECM

The next Oracle customer call for UCM users is coming soon:

Americas / EMEA time zones: Customer Update
December 10, 2008
9:00am US PDT / 12:00pm US EDT / 16:00 GMT

As before, you need to register for the conference. There will be a repeat of the webcast at 7pm PST on December 10th, for those in Asia.

If you miss it, they will have old recordings on Metalink... but you might want to check this one out. Last time they announced that Oracle was supporting the Site Studio Blogs and Wikis... and I have it under good authority that something equally cool will be announced at the next call...

Speculate amongst yourselves...

Don't Share Information; Instead Teach Knowledge

When there is a lack of unified purpose, information sharing leads to chaos... and sometimes can cause more problems than it solves. To illustrate this point, I'd like to share the legend of King Ammon.

In a dialog between himself and Phaedrus, Socrates told the tale of king Ammon. He was a wise and just ruler, and all the gods admired him and his virtues.

One day, Ammon was met by the Egyptian god Thoth, who was an inventor, and the "scribe of the gods." Thoth admired Ammon, and wanted to share his inventions with Ammon and all his Egyptian subjects. Ammon was impressed with most of the inventions... except for one: writing.

Ammon was not a fan of writing... and chided Thoth for creating it:

What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not memory. And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it but not the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant. And because they are filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom, they will be a burden to society.

Hmmm... so Ammon feared what would happen if somebody read something, didn't understand it, quoted it anyway to appear wise, but in actuality had no real wisdom... and in doing so became more powerful, perhaps even respected, so that people even followed him... but because he only appeared to be wise, he made bad decisions, and ultimately became a significant burden to his fellow men.

gee... sound like anybody you know?

Naturally, we only have this great story because of the written word... so nobody would go so far as to claim that writing is bad. However this legend does bring up a valuable point for knowledge management systems:

We should NOT focus on sharing information; we should focus on teaching knowledge.

You shouldn't just dump data to a blog and expect people to read it... you shouldn't dump half-baked documentation into a wiki and expect others to maintain it... you shouldn't just deploy an enterprise search or ECM system, then allow it to become a dumping ground for "data."

What we need are systems that teach; not systems that share. Because without that context, without teaching, and without experience, sharing information could very likely lead to problems...

...and it might actually make you a burden to your fellow men.

Tech Link Round Up

No time for a full-blown post today folks... so I thought I'd share some links of interest:

Oracle Blogs And Wikis: Available For Download

As I mentioned previously, Oracle is finally supporting the UCM Blogs and Wikis that Stellent released almost 3 years ago...

This led many people to ask, where can I get them?!?!? I recently got word that these will not be released as a separate download from OTN, but instead will be released as patch on Metalink. The officially released name is Content Server Blogs and Wikis Components (2008_09_18), which you download from Metalink as patch number 7504090.

Please note, in order to make these work, you'll need the latest Site Studio patches as well. Specifically, the Site Studio - October 2008 roll-up patch (Build, which is patch number 7007799 on Metalink.

Naturally, you will need a Metalink account to download these... which means you need to be an Oracle customer... or a partner who shells out extra for access even though you should get it for free just by being an ACE Director :-\

But I digress... Enjoy the Web 2.0 goodness!

Sales Advice For Enterprise 2.0 Startups

A while back, Infovark had an article about new Enterprise 2.0 applications... they mentioned an article by Paul Grahm -- the self-appointed startup king -- about how he's looking to fund Enterprise Software 2.0 startups:

5. Enterprise software 2.0. Enterprise software companies sell bad software for huge amounts of money. They get away with it for a variety of reasons that link together to form a sort of protective wall. But the software world is changing. I suspect that if you study different parts of the enterprise software business (not just what the software does, but more importantly, how it's sold) you'll find parts that could be picked off by startups. One way to start is to make things for smaller companies, because they can't afford the overpriced stuff made for big ones. They're also easier to sell to.

interesting... Although kind of false.

Look... A lot of enterprise software is sold because of the "one throat to choke" rule. In other words, there is value in streamlining your business so that you only purchase from a handful of companies. In some sense, that's vendor lock-in, but in another sense you can avoid finger pointing. If the integration between Software Company ABC and Software Company XYZ doesn't work, they will each blame each other. However, if they both are created by the same company, you'll likely spend less time screaming at them to get their software to work together, or to integrate properly. Since integrations are 40% of IT budget, that's real money... People pay a premium to enterprise software companies, in order to get this assurance of supportability.

A startup simply cannot match that head-on...

This isn't to say that only big companies can sell to big companies... I remember back when Stellent was a 500 person company, we made several deals to HUGE companies... However, the ecosystem for enterprise software that's not made by big companies is kind of small. The good stuff usually falls into one of three categories:

  1. Open source,
  2. Software as a service,
  3. An incredibly useful application that is nearly unique, and not sold by the big boys.

If you're going after the "wow" factor, then you can forget trying to play with the big boys in the sales cycle. Selling enterprise software is a royal pain, and takes forever. It has a lot to do with relationships and trust, quite frankly... its about an assurance that even if you don't have every feature in the checklist, that your company is dedicated to making the product better.

Let me put it this way... which is better, Java or C#? The answer is Python. But that's pretty much irrelevant...

The optimal technology for you is not always the best technology available; its that which allows your team as a whole to be more productive. This means its more of a human problem (ie, training, resources, support) than a technical one. The fact is, enterprise software is usually so complex that you need to have a strong relationship with the software company before you can get the assurance you need that you are making a good decision. This trust goes a long way, its hard to build, and therefore the enterprise software sellers usually try hard to maintain it... It will be tough for a new guy to break through that "wall." It doesn't matter if you have better software, if the customer feels no assurance.

If you're a small company who wants to get into the Enterprise 2.0 market, don't try to mimic the sales process of the big boys... That's probably suicide. Instead, do the following:

  • find something that the big boys just don't "get," and aren't likely to "get" for a long time
  • alternatively, find something they "get", ride the coattails of their marketing, and do it better
  • ensure your software installs quickly, if you need to install it at all
  • focus on usability more than features: startups will never win the features arms race, but they can easily win the usability arms race
  • make it easy to customize your product
  • make sure your customers can go from zero to kick ass in 30 minutes or less
  • think about security, scalability, interoperability, and internationalization from day one... because the enterprise-y competition will hit you hard about that
  • price it to move

After that, find a department head who is frustrated because their enterprise system doesn't meet their needs, and hope they have budget!

My Open World Presentations: Pragmatic ECM, and Top 10 Ways to Integrate ECM

I uploaded my four Open World presentations to Slideshare, so those who missed my talks can still download and view them...

My first talk was on A Pragmatic Strategy For Oracle Enterprise Content Management. This one is mainly based on my next book, Transforming Infoglut! It was pretty well attended, and people seemed to like the approach. You can download the slides, or view it below:

My next presentation was Enterprise 2.0: How You Will Fail! I uploaded those to slideshare last month, so you can view it there, or download it.

Then I did my Communication For Geeks talk. That didn't have any slides, it was just me... communicating. I had hand-outs, but they are still kind of sketchy. I hope to some day upload some videos of it to YouTube, because its hard to get the point across in just the handouts...

Finally, on my last day was the Top 10 Ways To Integrate With Oracle ECM. This was loosely based on my old 50 Ways To Integrate talk, plus some new material. I tweaked up the AJAX example to do a Stellent search, and display the results in a YUI DataTable control. Pure JavaScript search and display! I also used the Oracle Ensemble technology to hijack a Google search result, and inject Stellent results in the sidebar! That was fun... Anyway, download the slides, or view it below:

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