mardi 29 septembre 2009

Interview Laurence Hart, Senior Manager/Information Management Solution Lead at Washington Consulting

Hello Everybody !

For the next interview, we will go to U.S.A.

Today, I have the great privilege to interview Laurence Hart, Senior Manager/Information Management Solution Lead at Washington Consulting, Documentum Expert, blogger of www.wordofpie.com, ECM philosopher and twitter junkie.

Hello Laurence !

First of all as usual, let me thank you for the time you take to share your knowledge about ECM.

So Laurence, where content management experience has begun for you ? What was your first CM project and which solutions did you take?
Coincidently enough, I recently wrote about this very topic on my blog. My first system was a correspondence tracking system for the U.S. Air Force. I was brought onto the project as the database expert and was tossed the content management piece. It was DOCS Open from PC DOCS (later acquired by Hummingbird and then Open Text). We used a custom interface, but all of the content and search was powered by DOCS Open. cf. http://wordofpie.com/2009/09/08/my-first-content-management-application/

Nowadays, Is there an evolution of CM needs or is it the same as your first experience ?
The needs are the same, but the context and scale are changing. Users still need to track and manage their content, but now we are dealing with images and web content in addition to the scanned images and Word documents. Before, we were juggling between a network share and the new repository, now we are juggling SharePoint, multiple legacy repositories, and content stored in non-content focused business applications. I used to just worry about securing a document, but now I have to consider records management and eDiscovery when determining how to handle some content.

Sometimes I miss the old days.

Let's back to you for a moment, Can you tell us more about your position? What's your role and what are you doing day after day?
I run the Information Management Solution for Washington Consulting, Inc. I'm the leading subject matter expert for our company and I provide guidance to multiple projects and clients on how to address their needs. On good days, I'm sitting with clients and talking about how to solve their problems and designing solutions for them. Quite often, I am writing proposals and finding good people to work with on delivering solutions. I still keep my hands dirty by playing with the latest releases of software in the ECM space. I say it is to keep current, but I really do it because I find it relaxing and fun.

Could you present Washington Consulting ? What's the purpose and objectives? What kind of services do you offer?
We are a Management and Technology consulting firm located in Washington, DC. Information Management is a big piece of what we do, and that ranges from developing strategic roadmaps to "simple" Documentum and SharePoint work. However, we also have ERP implementations, Project Management Office (PMO) support, Organizational Change Management, and Business Process Reengineering (BPR) practices. They joy of my piece is that I get to work with all the different groups because everybody is trying to solve the content "problem".

You have worked with Documentum, since 2000. For my readers, who essentially love Open Source :o) , could you present this historical CM Solution (its history, its functionality and its architecture)?
No problem. Founded in 1991, Documentum has been one of the "big-three" ECM vendors for years, even as that membership has evolved. It is immensely scalable (I have a system with 40TB of content) and is free of proprietary languages or interfaces. It is very strong in core content management, RM, and BPM. It's collaboration efforts had been withering for a few years as eRoom grew old, but their new CenterStage product shows some promise. While they deliver on WCM and Digital Asset Management, those offerings are stronger when viewed in combination with the rest of their suite.
I think one area that shows great promise is their work with XML content. Their acquisition of X-Hive has really helped them here and I think that could become a big differentiators between the big ECM vendors, assuming that SharePoint doesn't wipe them all out.

Now if only they could simplify their license model.

Can you tell us what are the strengths and weaknesses of this solution from your point of view?
I think I covered that to some extent, but I think Documentum has two weaknesses, the user interface and the complexity. My most successful projects do not utilize the standard user interface. We use it as a content platform. This is also where it gets complex. I keep learning things about Documentum everyday. A Document expert is someone that knows enough to get through any client meeting and can then quickly look-up detailed answers to the things that they had to bluff their way through. I, and others in the community like Scott Roth and Johnny Gee, have forgotten more about Documentum than many with 3-4 years experience.

As for strengths, it is strong. I can throw users and content at it without fears that it will scale. I think that it's object-oriented approach to modeling content is flexible and powerful. They've extended this to allow custom behaviors on actions, and with version 6.x, they support aspects. Their is very little that the Documentum platform cannot do, as long as you understand the complexity.

Now let's start some philosophy :o), during this summer (and last years), you have post on your blog some information about your vision of ECM ? Could you resume your vision ? Why have you your personal ECM definition?
My vision for ECM is more than the tools. That is a problem with the AIIM definition, it talks about tools. Content is everywhere. We need it accessible from everywhere without emailing it to other companies or having to take it out of one system and placing it in another. ECM is a platform that provides content to users in the business context where they need it most. Users shouldn't know about Nuxeo, Alfresco, or Documentum. They should only know that if I scan this document, I can grab it and the presentation I made yesterday and share it with my business partner without worrying about the "how".

The technology isn't there yet, but we should be aiming for that target. When ECM was first coined 10 years ago, no vendor could state that they met the definition.

During this year, you also worked on CMIS. Why are you enthusiastic whith this future standard and Is it a revolution ?
I'm enthusiastic because the CMIS standard is the first step to making my vision for ECM complete. Applications need to access content without worrying about the specifics of the repository in which it is contained. It will allow legacy systems to stay in place longer and help separate the business application decision from the platform decision.

Is CMIS a revolution? That is a tough question. It is still early to tell as it is just approaching the Public Review stage. It is already starting to gain traction with vendors and customers, so I would say that it has the makings of a revolution. If Microsoft continues to support it, and incorporates it into SharePoint, then I see a revolution as being entirely possible.

What's your feelings about Open Source solution and open source move in CM ecosystem ?
I'm glad that Open Source is gaining ground. I think it will force the ECM "leaders" to focus more on simplicity and responding to users. I already see the vendors starting to be more responsive to user feedback than they had in the past. To be honest, I think the Open Source movement is a blessing for small to medium organizations that needed content management but couldn't afford the license fees. I am also beginning to strongly believe that the Open Source approach is the only way to deliver WCM systems that can keep up with the rapidly changing face of the Web.

For you what was the worst and best idea on content management area?
The worst idea is simple, moving everyone to a web interface in the 90s. Users had a tightly integrated desktop environment until IT management fell in love with using web interfaces for content management. Bad move. We are just now getting to the point where the integration is as tight with the desktop applications, and that seriously hurt user adoption across the board. The browsers and web applications just weren't advanced enough, but everyone fell in love with the sexy new kid on the block.
The best ideas are a toss-up. I think standards like ODMA and CMIS are some of the better ideas. XML has also been a great idea for changing the way content exists, but the adoption has been incredibly slow. The best idea may boil down to going electronic and forgetting about all of that microfiche.

Why have you started wordofpie.com ?
I started the blog back in 2007 because I wanted to rant about a recent Documentum conference. Luckily I started engaging in dialog with other bloggers and turned it into something far more constructive. Now I use it to expand on opinions initially shared on Twitter and to share news and other insights. I wish I had more time to write for it, but my day job and family keep me very busy.

Finally, can you recommend us weblinks or blogs about ECM or IT in general ?
For news and analysis, I keep close tabs on CMS Watch (www.cmswatch.com). I've met several of the analysts and they always give you their honest opinion. I enjoy reading the Big Men on Content (http://bigmenoncontent.com/) for their insightful view into events around the industry. They aren't as active since EMC hired them, but they always have some great reads. Billy Cripe's Fusion ECM blog (http://blogs.oracle.com/fusionecm/) and Cheryl McKinnon's Candy and Aspiring (http://candyandaspirin.blogspot.com/) are also favorites.
Oh, and I seem to recall enjoying your blog as well. :)

What would you say to conclude this interview?
Thanks for being patient with me in getting these responses and reading through them. If you've made it this far, it is fair to say that you have a passion for Content Management. Use that passion to help guide the industry towards your vision of ECM. You can sit by, watch things change, and point out issues, but don't stop there. Get involved. Offer solutions. Offer to help. It doesn't have to take much time. That is how I got involved with CMIS through AIIM. I saw a problem and realized that AIIM's iECM committee was chartered to find a solution. Go out and do the same thing so that our kids aren't solving the same content problems that we are solving today.
Many thanks, Laurence, for this interview. We wish you a nice and exciting journey on Open Source (or not) ECM Road! If you want to follow ideas and thinking of Laurence, you can follow this links :
PS : you can download this interview at