Laurence Hart in ParisRecently we had the pleasure of meeting up with Laurence Hart, Director, Technology Solutions for Washington Consulting, Inc. and author of the blog Word of Pie, at the Nuxeo World conference in Paris where he delivered the keynote, Content Management Market Trends. In between the tech talks and champagne Contentgeeks took a few moments to get our own slice of Pie.

CG: Hi Laurence, first off, should I call you Laurence or Pie?

Yes. [laughs] Whichever y’all prefer. I go by both. Professionally, I go by Laurence, but do tend to get more recognition as Pie.

CG: So, you’re a veteran of Enterprise Content Management (no offense ;-) ) and you’ve seen the landscape evolve quite a bit. The first question I’d like to ask is about how the ECM landscape has evolved in the US. Traditionally, the US has been very centralized, isolated, and there are plenty of software vendors from the US, but we see now that companies like Nuxeo or Alfresco are gaining ground in t****he US, while at the same time we also see many vendors from Europe establishing themselves in the WCM space. Does that mean that the technology space in the US has matured, becoming more globalized?

I would say the European companies have gained more of a foothold, but still have a long way to go. Plus, the US is pretty self-centered. Companies like Alfresco and Autonomy have gained a lot of traction, but, as the economy becomes more global, in order to address the requirements of the US federal IT modernization market, European companies are going to need more of a US footprint. Likewise US companies who want to expand globally are going to need more of a European footprint. This becomes more of an issue when it comes to content as organizations have to look at how government regulations affect their solutions. For example, in the US, the Patriot Act—a company who might opt for cloud hosting must also consider whether their data will stay in country and also ensure that there are some places their data doesn’t go. Suddenly the location of data centers becomes very important to SaaS, beyond simple performance considerations.

If we look at how things have played out in the US, we have to look at what Sharepoint has accomplished, which is not to say it’s the de facto choice when it comes to ECM, but it has done its part in bringing ECM to the masses. There’s more content than ever that needs to be managed and Sharepoint has brought the idea of what it takes to manage that content to the forefront of a larger audience. That’s a new level of maturity in the market that has occurred.

CG: You’ve been speaking a lot about content management platforms…we see a lot of “platforms” these days, some of which are really platforms in our understanding, others which are less… Could you help our readers understand the term “platform” by highlighting what you expect to find in a content management platform. How would you define this in short?

I recently wrote a piece on my blog about this very subject, What is a CMS? Really… where I break down the basic services necessary to even qualify as a rudimentary CMS, but when we start talking about platforms well…

CG: And what’s your short definition on a content management “system” versus a content management “platform”?

You can use a system as a platform, but a platform isn’t necessarily a system. With a system you tend to get more ready out of the box deployment, but with a platform you’re going with the intent of building applications on top of it.

CG: Along those lines…a platform has the tricky mission to fulfill the needs of 3 main personas: development teams, IT operations, and users. What’s the most important factor for you when choosing a technology, is it that it caters better to developers, administrators or end users?

Well this varies by organization. Obviously, if you don’t have the right administration capabilities the solution will fail over time. Dev support depends on how much of the core functionality you want to change. The primary key is the user. If the other two groups can’t do the job of making users happy and delivering something on budget then it doesn’t matter if the devs and admins are happy. If users aren’t happy, they simply won’t use the product. Users are becoming more and more the owners of Content Management Systems.

CG: So, as part of a platform, of course supporting standards is important. CMIS is one that cannot be ignored and that you know fairly well. What is your take on the state of CMIS now, almost 2 years after version 1, and what are you thoughts of its future?

I’m happy with the progress and the work that’s been done on the next version. Of course, you’d always like to see these things go faster but getting everyone to agree is key. I’m pleased to see that vendors have started to adopt it, it comes up more an more as a requirement in Enterprise Content Management RFPs, so the message is filtering down, but I would like to see some improvements. There are still problems that have to be addressed at this point, things like basic integration and handling of traditional business problems like records management capabilities and managing the relationship of information (semantic technology). They’re working in that direction so that’s good.

CG: On news topics, we recently saw raised 80 millions USD, and more recently Dropbox raised 250 million USD, for the size of these companies, this is a lot of capital.

How do you see the rise of document sharing services of that kind and how do you see this impacting the Enterprise Content Management space? Do you see these as integrated components of a robust Content Management solution, one that advocates even more for a platform approach and the need for connectivity or do you see these new generation sharing services and tools more as playing the game of competing with ECM vendors (which is clearly the message conveyed by one of them…).

Well, yes, there’s definitely one document sharer that wants to tackle the content management space…Box. That’s a big threat because they have the user friendly interface and have built up a lot of infrastructure, but they still need to add important features and expand their data centers and services to attract companies. It’s really a footrace to see who gets there first, a race to move the Content Management business model to the cloud, essentially the realization of what the Internet promised us over 20 years ago. Nuxeo has the features and is moving that direction, but no one is there yet. In the end, though, leaders of the content space will be cloud-based. Companies that are primarily on-premise will still have a place, but they won’t be leaders.

CG: What would you do with so much money if you were Box?

I would invest in data centers, spread out the locations so that they’re distributed geographically, figure out ways to hit those gaps in the CMS vendors. And, I would focus on building the right features…their biggest missing feature now is the ability to add custom metadata.

CG: One really interesting thing about and Dropbox is that both of them are cloud based, Software as a Service. When do you think ECM in the cloud will be real? Do you think organisations are ready for that? Taking individuals’ data and tools in the cloud is one thing that we know can be done now, and with a good level of security, however, taking an all encompassing process like Enterprise Content Management is another story closer to Platform as a Service providers.

First off, it’s important to remember that ECM is a strategy not a product, and any content management in the cloud is part of that strategy. Putting more in the cloud is the answer versus on-premise solutions. We’re getting some early adopters now and I think we’ll see some success stories over the next year. Over the next 2-3 years, whoever is in the cloud space and ready will win. Traditional vendors think they have time, but if they don’t get there first, they will lose.

Many organizations are close to being ready, but they are waiting for maturity but even more so they’re waiting for someone big to do it first. They’re not willing to be the first to adopt, but they’re more than happy to be the 2nd. Everyone is watching to see who will take the first successful leap.

CG: There’s a lot of development happening in the Open Source Content Management world, many seem to be gaining momentum and taking on some of the well-established giants such as Sharepoint or Documentum. What’s your take on this and on Open Source in the Content Management sphere?

I don’t see it as an issue between open vs. closed. What you’re really looking at are the financial models: subscriptions vs. licenses and level of risk. Open source is great from a platform perspective as you can build on top of it. And, while we like to think of it as free, it’s not, as once you’ve got the product you’re going to want support, but you only pay for what you need. It’s actually the open source vendors who are in the prime position to win in the cloud space as they have a financial model in place that already fits the way the technology is delivered. Traditional licensed-based vendors will have to adjust their financial models to go into the cloud and that is much harder to do.

CG: On a final note, since the rise of social media, more than ever we see new applications coming out with lots of buzz and hype—sometimes justified, other times not. So, on the technical side, while languages like Java are still used extensively and have made some tremendous progress, there is a wave of “thought leaders” pushing for new languages such as Ruby on Rails or more recently Scala. On the same note, there’s more and more noise and chatter happening around NoSql technologies in opposition of traditional SQL databases. As a technologist, where do you stand? Would you consider using these emerging languages for your projects?

I normally work with whatever language is supported by the product we’re interacting with. I look at the project holistically with the biggest question being: Can I get good resources to make this work? Generally it’s Java as I know I can find these resources, but if someone wanted to work using a new programing language then I’m game. I always make sure I hire developers that have the ability to learn a new language and if I can get one or two developers using a new technology then they can easily teach the others.

Short answer, I have no prejudice, but we haven’t had to do a raw development project from scratch in awhile. Plus, even if I had to guess as to the next big language, I’d be wrong. Programming languages evolve and fade out over time as technology evolves. I’ve never seen anyone be “right” except those who happened to say Java would take off. Just as many people said Java wouldn’t work. In the end, every programming language has its redeeming qualities.

Heather Fassio for (@hfassio on twitter)