A few days into my first software sales role back in the 90’s, I was pulled to one side by my boss, who said: “My boy, you have a problem. You are burdened with the knowledge.”
He explained that my in-depth experience of the technology we were selling was turning out to be an impediment. Most sales people learned the pitch then delivered the product presentation without actually knowing much of the detail. I, however, was well aware of what lurked behind each box on the marketecture diagram, as well as its limitations. After years of real world implementation, I couldn’t stop myself analysing the customer situation on the fly and thinking of all the caveats and gotchas – not what you are supposed to focus on when trying to drive a sale.
I eventually learned how to use my knowledge effectively and found that going off script and discussing practicalities was actually an advantage if you did it in the right way. It inspired confidence and trust, and led to better and more sustainable business.
These experiences from earlier in my career came to mind when at a recent dinner event where I sat next to Muhi Majzoub, SVP of Engineering at OpenText, who runs a 1,900 person strong distributed-development empire. Being a bit out of date on how the company’s portfolio was evolving, I asked Majzoub to draw me a picture in my notebook of how it all hung together. The sketch ended up like this:
Don’t worry if you can’t understand it – that wasn’t my intention of showing it to you. The point is that it isn’t the kind of dumbed-down marketecture diagram that we usually see delivered in sales and marketing presentations. It is the result of a fascinating discussion in which someone who knew more detail than I could ever comprehend walked me though the company’s technology assets, and the work being done to strengthen the portfolio.
And yes, it inspired confidence and trust that OpenText not only has a range of respectable technology – some home-grown, some acquired – but also has a good handle on what it needs to do to stay one step ahead of customers as their needs develop.
Sure, it’s not all perfect, e.g. some solutions still need fleshing out and some of the integration across the portfolio is work in progress. But Majzoub’s candid description of where development efforts are being directed was consistent with a clear customer-focus, rather than an agenda based on chasing current marketing bandwagons, which is absolutely not the same.
A lot of what came through from the conversation was an objective to help customers with what marketing people and management consultants might call ‘digital transformation’. In terms of specifics it’s about enabling better and more integrated ways to handle the capture, classification, flow, management and exploitation of electronic information. This is against the backdrop of a world in which traditional organisational, industry and geographic boundaries are coming down, and everything is speeding up. The premise is that as much as possible you want to get your arms around information on a business-wide basis, and even across your supply/demand chains and customer engagement mechanisms.
In order to help with this, Majzoub explained that the reach of the solutions he is working with must be extended, i.e. he needs to enable customers to use them more broadly. This applies across OpenText’s key product lines, including ECM (electronic content management), BPM (business process management), CEM (customer engagement management), IX (information exchange) and discovery (of the risk and compliance kind).
In most organisations, for example, the use of ECM has historically been constrained to parts of the business and types of information that absolutely have to be properly tracked and audited, usually for compliance reasons. The complexity and effort associated with data classification, however, while fine for record managers, has meant poor acceptance among non-specialist users. This is what’s limited the reach of ECM in many organisations.
One area of focus for OpenText’s development effort has therefore been auto-classification based on the use of both business rules and inference techniques to determine the nature of documents, emails, etc. by analysing their content. Acceptance then becomes a non-issue as the user is no longer involved. This approach is suitable for high volume, but relatively low risk content, where less than perfect classification is acceptable both legally and in business terms. If the choice is between auto-classification of emails with a consistent 70-80% level of accuracy, and a totally unreliable and unpredictable user-driven approach, then there’s little argument about the best way forward.
Tuning to content requiring more accurate classification – e.g. financial, quality and safety related documentation – most of this is generated or captured by core business applications. A lot can therefore be achieved by integrating ECM capability directly into the systems of origin. As a simple example, if an invoice is captured by ECM embedded at the right point in an ERP enabled process, pretty much all of the metadata required to classify documents can be derived from the context within which the transaction is taking place. To this end, OpenText already allows you to embed ECM into SAP, and is extending the idea to integrate with other application packages. Again, it’s about minimising reliance on user intervention to allow the reach of ECM to be extended effectively.
Continuing with the integration theme, Majzoub alluded to continued efforts to open up the OpenText portfolio across the board through standard interfaces, and to further streamline interoperability through the use of common components and platforms for things like cloud and analytics. A particular touch point that interested me was between ECM and the GXS trading grid, the latter being a long-established foundation for automating large-scale supply chains in many industries. Our own research tells us that lack of internal information management capability too often impedes effective B2B integration. By bridging the gap between these two areas OpenText will be in an ideal position to help customers get past this issue.
A quick glance at the above diagram will tell you Majzoub and I discussed a lot a more than things I have mentioned. Suffice it to say that through various acquisitions and internal developments, OpenText has built up a solid array of capability and is doing all the right things to bring this together into a harmonious whole. As such, it provides a great example of how technology solutions are evolving in general across the industry to extend the value of hitherto specialised solutions, and in turn enable a broader and more inclusive approach to digital transformation.
Dale is a co-founder of Freeform Dynamics, and today runs the company. As part of this, he oversees the organisation’s industry coverage and research agenda, which tracks technology trends and developments, along with IT-related buying behaviour among mainstream enterprises, SMBs and public sector organisations.