Two worlds collide in Boston

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t so much a collision as it was a harmless grazing. Even though there wasn’t a lot of crossover between the two, I’d still like to offer, as Mel Brooks put it, a “firm embrace” to whomever had the bright idea to co-locate DrupalCon with AIIM this week in Boston because I think (I hope) it gave the old guard of ECM some exposure to and appreciation for the wave of innovation taking place in the space.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there was as much crossover from the AIIM attendee side as there was from the Drupal side. There were a few curious DrupalCon’ers that ventured in to the AIIM exhibition hall. One person shouted out, “Hell yeah, Open Source!” as she walked by the Alfresco/Optaros booth, giving me a sort of “fight the power” gesture as she passed (at least that’s how I interpreted the gesture). Others stopped to chat at our little oasis of open source in the closed source desert. The serious under-representation of open source at the AIIM conference was a major topic of conversation.

I doubt we’ll ever see full integration between the two conferences–90% of the DrupalCon attendees were technical developers and integrators while AIIM attendees are mostly IT and business people evaluating or looking to purchase ECM solutions.

Another big difference is scope. AIIM, as an organization and as a conference, has gotten way too broad, at least for my own interests. A scanner that knows how to open sealed envelopes before imaging the contents is really cool, it’s just not a typical component of the solutions I implement.

Forgive the tangent, but this problem goes beyond AIIM to “ECM” itself. As Alan Pelz-Sharpe of CMSWatch pointed out in one of his sessions (the CMSWatch sessions were far and away the best sessions), almost everything under the sun calls itself “ECM” from source code control to imaging to records management in addition to my focus areas, WCM, Portal, Search, Collaboration, and Document Management. Indeed, the term was invented, largely by vendors, as a way to group all of those types of solutions together in an attempt to convince buyers that having one vendor that could do all of those things is better than buying from individual niche vendors.

I don’t deny a need for an association or a conference that can help people solve problems in these areas but how much overlap can there really be between people interested in microfiche and those looking to implement Web 2.0? One of our clients in the media industry stopped by the booth and asked me, “Are you sure this is the biggest content management conference of the year?”. He was having trouble finding the relevant content management information lost in the noise of vendors hawking copiers, scanners, and printers.

Anyway, back to the “two worlds” topic, the idealist in me hopes a sort of ping pong diplomacy took place. Perhaps the DrupalCon attendees were the New York Philharmonic to AIIM’s North Korea. Maybe a few of the suits learned something from the insightful questions being asked by the messenger bag crowd. Rather than be annoyed, I was actually encouraged by the legacy ECM vendor who came to our booth and grilled me on Alfresco and how it compared to their product. I tried to get her to renounce her faith right then and there but she was tough.

AIIM could do more to encourage that kind of cultural exchange and maybe even foster the innovation that old school ECM so sorely lacks. It sounds like the Rocky Mountain Chapter is planning on offering some open source topics soon. That’s great and I hope to see that happen in other chapters. And while we’re at it, maybe AIIM could offer free floor space to non-commercial open source projects. Just a thought.

At the very least, I hope the physical presence of 800 – 900 people passionate about open source content management was a jarring reality check to AIIM, legacy ECM vendors, and the larger community.

On a tactical note, a nice side-benefit of the co-located conferences was that the Optaros folks attending DrupalCon were able to put in some booth time on the AIIM show floor. If you want to read more about some of the DrupalCon sessions, check out John Eckman’s blog.

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