As befits an enterprise software leader raised in the north of England, Open Text CEO John Shackleton is good value as an interviewee and doesn't hold back when it comes to questions about the enterprise content management sector (where his company is the leading remaining specialist), persistent merger rumours, the symbiotic relationship with SAP, business rivals or the threat of open source. So earlier today I asked about all of those...

On M&A. ECM has been regularly boiled down through business combinations such as IBM-FileNet, Oracle-Stellent, Autonomy-Interwoven and Open Text's own captures including Vignette, Hummingbird and Red Dot. Shackleton's latest plan is to maintain Vignette as a "high-volume, e-commerce" ECM/WCM platform and position Red Dot as its junior sibling.

He says he told Vignette incoming CEO Michael Aviles three years ago: "If you ever want to sell, give me a call, or if there's someone you don't want to be bought by, give me a call." When Interwoven (later to be picked up by Autonomy) and Tibco were both interested in buying Vignette, Shackleton claims, Open Text got the call. (Incidentally, Shackleton discloses that Open Text was also interested in buying business process management software firm Staffware before Tibco made that deal back in 2004.)

Since then, Open Text has been attempting to assuage Vignette's impressive roster of customers after a rough time with the version 6 product and Shackleton says it is is on its way to re-affirming the Vignette name, thanks in part to using the simpler Red Dot UI to replace the Vignette front-end.

On SAP: Shackleton concedes that SAP remains Open Text's biggest go-to-market partner but answers questions about the prospect of Open Text itself being acquired with frankness. He notes that the German company tends to resist acquisitions where possible -- especially now it is under control of the "old guard" of German-born leaders -- and encouraged Open Text to go ahead with deals to buy companies close to SAP, such as archiving outfit IXOS.

Although Open Text is regularly linked with a sale, Shackleton says the firm has no great desire to sell out and notes that there hasn't been a major hostile deal concluded in the technology space since Oracle-PeopleSoft. Also, Open Text's "Switzerland" status could mean that any bid might be trumped, leading to the prospect of a protracted (read 'unattractive') spell in purgatory.

On open source and SaaS: OSS ECM companies like Alfresco are picking up impressive wins if modest revenues but Shackleton says he has zero interest in buying an OSS firm -- even if it were merely to stop it buzzing around paying customers. "We wouldn't touch them," he says, flatly. ECM using SaaS-style tariffs and delivery models is gathering pace though, especially among governments, and is becoming an area of greater focus for Open Text.

E-discovery: Autonomy's 2007 deal to buy Zantaz has been lauded as a smart way to bridge search, meaning, ECM and governance, and, together with Autonomy's deal this year to buy Interwoven, has given the company strong links with the legal sector. Shackleton says he wants to see Open Text go the other way -- by providing tools to grab relevant data and therefore limit the scope for lawyers' billable hours -- and hence delight customers struggling to deal with knotty compliance and legal hold issues. 

The future: Shackleton notes his company's proximity to fellow Canadians RIM and says ways of applying intelligent insights to multimedia data streamed over mobile networks could be attractive. The emergency services could use such tools to address a spreading fire, for example.