Open Text Wants Social Tools To Bloom

Last week at Open Text Content World in Orlando, I had the chance to hear about some new products and strategies.  Here are some highlights.

Overall, the main take away from Content World is that Open Text is encouraging customers to embrace social tools, and wants to show customers that they can use these tools effectively and in a safe enterprise-friendly environment.

The strategy that Open Text presented is called Bloom.  Bloom is not a product or product family, but a means for bringing social software tools into the enterprise in a safe and auditable manner.  Bloom is intended to enable Enterprise 2.0, which is a blanket term that refers to tacking social and collaboration tools onto enterprise applications and environments.  The message at the event was simple: social tools such as blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, micro-blogging of status updates, social bookmarking, and presence awareness are here to stay, and by bringing them into the enterprise, an organization can improve collaboration, speed up development cycles, and increase knowledge sharing.

Although many of the capabilities that Bloom emphasizes already exist in Open Text products, looking forward the Bloom strategy focuses on the following key areas: Web 2.0 tools, social networking, social analytics, and social compliance.  The foundation for Bloom is the Open Text ECM Suite, which includes integrated tools for document management, digital asset management, Web content management, collaboration, e-mail, and archiving.  All the functionality of the tools is intended to be tied together on a macro level by social software features.

The Bloom and Enterprise 2.0 strategy aims to address the following points: experience and workgroup optimization, content management with 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, communities, and forums, enterprise-level safety of those same tools, and improving search with “find before search,” Open Text’s ideal search situation where relevant content is presented to the user without them having to search for it.  This is in theory accomplished by information being found and delivered preemptively based on the users’ context and role.

Social tools that support Bloom and Enterprise 2.0 are already available in Livelink through Communities of Practice, but the new push includes extending the functionality of social tools beyond the desktop and laptop computers to the mobile device.  To this end, Open Text has developed a project codenamed “Bluefield,” which is a browser-based enterprise-ready workspace and social community builder that consists of profiles with standard contact info and personal blogs, communities that can be formed around projects or teams and feed updates of colleagues and changes that are made to documents or projects.  For iPhone and BlackBerry users, the experience is identical on the mobile device to what one would experience on a laptop or desktop.  Bluefield includes the ability to edit Word or Excel documents through a browser, with changes reflected live on the server.  This eliminates the need to download the document to the device, keeping the experience extremely lightweight.

A weak point for Bluefield (and all browser-based tools) is the lack of offline access.  The ability to access documents and work offline is still important despite proclamations from Open Text that Net access is ubiquitous.  For instance, if I were using Bluefield through a browser on my laptop to edit a Word document, then I would have to remember to save a copy to my hard drive before getting on the plane so I could work on it while aloft and offline.  I would then have to replace the document into Bluefield when back online.

Also shown at Content World was a social analytics tool and search technology that is currently referred to as the “Relationship Engine”, although the name and future product form are still in flux.  What is intriguing is the ability to enter a set of data and create visualizations that show the relationship between nodes, and to switch the point of view to drill down into the visualization.  In the demonstration presented, data from the event was used to create visual maps of the connections among attendees, breakout sessions, conference tracks, and presenters.  The premise is simple, yet fitting; everything is an object, be it a person, document, seminar, or project, and the relationships between those objects can tell us much about how information flows and how best to route it.

Although still in development, the potential to apply the technology to search and social analytics is exciting.  This kind of technology is hopefully the future of search, which is currently a fundamentally flawed tool.  The ability to search for content and see who is connected to that content right from the results page could be a large step in improving the essential but somewhat ham-handed tools we all use everyday to find information.

Although social software functionality and search are clearly not new areas for Open Text products, what came across at Content World was a refocusing on communicating the safety and enterprise capabilities of social tools.  This mirrors what we are seeing across the market, an increased interest in pulling these tools into the enterprise and taming them without losing what drives their value – the ability to facilitate communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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