A Conversation with ... ANDY MACMILLAN, ORACLE
Finding the Middle Ground
How to Deploy Solutions in a Grown-Up Marketplace
Stellent—now Oracle content management—had been calling itself “middleware” for years. Smartly so. It’s a better term than “infrastructure,” which to me implies things like disk drives and server hardware, but has often been loosely applied to describe the database underpinnings for which Oracle is renowned.
But it’s not quite a business application, either... not in the truest sense of the term. Content management is not an end in itself; it’s the means to an end. Nobody comes to work to manage content. Last I looked, there were no want ads for “corporate content managers” in the paper.
So the term “middleware” fits best, suggesting that various line-of-business applications (which I guess would then have to be called “topware”) can pick and choose whichever mix of middleware functionality is best suited to accomplish the task. Content management has assumed an odd identity of limbo: it’s not quite the infrastructure platform, nor is it the end game. It’s sort of both, sort of neither.
I bounced that line of thinking off Andy MacMillan, VP of product management for Oracle content management, the other day. Like most of those who make up the recently formed Oracle content management unit, Andy came along with the Stellent acquisition, and brought a rational perspective to my “limbo” theory: “We still very much target specific solutions to a line-of-business or to a department. But if you have a series of applications like that to deploy over time, rolling them out on a common platform has a lot of advantages. The value proposition is this: you might have a
specific business problem to solve today, but you are going to have many more down the line. If you build those with the same architecture and platform, you can administer once, run once and share information among those solutions,” he explained.
Who, I asked, is making these “global” decisions? After all, a department manager has little to gain from helping the guy in the next office; his focus is on solving his OWN problems, not developing a common platform for the enterprise. “It tends
to be IT leadership, but we’re also meeting astute business owners who are looking at multiple business problems that they want to solve over time,” Andy told me.
Essentially, the message I am taking away is that people are getting smarter about their software purchases. “Nobody is trying to boil the ocean,” said Andy. “They are looking at the platform, but scoping the immediate solution for today’s problem. This is not a new market; many people have already gone down the point-solution path and found it to be an untenable model. We don’t sell anybody a content management solution that doesn’t already have one. They probably have six!” Andy said. “And they have 30 people trained across those six different systems. They have different architectures and platforms. And they are realizing: This is a very expensive way to do this!”
Getting to the Middle
Which leads us to the other way to do this. Oracle talks about a vision of integrating disparate applications of all kinds—from content management to BI, from ERP apps to HR apps—in this “middle” layer, which they will call Fusion Middleware. The
content management package that Andy manages will be part of that. These do not have to be Oracle-branded products; they are pretty agnostic about that. But Oracle is doing its best to acquire the best-of-breed and bring those apps into its fold. The term for integrating these applications right now is “hot-pluggable”—no matter what your business need is, find the solution you like and you can “plug it into” the Oracle middleware solution in a mix-and-match fashion. The agnosticism extends all the way up and down the rack; you can be a SQL Server database shop, and use Oracle Fusion Middleware. You can have an IBM or BEA application server; same story, even though Oracle provides a perfectly good application server.
It’s not a new concept, I suggested. “Maybe not, but it’s an important message,” insisted Andy. “And it’s a hard message to get across from a company that’s a leader in a market. Everybody thinks you’re trying to drive business your way. But, for instance, we will continue to have customers who have no other Oracle software, but are still Oracle ECM customers.”
The official Fusion development is still a little ways in the future, but reportedly on track. But even prior to that, customers can “plug into” the sort of middle layer that Andy told me about. You can do it now, as a matter of fact. But what, I asked Andy, is left to add? With JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, Siebel and now Stellent ECM already on board...what’s left to conquer? Andy laughed. “I think we were one of the big missing pieces,” he said. “If you look at the stack, we have the grid infrastructure, the application server, business intelligence, content management, identity management, system management, development tools, the whole UI layer that includes WebCenter, portals... even voice-over-IP... it’s a pretty comprehensive stack!”
OK. Enough about the value of the solution...what about the inherent value of the content itself? Is there an acknow-
ledgement that content has value for an organization? If not, I suppose we should just take down the tents and go home. “Oh, yes,” Andy concludes. “We’re definitely seeing more of that. That message is out there, and people recognize the knowledge management aspect of the value of content. We’re seeing it in lots of ways—in broad ECM initiatives, in records and retention management...people are recognizing the value of information.
“Fifteen years ago people were talking about ‘getting information at your fingertips,’” Andy reminded me, adding that “the result was an information glut. Now, we want the right information at our fingertips. People recognize that intellectual property is strategic, and mindshare is a valuable part of business. There are CIOs from manufacturing companies coming to us who understand that they support a workforce of white-collar employees who don’t work on the manufacturing line; they are marketers or in R&D or positioning and strategy. And all the work they are doing uses unstructured content. Those customers are now coming to us already knowing this. And that’s very exciting,” said Andy.
I couldn’t agree more.
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