Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Friday, October 06, 2006

ILM - The Oliver Stone Version

I've noticed that you don't hear much about ILM anymore. A few articles in InfoStor maybe. What news you do hear is mostly of restructurings or closings at small startup companies in the space. It seems that many ILM plays are moving into other markets or selling narrow interpretations of their technology under a different guise. I've pondered this turn of events and have collected a number of theories as to what has happened to ILM. So grab your popcorn and read "Tom's ILM Conspiracies"

It Was All Hooey To Begin With
One of the most popular theories is that ILM was a load of horse hockey from the start. The story goes this way:

  1. Big companies find core technology doesn't sell as well as it used to

  2. They quickly come up with a gimmick - take a basket of old mainframe ideas and give them a three letter acronym

  3. Hoist on stupid and unsuspecting customers

  4. Sit back an laugh as the rubes buy the same stuff with new facade

This is a variation of the "lipstick on a pig" theory that says ILM was only other stuff repackaged. It was all a scam perpetrated by evil marketing and sales guys to make their quota and get their bonuses.

Unfortunately, there are several holes in this theory. First, a lot of the companies in the space are new ones. While they take the lead from the big ones, they don't get technology and products from the big companies. They actually had to go out and make new technology not just repackage old stuff. The same is true for the big companies. Many had to develop or acquire entirely new technology to create their ILM offerings.

I also don't think that IT managers are as stupid as this theory would make them out to be. Your average manager with a college degree and a budget to manage rarely buys gear just because the salesman said it was "really important". So the marketing ploy argument falls down.

Good Idea. Too Bad It Didn't Work

Also known as a "Day Late and a Dollar Short. This theory says that ILM was a great idea but just too hard to implement or build products around. There is some truth to this one. It is hard to develop process automation products that don't require huge changes in the IT infrastructure. ILM is especially susceptible to this since it deals with rather esoteric questions such as "what is information? , "how do I define context?", and "what is the value of information?". Packaging these concepts into a box or software is not trivial.

It probably didn't help that a lot of ILM product came out of the storage industry. Folks in that neck of the woods didn't have a background in business process automation, the closest relative to ILM.

Put another way - making ILM products is hard and a lot of companies found it to too hard to stay in the market.

The Transformer Theory or Morphing Into Something Bigger
ILM. More than meets the eye! It's funny if you say it in a robotic voice and have seen the kids cartoon and toys from the 80's. But seriously folks, the latest theory is that ILM hasn't disappeared, it's simply morphed into Information Management. This line of thought goes like this:

  • ILM was only a start, a part of the whole

  • It was successful to a large degree

  • Now it is ready to expand into a whole new thing

  • Get more money from customers

This is one of those sort of true and not true ideas. It is true that ILM is part of a larger category of Information Management. So is information auditing and tracking, search, information and digital asset management, document and records management, and even CAS. That doesn't mean that ILM as a product category has gone away. Not everyone needs all aspects of Information Management. Some folks only need to solve the problems that ILM addresses.

So, while ILM is now recognized as a subcategory of Information Management, it has not been consumed by it. This theory does not explain the relative quiet in the ILM world.

A twist on this theory is that ILM has simply gotten boring. No one wants to talk about it because it is pretty much done. That's boloney! Most vendors are only just starting to ship viable ILM products and IT has hardly begun to implement them. Nope. Put the Transformers toys and videos away.

Back and To The Left. Back and To The Left.
ILM was assassinated! Just as it looked like ILM would become a major force in the IT universe, evil analysts (who never have anything good to say about anything) and slow-to-market companies started to bad mouth it. It was a lie, they said. It was thin and there was nothing there. Unlike the "Hooey" theory, assassination assumes that there was something there but it was killed off prematurely by dark forces within our own industry.

That's a bit heavy, don't you think? Sure, there are naysayers and haters of any new technology - heck! I can remember someone telling me that the only Internet application that would ever matter was e-mail - but there are also champions. When you have heavy hitters like EMC and StorageTek (when they existed) promoting something, it's hard to imagine that a small group of negative leaning types could kill off the whole market.

Remember, there were a lot of people who hated iSCSI and said it would never work. Now, it's commonplace. Perhaps, like iSCSI it will just take awhile for ILM to reach critical mass. It is by no means dead. So that can't explain the dearth of noise

It was always about the process anyway
They have seen the light! Finally, all is clear. ILM was about the process. The process of managing information according to a lifecycle. A lifecycle based on and control by the value of the information. No products needed, so nothing to talk about.

Sort of. Okay, many people have heard me say this a hundred times. It's The Process, Stupid. However, designing the process and policies is one thing. Actually doing them is something else entirely. ILM relies on a commitment by a business to examine their needs, create processes, translate these into information policies, and then spend money on products to automate them. Just as it's hard to build a house without tools, it's hard to do ILM without tools. Software primarily but some hardware too.

It's good that we have woken to the fact that ILM is about process and policy. That doesn't explain why there isn't more news about tools that automate them.

No Time To Say Hello - Goodbye! I'm Late!" Theory
Also known as "That Ain't Working'. That's The Way You Do It" effect.. This theory postulates that IT managers simply have more important things to do. Who has time for all that process navel gazing? We have too many other things to do (sing with me "We've got to install microwave ovens.") and simply don't have the time to map out our information processes and design policies for ILM. I'm sure that's true. I'm sure that's true for almost every IT project. It's a matter of priority. However, we do know that lots of people are struggling with information management issues, especially Sarbannes-Oxley requirements. If that wasn't true, the business lobby wouldn't be expending so much energy to get SOX eliminated or watered down.

There is a kernel of truth here. If IT doesn't see ILM as a priority, it will die on the vine. I just don't think that ILM is such a low priority that it explains the lack of positive news.

Everything is Fine Thanks. No, Really. It's Okay.
What are you talking about, Tom? Everything is peachy keen! We're at a trough in the product cycle and that makes us a bit quiet. No. Um. Customers are too busy implementing ILM to talk about it. That's the ticket. No wait! They are talking about it but no one reports it anymore. It's too dull. That's because it is so successful.

Nice try.

Not nearly enough IT shops are doing ILM, this is the time in the cycle when products (and press releases) should be pouring out, and the trade press will still write about established technology. Just look at all the articles about D2D backup and iSCSI, two very well established and boring technologies (and I mean that in only the most positive way). I will admit that ILM is no longer the flavor of the month but you would think that you'd hear more more about it. We still hear about tape backup. Why not ILM?

My Theory
Or non-theory really. My feeling is that ILM turned out to be too big a job for small companies. They couldn't put out comprehensive products because it was too hard to make and sell these products. Complete ILM takes resources at the customer level that only large companies have. Despite trying to develop all-encompassing solutions, many have fallen back on doing small parts of puzzle. The companies that are still in the game are either big monster companies like EMC and IBM, implementing total ILM solutions, or small companies that do one small piece of the information management process. Classification software and appliances are still pretty hot. No one calls them ILM anymore because it is more narrow than that.

So ILM is not dead, just balkanized. It is a small part of a larger market (Information Management) that has been broken down into even smaller components such as information movement and classification. ILM is not dead or transformed. Just hiding.

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