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Observations from Gilbane Boston 2009

The 2009 version of the Gilbane Boston conference was held last week. It was the second one I have attended and my first as a track coordinator (I designed the Collaboration and Social Software track and made it happen.) The event was well attended (c. 1100 people) and the number of sponsors and exhibitors was up significantly from last year’s Boston conference. Many of the sessions I attended offered valuable insights from speakers and audience members. All in all, I would label the conference a success.

The Collaboration and Social Software track sessions were designed to minimize formal presentation time and encourage open discussion between panelists and audience members instead. Each session focused on either a common collaboration challenge (collaborative content authoring, content sharing, fostering discussions, managing innovation) or on a specific technology offering (Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and Google Wave.) The sessions that dealt with specific technologies produced more active discussion than those that probed general collaboration issues. I am not sure why that was the case, but the SharePoint and Wave sessions spawned the level of interactivity that I had hoped for in all the panels. The audience seemed a bit reticent to join in the others. Perhaps it took them a while to warm up (the SharePoint and Wave sessions were at the end of the track.)

Here are some other, high level observations from the entire Gilbane Boston 2009 conference:

Twitter: Last year (and at Gilbane San Francisco in June 2009) attendees were buzzing about Twitter, wondering what it was and how it could be used in a corporate setting. This year the word “Twitter” was hardly uttered at all, by presenters or attendees. Most audience members seemed to be fixated on their laptop or smartphone during the conference sessions, but the related tweet stream flow was light compared to other events I’ve attended this quarter. The online participation level of folks interested in content management seems to mirror their carbon form patterns. Most are content to listen and watch, while only a few ask questions or make comments. That is true across all audiences, of course, but it seemed especially pronounced at Gilbane Boston.

SharePoint 2010: This topic replaced Twitter as the ubiquitous term at Gilbane Boston. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “SharePoint” at the conference, I would be able to buy a significant stake in Microsoft! Every company I consulted with during the event was seeking to make SharePoint either their primary content management and collaboration platform, or a more important element in their technology mix. Expectations for what will be possible with SharePoint 2010 are very high. If Microsoft can deliver on their vision, they will gain tremendous share in the market; if not, SharePoint may well have seen its zenith. Everything that I have heard and seen suggests the former will occur.

Google Wave: This fledgling technology also generated substantial buzz at Gilbane Boston. The session on Wave was very well attended, especially considering that it was the next-to-last breakout of the conference. An informal poll of the session audience indicated that nearly half have established a Wave account. However, when asked if they used Wave regularly, only about 20% of the registered users responded affirmatively;. Actual participation in the Wave that I created for attendees to take notes and discuss the Collaboration track online underscored the poll results. Most session attendees said they see the potential to collaborate differently, and more effectively and efficiently, in Wave, but cited many obstacles that were preventing them from doing so at this time. Audience members agree that the Wave user experience has a long way to go; functionality is missing and the user interface and features that are there are not easy to use. Most attendees thought Wave’s current shortcomings would be improved or eliminated entirely as they product matures. However, many also noted that collaboration norms within their organization would have to change before Wave is heavily adopted.

Open Source: This was the hot topic of the conference. Everyone was discussing open source content management and collaboration software. An informal poll of the audience at the opening keynote panel suggested that about 40% were using open source content management software. Many of the other attendees wanted to learn more about open source alternatives to the proprietary software they have been using. Clients that I met with asked questions about feature availability, ease of use, cost benefits, and financial viability of providers of open source content management and collaboration software. It was clear that open source is now considered a viable, and perhaps desirable, option by most organizations purchasing enterprise software.

My big take-away from Gilbane Boston 2009 is that we are experiencing an inflection point in the markets for enterprise content management and collaboration software. Monolithic, rigid, proprietary solutions are falling out of favor and interest in more lightweight, flexible, social, open source offerings is rapidly growing. I expect that this trend will continue to manifest itself at Gilbane San Francisco in June 2010, and beyond.

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6 Comments

  1. sadalit

    This is a great summary of the conference. I noticed the prevalence of the SharePoint topic as well – about one-sixth of the sessions featured “SharePoint” in the title – although I was surprised not to hear much mention of SharePoint’s in-the-cloud offering, which theoretically could be positioned as a combination of the monolithic/rigid/proprietary with lightweight/flexible (though not open source).

  2. Ken Wasetis

    Larry,
    Your assessment was quite similar to mine, but I’d like to comment on a couple things:
    1) I’d agree that Sharepoint was a popular topic at the conference (by design due to heavy sponsorship of tracks and demos by Microsoft), and while we’re also seeing demand for best-of-breed solutions integrating WCMS (Plone in our case) with Sharepoint solutions in our projects, I don’t yet see Sharepoint delivering on the vision of being a successful WCMS any more than it has in the past; it still seems like a web-based network directory share that adds easy forms generation. I don’t put it by Redmond to come up with something better still, but the current plan is still lacking in terms of WCMS features.
    MS had a tool from nCompass Labs that they purchased around 2001 and seem to have buried it, which is too bad as it was a superior WCMS to Sharepoint.
    2) While Open Source was definitely a more popular topic than at previous Gilbane events (that we at ContextualCorp.com saw as a refreshing trend, as we demonstrated the Plone CMS at our booth and fielded questions), it still seemed like the attendees had a lot of basic questions about how open source CMS tools would work as a solution in their organization.
    While Aflresco and Drupal have individual companies that seems to direct a lot about where these tools will go, and which seems to give Gartner/Forrester an easier time of applying their typical criteria, Plone and various other open source CMS tools are truly managed, developed, and supported by a network of vendors, in a more democratic fashion, and so would-be-adopters seem to have some confusion over which ‘vendor is behind’ such tools.
    Hopefully, the Gartners, Forresters, CMS Watches, Optaroses, and 451 Groups of the world, can help better educate the CMS adopting market on how critical it is to partner with an integrator with proven experience on whatever CMS they choose to use, whether it is commercial or open source.
    It seems that, even though open source CMS tools are now used for quite large/enterprise solutions and organizations, there’s a bit of a gap in understanding in this area that we from the open source community and the analysts will need to continue to help educate customers on.
    It was refreshing to see that 40% of attendees at Gilbane Boston were already using open source solutions (if not open source CMS, necessarily), and I hope that you’ll continue to help attendees gain an understanding of these options at your San Franciso and future events.
    Thanks for allowing me to comment and thanks for such a nice event!
    Ken Wasetis
    President
    Contextual
    (www.contextualcorp.com)

  3. James Hoskins

    Your commentary on SP2010 says that everything you’ve seen and heard suggests Microsoft will gain tremendous market share with their new release. Then under Open Source you state “Monolithic, rigid, proprietary solutions are falling out of favor and interest in more lightweight, flexible, social, open source offerings is rapidly growing”
    This looks highly contradictory and I’m left wondering what the real learning point of this is?

  4. Larry Hawes

    Ken: Thank you for your comments and for being part of Gilbane Boston 2009.
    Regarding SharePoint 2010, yes, its ubiquity at the conference was, in part, by design, but not only because Microsoft was a major sponsor of the event. Individual session topic were selected by a number of different people plannin g the event, and all without consideration as to whether or not a particular vendor was involved with the conference. SharePoint was given so much attention precisely because it is a focal point in the content management and collaboration software markets right now.
    From a features perspective, SharePoint will continue to lag behind offerings for other WCM vendors. That is consistent with Microsoft’s roadmaps for its other products. Functionality missing from Microsoft products is often built and offered by Microsoft partners initially, with Microsoft eventually incorporating similar features after they’ve been proven in the marketplace. Buyers considering WCM solutions should evaluate the entire Microsoft ecosystem, not just SharePoint itself.
    I agree with your observation that while acceptance of open source software has grown, there is still a need for more education and active discussion about it targeted to prospective buyers. Gilbane Group welcomes your (and others’) ideas about specific research publications and conference sessions that would fill those needs.

  5. Larry Hawes

    James: Right you are! I noticed this apparent contradiction while writing the post. I addressed the situation yesterday when it was raised on another blog to which the post was syndicated. Here is my response to the point made there that is highly similar to yours:
    “I knew someone was going to ask that question! And it is a fair one. SharePoint 2010 is neither lightweight nor open source, but it definitely offers significantly more social features than SP 2007. It is also very flexible, because only needed functionality can be deployed and developers can extend the platform to meet requirements.
    I’m not sure how things will fall either, but I do believe that Microsoft will gain share in both the content management and collaboration markets with SP 2010. Microsoft’s shift in marketing focus to include business managers, not just IT, will drive as much or more of that share gain as product improvements will.”
    I hope this helps you with the paradox presented in this post. Sadalit’s comment (above) about Microsoft SharePoint Online further validates the view that SharePoint is flexible and social, while still being proprietary and dense.

  6. Larry Hawes

    Sadie: Thanks, especially for validating my sense that, with SharePoint 2010, Microsoft has created an offering that combines attributes of both proprietary and open source software. It is important to note that neither type of vendor has exclusive rights to produce software that can be deployed to meet the specific requirements of an individual organization and its constituents.

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