EMC’s customers waiting for the great LEAP forward

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Rather than attempting to give customers a ‘Documentum for the consumerised IT generation’, EMC has chosen instead to focus its fanfare on a new family of content-related lightweight cloud apps – now going by the name ‘LEAP’.

Rumours continue to swirl around EMC’s plans for its Enterprise Content Division. It’s appeared ‘non-core’ to a post-merger Dell-EMC right from the beginning. And with the small matter of a $67 billion deal to finance, there are bound to be some sell-offs along the way.

So it was against this backdrop that Rohit Ghai (the Enterprise Content Division’s president) came to EMC World in Las Vegas last week to set out his ECM vision. He was pitching not only to customers and partners, but also inevitably to potential buyers of EMC’s content business. All of whom were keen to see how the Documentum vendor plans to survive and thrive in the SaaS world.

According to EMC, customers haven’t exactly been beating a path to its door to demand new features and functions for Documentum; and nobody expects the 25-year-old (let’s say “mature”) product to be the company’s route to salvation. Those with Documentum firmly enmeshed within the rest of their IT architecture face expensive rip-and-replace costs if they were to jump ship. So their shopping lists are more focused on efforts to lower the total cost of ownership and reduce the pain when upgrading to new releases. Accordingly, Documentum now leverages container technologies to make it easier to deploy. Then later this year it’ll be going ‘cloud-first’ so EMC can iron out more of the bugs (and tease out the benefits) on its own cloud before releasing to customers – thereby reducing upgrade risks.

But what of moving onward and upward (rather than digging in)? Trailed as “Project Horizon” this time last year, EMC World also saw the announcement of its EMC LEAP suite of lightweight SaaS content apps. The company is clearly betting on these to re-establish its relevance in the current era of pay-only-for-what-you-use lightweight cloud-based apps for collaboration and content workflow.

As EMC puts it, its apps integrate with “any content repository”, though they’re engineered to work “better together” with the Documentum family. As an added incentive for current customers, EMC’s new ‘LEAP Together’ programme grants those already paying for qualifying Documentum products access to a loyalty tier of LEAP apps for free.

The first of EMC’s LEAP apps, Courier (for structured document exchange, validation, and tracking) and Snap (for document capture), are set to become generally available next month. Also announced at EMC World were Concert (providing collaborative document authoring, with granular controls), Express (for mobile access to content), and Focus (improving the mobile experience with responsive rendering of content irrespective of device type) – all expected to become available later in 2016.

We’ll take a more detailed look at the LEAP Suite in due course, but in the meantime… what does this mean – either if you’re already a Documentum customer, or even if you’re new to EMC’s ECM?

Well, if you’re an existing customer happy to remain with Documentum for the moment, EMC’s news should at least keep your running costs down. Plus, the LEAP apps promise a way to exploit some consumer workstyle benefits (not to mention SaaS economics) in a way that’s designed to be a snug fit for your existing ECM estate.

How much will this stem the flow of big-time former Documentum customers defecting to born-in-the-cloud SaaS players as they re-imagine and re-engineer how they work with content, though? Well, of course it depends on just how much ripping and replacing would need to be done to facilitate any move, at what cost. And there’s also the question of what would be possible in any case, without a radical overhaul of firmly entrenched business processes. Documentum still powers the innards of a great many enterprises, especially in regulated industries.

Some will be persuaded to make a transformational shift and take a fresh look at how work gets done on a fundamental level. At that point the economics of embracing new SaaS models across the board start to stack up against EMC, unless it can roll out a convincing breadth of cloud services fast enough.

But for the company’s more cautious customers, the existing app roster and promised roadmap should keep them in the fold a while longer… providing EMC can keep up the momentum.

Which brings us to another factor. At the moment, LEAP is an immature suite, although it shows promise. EMC will need to keep innovating rapidly (in its own labs, through acquisitions, and through careful partnering) if it’s going to close the capability gap quickly enough between the nascent LEAP suite and its cloud competitors.

The company has clearly understood the operational needs of its enterprise customers for long time now, and that’s an advantage for EMC (or any new owner of the Enterprise Content division) as it looks to the consumerised side of content management and collaboration to secure its future. However, cloud-based consumer-savvy vendors are fast strengthening their enterprise and security credentials. As customers start to re-think how they work with content, the feature footprint they’ll look for in products and services will start to change (meaning that EMC’s old-world ECM knowledge will get a bit stale, and its advantage will start to slip).

If you’re a Documentum customer already, would LEAP persuade you to go to EMC for your cloud content capabilities? It’s certainly worth a look, but it doesn’t yet cover the range or requirements customers typically expect of a SaaS content collaboration provider. So, fine if you can wait; but there are other options available now – many of whom are claiming Documentum scalps amongst their enterprise wins.

If you’re new to Documentum, would LEAP tempt you in ? Not likely, on the current showing of apps. However, if the rest of the suite takes shape quickly (and its ‘repository agnostic’ stance doesn’t lose too much functionality when pairing with a non-Docuemntum content store) then LEAP starts look like a more rounded proposition. Of course, what will have happened to Documentum (and who will be driving its strategy) by then is unknown at this point!

The keyword is agility. Can EMC shift its business to focus on cloud-based content app innovation fast enough to carve out a place at the next generation ECM table? At the moment it’s leaning heavily on the ‘Documentum advantage’ (in terms of richer integration) to coax its existing customers into a new type of relationship as they take their own first steps into enterprise SaaS adventures.

That plan won’t shore LEAP up forever. At some point it will need to win its own battles if it truly represents a big part of EMC’s ECM future. Otherwise the company’s play remains one of keeping hold of the faithful, rather than converting the unbelievers.

The post EMC’s customers waiting for the great LEAP forward appeared first on The Advisor.

Craig Wentworth

Principal Analyst, MWD Advisors

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