We recently caught up with Laurent Dreuillat, Technical Director of the SI Sword Group in France (West Agency). He stays busy managing complex projects with French government agencies, but he was kind enough to take some time on a Friday to answer some questions for CG.
CG: Usually, big systems integrators cover a broad spectrum of projects in many different domains. Sword’s strategy seems to be more focused, centered on Enterprise Content Management and Information Management, and it has grown into a very solid and quite large company. It is rare to find systems integrators of this size with such a focus. Where does that positioning come from? Should we expect Sword to keep that focus or to continue its growth by expanding to more domains?
Our positioning as a specialist in a few key domains is part of the company philosophy. It’s a strategic choice. We prefer to foster expertise in a few niche areas, because we feel that offers the most added value for our clients. Today, the big SIs cover many domains, and we need an edge to compete in this market. We have the same positioning on the software side; focusing on smaller niche areas, including ECM and information management.
We plan to stay in these domains, and deepen our expertise.
CG: Sword is also “almost” a software provider. You package vertical solutions, but also manage software connectors. If we are not mistaken, for instance, Sword is working with Google to maintain and develop the Google Search Appliance connectors to many of the ECM solutions on the market. What’s the split between your service activity and your software activity? How can these two activities coexist?
Yes, there is a strong software component in our global offering. Software amounts to nearly 50% of our activity. We support Google Search Appliance, but there are also others, such as risk and compliance management, and document management.
We have made a choice to have our software and service offerings remain relatively independent. We find that we are more credible on the service side if we make recommendations to our client based on their specific requirements, without putting our own software solutions at the forefront.
There is, of course, a synergy between our software and services. Our UK colleagues have a software product called “Achiever” that handles risk and compliance management. We are currently working with them to push that solution to a French client.
CG: In the ECM field, what are the solutions you are working with? Which ones are you not working with?
[laughs] We are currently working with Nuxeo, Alfresco, IBM Filenet, Documentum, EverSuite and SharePoint. We don’t work with all of the others.
We are specialized in the ECM domain, but also on a limited number of software solutions. We prefer to foster our expertise rather than spread ourselves too thin.
CG: Forrester recently reported a trend of moving away from large ECM suites and moving towards enabling the design and development of content-centric applications. This trend has been noted by other analysts and industry experts. As you work with customers everyday in the ECM field, we’d like to know your take on this?
Like Forrester, we are seeing more and more clients abandon large document management systems to adopt smaller, more agile systems such as Nuxeo and Alfresco.
Content is very important, but we are seeing a trend towards content management as it relates to the organization’s business processes. BPM goes hand in hand with ECM for many of our clients. Focus has shifted to business processes and the associated documents, rather than project focus strictly on document management.
CG: Another major industry trend is the move to Cloud-based solutions. Do you think your customers are ready to invest in ECM solutions that run on the Cloud?
Our clients are becoming more and more interested in the Cloud. Cloud technology has made a lot of progress – it is now more attractive, reliable, and secure. In the past, these aspects weren’t yet in place, and Cloud solutions were not even a possibility.
That said, we are no longer seeing projects that involve a single, standalone application, such as a document management solution. Our projects involve complex ECM applications, with integrations to BPM tools, BI tools, and more. Access and security are big issues in these projects. With complex systems such as these, access and security between the client IT and application infrastructure and the Cloud is impossible to manage.
CG: What major changes or events do you foresee in the ECM space in 2012?
We expect to see a continuation in 2012 of the trends that we started to notice in 2010-2011. ECM projects are no longer purely ECM projects. They have multiple facets, such as a semantic component, or a BPM integration, or a BI integration, and typically have a complex architecture to make these systems run smoothly together.
Client documents have in fact become business process documents, and document management has taken on a more integrated role within the enterprise value chain.