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Chickens and eggs

August 3, 2010

The recent excitement over the Adobe Day acquisition has been infectious in the ECM community. And although it shouldn’t have been too surprising to folks who’ve been watching the industry over the last few years, it does open up some suggestive possibilities in the ECM space (see Lee Dallas’ quick overview of the Adobe Day acquisition as well as the comment thread for a good example).

As usual, I’ll leave a sustained consideration of all this to the experts, but all the buzz has gotten me thinking about the relationship between supply and demand in the ECM marketplace, that is, do vendors create demand by bringing innovative solutions to the market, or do market demands drive vendors to produce solutions for existing problems?

Take the evolution of the SharePoint offering over the last five years: how do we explain the breakneck adoption of MOSS year one? Do we chalk it up to an unfulfilled need lying in wait among business users for the functionality MOSS provided that hadn’t been meet before then? Or did the distinctive combination of functionality and UI/UX MOSS offered catalyze end users to do business in new ways that capitalized on MOSS’s feature set?

We see this chicken and egg question at work in the larger world of technology, of course. Think of the iPad—who could know they would want something that they couldn’t even imagine yet? But once the technology is released, suddenly a groundswell of demand rises up to meet the new product…and us pundits are left to wonder how the product development folks so closely matched their new product to previously unrecognized end user needs.

And even for us folks who don’t bring a tangible product to market but rather intangible services like strategic consulting, the same issue remains: is the need for an enterprise strategy for how to manage content lying in wait at organizations for someone to come along and meet it? Or must we create that need by educating organizational leaders about the importance of managing content effectively?

I don’t have a definitive answer yet to these questions, but think that the solution lies somewhere in the middle. Yes SharePoint brought a distinctive set of features and functionality to the market, but its rapid adoption couldn’t have happened if there wasn’t such a ubiquitous need for the basic document management and collaboration it provided. And the iPad is certainly a groundbreaking device that in some ways came out of nowhere…but it taps into consumer behaviors and needs that have been brewing for a while now with no product available to meet them.

Not sure what the significance of all these questions and tentative answers is, but it’s something I plan to wrestle with more over the next few months. So if folks out there have thoughts, opinions, more questions—bring them on. Let’s get the conversation started.

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