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OpenText's Mark Barrenechea talks Google, AI, future of CMS

OpenText CEO talks about the company's future, how AI changes everything, his acquisition philosophy and how to keep a tech company relevant as it moves into its third decade.

Since he took the helm as CEO of OpenText in 2012, Mark Barrenechea ushered the company through arguably the biggest change in content management technology's history: On-premises applications migrated to the cloud, which in turn were broken down into content services.

His company, based in Waterloo, Ontario, serves customers all along the digital transformation spectrum. Some still use paper-based workflows and ingest enterprise content into applications hosted on premises. Others are all-cloud, and automate processes with the latest AI and machine learning tech. 

Barrenechea, who took on the added role of CTO in 2016, discussed where content management is going and how AI is changing everything about the technology, workflows and even the definition of content itself.

OpenText started in 1991 and has gone through many chapters in its history. How would you describe the current chapter?

Mark Barrenechea: We started out as a search company, evolved into a content management company in our second phase, and since have evolved into enterprise information management. [EIM] is a very wide, horizontal platform to manage, deliver, secure and exchange unstructured data.

OpenText CEO Mark Barrenechea and Google's Kevin Ichhpurani
The Google-OpenText partnership is deeper than with other cloud providers, OpenText CEO Mark Barrenechea said, pictured here with Google's Kevin Ichhpurani discussing the companies' joint plans during last July's OpenText Enterprise World keynote.

Over the decades, OpenText acquired many companies. In the last few years, Dell EMC's Documentum and Guidance Software stand out. How would you describe OpenText's acquisition philosophy?

Barrenechea: We're not a 'public private equity firm.' We're a strategic acquirer, building a software platform for information management. Through that lens, we are going to remain an acquirer, remain a consolidator. [An acquisition] has to be a strategic fit in our EIM market. It also has to fill a green space for us, whether it be some functionality, industry or geography that can accelerate our time to market. It also has to meet our financial discipline around value, return on investment capital, payback and integration into the tech stack.

How has AI changed content management and content services over the last few years?

We're going to support all the clouds, but we're going deeper with Google in order to add capabilities to the OpenText platform.
Mark BarrenecheaCEO, OpenText

Barrenechea: Maybe this comes with time -- we'll see if it's wisdom -- but I've been in software more than 30 years, and I've seen a lot of trends come and go. B2B2C tech, dot-com, big data. AI is real because it's the natural next extension to extreme automation. Once you automate a corporate process, and you automate it for a long time, and, if your data's really good, you want to go into that data and learn as much as you can to create a better process, company or business model.

AI [can do that], but it's also going to take time. I'm in a lot of discussions where we tried to go get this insight or outcome, but the process wasn't quite complete yet. Or the data wasn't quite right. Those are the battle fronts right now. I've seen a lot of progress in getting the process and data right and now AI and machine learning is producing very actionable insights, whether that's into talent all the way through to field service preventive maintenance to cash collections. It's also intersecting with GDPR and privacy as to what can be shared.   

OpenText introduced its own Magellan AI two years ago, but you're also partnering with Google for AI services. To outsiders, it kind of looks like you're competing with yourself.

Barrenechea: One of the things we've learned is that you have to bring in many sources of data -- and keep enriching the data -- to get actionable insights. We've been bringing new features into Magellan, but we need to look at third-party data sources as well and have a factory to be able to cleanse and merge these different data sources.

But it can't all be just OpenText data and an OpenText tool to provide insight. So, the partnership with Google provides different tools, different data in different languages, facial recognition going to metadata, speech to metadata, being able to translate and transcribe. For us, it's about enriching OpenText tools, and Google helps us do that at scale with market-proven technology. It's quite complementary.

Are you doing the same with AWS and Microsoft Azure partnerships, or is Google a favored partner, and how does it figure into the OpenText roadmap?

Barrenechea: We support all of them, as well as other clouds hosted by Rackspace and global service integrators. A customer can come along and deploy on their own, or we can provide a managed service. But there are features in Google Cloud that we're going to go deeper in: G Suite, the desktop products, browser, clickstream, transcription and AI. We're going to support all the clouds, but we're going deeper with Google in order to add capabilities to the OpenText platform.

What technologies on the OpenText roadmap should customers and prospective customers watch in the near term?

Barrenechea: First, technologies that enable sustainability and responsibility: Enabling ethical supply chains; enabling the circular economy from recycle, reuse, replant; supporting efficacy -- track and trace the minerals that make up products. We have a lot of activity in our products to enable this over our business network and content services. It's a real area to watch.

Second, the volume of content is exploding; handling that with our content services and business network.

In the next three to five years, the center of our world will not be a document. The center of content services will move from a document to an ID. Being able to capture all the metadata and transactions around an ID, whether it's a person, application or thing and making everything machine-readable -- voice, transcripts, facial recognition, photos videos, PDF -- is front and center, what we're working on.

Editor's Note: This Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.

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