Dec 092011

Prediction: The ABS Movement Gathers Steam

ABS stands for “anything but Sharepoint.” While Sharepoint 2010 added capabilities and fixed others since the 2007 version, it is still a complex, unwieldy, and costly product that often requires add-on software to be really useful. The wiki feature is still deficient, and the term store has too many holes to make it a real enterprise-wide taxonomy tool.

In the meantime, a number of cloud-based, highly collaborative, easy-to-use products have emerged that can meet 80% of some users’ needs at 20% of the cost. I’m talking about products like Jive (which hopefully SAP won’t love to death if the rumors of an acquisition are true), Yammer, and IGLOO. IGLOO in particular intrigues me because the content management features are closer to those of a traditional CMS (documents can be versioned, checked out, reserved, etc.) thanks to the history of its founders, who came from OpenText. Once you have discussions, blogs, wikis, profiles, and a good document library, you’re close to telling Microsoft you don’t need their behemoth, even though you will still lose the tight integration with Office that the “Microsoft ecosystem” provides. The tradeoff may be worth it, especially if you have not yet made your multi-million-dollar commitment to Sharepoint.

Another benefit of a cloud-based ABS solution is that it is much easier to open to external participants (clients, suppliers, academic partners, contractors, etc.) than an on-premise installation. Sure, it also means that you need to address the risks of a solution in the cloud, including security and guaranteed access to your data if the provider runs into trouble. But think of the advantage of authorizing a contractor, in just a few clicks, to access just what she needs from anywhere on the Internet, instead of jumping through hoops to provide a corporate network identity and VPN access to an internally hosted solution.

Corollary: Our Identity Crisis Needs Solving

In this world of constantly shifting collaboration between participants from multiple entities accessing cloud-based workspaces, we also need to solve the “identity problem.” Today, the only way you know that a certain Claude Baudoin on LinkedIn is the same one you see in the Collaboration 2.0 Yammer group, and the one you see on Google+, is if I use the same e-mail address for all systems. If I change my e-mail provider (or use my Cutter e-mail alias in one place, my Stanford alumnus alias in another, etc.), then I suddenly become struck with multiple personality disorder. We need a way to claim a single registered identity that does not depend on a specific e-mail address, but we also need to preserve the anonymity of people who live in repressive countries.

I am not sure this problem will be seriously attacked in 2012 because it is so complex. For one thing, who can be trusted to be the Great Registrar in the Cloud, when any error or malfeasance could touch our electronic lives so much? The current trend is for new applications to allow you to link to your account at another site (Facebook is one of the most popular identity references, for the obvious reason that it has the most users) but this is still not enough to give someone a stable, lifelong, unique, verified “Internet passport” when they so desire.

[Editor’s Note: This post is part of the annual “Cutter Predicts …” series, compiled at the Cutter Consortium website.]


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