G360 Now Open Text

I have been listening to the chatter about Open Text's recent acquisition of Global 360. Here is my take on it.

Both companies historically have followed a rollup strategy - acquiring content management and workflow companies with a decent installed base but low growth, and then mostly leaving them alone. Unlike, say Oracle's acquisition or BEA or IBM's acquisition of Lombardi, there does not seem to be a grand plan for unifying a killer BPMS with the best parts of all the acquisitions. On the analyst call, Open Text admitted they are still working on the roadmap, but I came away with the impression that nothing would change very much. Metastorm would keep on being Metastorm, G360 would keep on its track. Only the company letterhead would change.

And if so, I think that would be too bad. If you compare IBM's acquisition of FileNet (leave it alone) versus Lombardi (revitalize the core offering), there is no question which path is better... if the acquirer has the vision and can afford the necessary engineering investment. Executives from Open Text and G360 both emphasized dominance of the "Microsoft-based" BPMS market as a key reason for the acquisition. Certainly, by uniting the biggest players in that market, that would seem to make sense. But I didn't hear a vision for creating a Microsoft-based BPMS that can compete, on a product functionality basis, with IBM, Oracle, Pega, or even Appian.

What would a world-class Microsoft-based BPMS look like? It would leverage Visio and Sharepoint, for sure. G360 has started down that path but not there yet. It would add BPMN 2.0 support, something Microsoft just stubbornly refuses to acknowledge. It would provide tools for .Net developers equivalent to those available on Java. And it would take maximum advantage of Microsoft's evolving cloud, mobile, and social platforms.

I haven't followed Metastorm but I am a fan of G360's case management. It hasn't changed all that much since the late 1990s when it was called Workfolder, owned by Wang and hosted on Microsoft Outlook. (I wrote the user guide for it back in 1998!) And then it was rewritten in Java by Dave Lakness (an engineering manager colleague of mine from Wang in the 1980s), called Sonora. And now it's ported to Sharepoint. The platform changes but the functionality is basically the same, and still one of the best case management offerings available. The plan now seems to be to merge it with Process 360, which is basically the old ViewStar product from the 1990s.

I hope that is not what happens. Yes, merging case management and conventional BPM is a good thing - a no-brainer, really - but simply recycling 1990s technology is not the way to do it. Better to take a page from IBM's Lombardi playbook and choose the best pieces from across the portfolio and then do the necessary engineering to create a world-class unified offering.

Open Text said the roadmap would not be ready for a year. The analysts groused about that, but then IBM did the same thing with Lombardi. They waited a year and then said, "OK, here's the roadmap, and by the way, the integrated offering is already in beta and GA in 2 months." In other words, they knew what they wanted to do all along, but weren't sure how hard it would be to get there. If that's what is really going on at Open Text, this could be a really good thing for BPMS users.