In-Depth

Content explosion forces bundling of diverse ECM tools

Ask veteran IT professionals about the ongoing consolidation in the content management arena, and you will find that they are not only nonchalant about the convergence of their collaboration, document management, records management and other content-related point solutions, they believe it is the right thing to do.

'We get that [merger and acquisition (M&A)] question a lot from all areas of our organization,' said Dave Macko, associate vice president of IT at physician-led Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pa. 'It's the nature of the beast. There's quite a bit of M&A activity in the technology industry, even more so in the healthcare industry. It doesn't keep me up at night.'

Macko speaks from experience. His company's enterprise document/records management, imaging and workflow vendor -- Tower Technology -- was recently acquired by Austin, Texas-based Vignette Corp. Vignette is one of many vendors working to fill out its offerings to address the entire life cycle of content, from creation to consumption to archiving.

Chalk it up to the increased amount of content organizations must manage -- internal documents, collaborative projects, public information coming from the Internet, images and video, e-mail, instant messages and so on. And then add to it the need to comply with new federal regulations, such as Sarbanes-Oxley and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. Organizations concerned about compliance with these and other regulations require the ability to manage and audit content across the enterprise.

So convergence of content-related technologies into an enterprise content management (ECM) system just makes sense, said Macko. 'I'm not sure we have many options; we're somewhat mandated to do so, but we think it's the right thing to do. We need to step up and engage and embrace [these technologies] because we will have to deal with them anyway. You can get on the train instead of getting run over by it.'

The convergence train
What once was a tactical solution implemented to solve a particular content problem, such as claims processing, is now becoming more strategic to the enterprise. As a result, ECM solutions are more infrastructure-like than application-like, according to Meta Group, Stamford, Conn. Meta Group defines ECM as comprising software for the life-cycle management of digital content -- tasks that include create/capture, manage/secure, store/retain/destroy, publish/distribute, search, personalize and present/view/print.

Since humans are the creators of content, tools that enable creation, such as collaboration, workflow and business process management (BPM), are also converging under the ECM umbrella. In particular, ECM players have been rounding out their offerings by acquiring records management, Web content and workflow components, according to Meta Group.

'Content management is maturing from document management to more process-driven projects and solutions,' said Lubor Ptacek, director of product marketing at Documentum, Pleasanton, Calif. 'Clearly it's a content-driven process, but it's no longer just versioning and access control; they need more process orientation, support for forms, some BPM, some added security. These are new elements of ECM.'

Compliance with regulations is a big driver, noted David Glazer, vice president of product management at Open Text Corp., Waterloo, Ontario. 'Customers need a single answer to what content was seen and deleted by whom, for example. They want a single point of control.'

Historically, content management grew up in different domains because of the particular types of problems organizations were addressing, said Deb Taufen, IBM's director of marketing, enterprise content management. The technical barriers to bringing these domains together were not insignificant, she added. 'The speed of your workstation, the power to display images, network speed and the cost of storage -- these were all barriers to doing broad ECM.'

Those barriers, she said, are falling away, and IBM in particular is 'thinking about how to move information through an organization to the places it needs to be used, managing the cost of infrastructure and leveraging existing investments.' The concepts driving IBM's ECM strategy, Taufen said, include 'a common set of services available in content management that can be leveraged in different application domains.'

The impact of consolidation
While many IT budgets have been impacted by the economy, organizations are willing to spend money on ECM solutions according to a recent study from AIIM International, Silver Spring, Md. According to AIIM, 17% of survey respondents said their organization plans to spend more than $1 million on document and content solutions in 2004. The study also found the top three project interests among worldwide users in 2004 are document control, records management and information capture.

Meta Group projects that the ECM market will reach $2.3 billion in software and $7 billion in services by 2007, with a CAGR of 15%.

Considerable consolidation has already occurred among content management vendors, but Meta expects this consolidation to continue through 2005. By 2006, Meta estimates that approximately 60% of G2000 organizations will standardize on an ECM framework.

Geisinger Health System is probably typical of many firms. 'We don't have a true content management system. We have tried to manage this in-house through tools, forcing standards or by guiding our customer base to utilize certain products, but we didn't manage the process,' said the firm's Macko. 'That's why most larger companies will be going down this path. Without some infrastructure, tools and strategic planning on this, you will probably get in trouble in the long term without a content management suite of products.'

Reducing the number of vendors he has to deal with is one benefit of consolidation, Macko said. 'We used to tout ourselves as being a best-of-breed organization. We still try to find best solutions, but I deal with 400 vendors. We're trying to find a group of strategic partners. I don't think there will be just one vendor, but if I can reduce that number significantly, that's the direction we're definitely headed.'

Still, that does not mean Geisinger will automatically adopt Vignette products. 'We will look at all their offerings and what opportunity it may bring to us, but we will have to go through due diligence to review them,' Macko said.

Vignette CTO Con O'Connell said the Tower acquisition is the latest step in a strategy begun three years ago, which has included the acquisition of collaboration solution provider Intraspect Software and business portal vendor Epicentric.

Vignette's current suite, V7, comprises six modular app services: content, portal, collaboration, process, integration and analysis. The addition of the Tower technology will address customers' records management and compliance initiatives.

Stellent Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn., is another content management vendor that recently added records management to its portfolio with its January 2004 announcement to acquire Optika Inc., a provider of imaging, BPM, collaboration and records management software.

Version 7.0 of Stellent Universal Content Management offers an integrated architecture that supports Web content management, document management, collaboration management, records management and digital asset management -- with a single GUI and common APIs across all content management apps.

With Stellent, content 'all exists in one app for IT [and] in one app for the user; records management is the next wave of that,' said Dan Ryan, the firm's executive vice president, marketing and business development. 'It's about the life cycle and disposition of that record through deletion. It used to be, 'Here's a record and here are rules for it.' With us, a document can automatically be made a record; there are no human mistakes or bottlenecks.'

Stellent and Optika have roots in opposite ends of the market, Ryan noted, which are now coming together. Whereas Optika targeted transactional and imaging data, which represented large volumes but few users, Stellent dealt more with desktop and dynamic content and unstructured data, where the volumes were smaller but involved many more users.

Today Optika and Stellent products can integrate through Web services, Ryan said, and have different user interfaces and user experiences. The ultimate plan, though, is integration at the repository level. 'Today, we can call each other's content; if I want to look at an accounts payable scan, I can call it up through Web services and vice versa. It's not an issue to do that at the end-user level. At the IT level there's a desire to not have all these pockets of separate repositories.'

Left and right hands come together
Long before content hits the records management stage of the life cycle, it needs to be created -- a process that is often separate from a content management system. According to Ann-Marie Horcher, senior app engineer at Midland, Mich.-based Dow Corning, that disconnect is often the nature of the beast. 'I've always seen it as left and right hand; you create with the right [hand] and pass it to the left to manage the information.' However, that is changing as more organizations bring collaboration into the ECM infrastructure.

Dow Corning has been using Documentum for document management since about 1995. 'We started with a small content management app. We now have 10 production Docbases,' said Horcher. 'We use Documentum to run the content of our external Web sites, internal news, material safety data sheets and a workflow system.'

Dow Corning also uses eRoom collaboration software, which Documentum acquired in 2002 along with TrueArc, a records management solutions provider.

Steve Hershauer, Web content management (WCM) and collaboration senior specialist at Dow Corning, said the company uses eRoom to work with its outside partners. Prior to eRoom, Hershauer said, they used tools such as video conferencing and e-mail. 'But e-mail wasn't doing the job; we didn't have good shared copy. There was no equal access to information,' he noted.

Unlike traditional document management systems, which despite vast improvements in usability can still be difficult according to users interviewed for this story, 'the eRoom paradigm is very easy to set up; it didn't involve weeks' worth of installs,' said Hershauer.

However, said Hershauer, the work done in eRoom today is still disconnected from the document management system. He said he would like some of the structure and capabilities of document management without sacrificing eRoom's user friendliness. 'We get so much in eRoom over time [that] it's difficult to search and manage. I want more flexible searching, but don't want it to be harder than eRoom,' he said.

Hershauer said Dow Corning is upgrading to a version of eRoom that connects to the Documentum repository. 'We need better management of the final document,' he noted, with capabilities such as process management and workflow. 'I want the benefits of content management, but I want that to be transparent and seamless to the user.'

Documentum has made progress in terms of usability, Hershauer said, with an open framework and support for J2EE and other standards. 'They're making positive steps in that direction, but they still have a ways to go.'

Open Text has also made strides in ease of use, said Alyanan Rajani, communications officer at CARE Canada, an Ottawa-based international relief and development group that is also part of the CARE International network.

The crisis in Kosovo in 1999 was the catalyst for implementing Open Text's Livelink solution, said Rajani. 'We needed to get personnel to Kosovo and working on projects as soon as possible. We were looking for a secure information management system to connect with overseas for document management and collaboration. We had lots of documents coming back and forth, and we have donors and funders in Canada.'

Prior to implementing Livelink, CARE Canada shared information with CARE organizations internationally by posting Word, Excel and graphics document to FTP sites. But with an FTP site, 'you open yourself to hacking and spam, and you don't know who is getting those files. There is no way for us to track them,' said Jose Garcia, product support manager at Global Development Group, which hosts Livelink for CARE Canada.

Use of Livelink has enabled CARE Canada to become more efficient, and to better leverage existing knowledge throughout the global organization. Livelink has not only enabled CARE Canada to speed up its RFP process, but it has helped the organization win more funding for projects, said Rajani. 'It's important to have everything in a common place, and to give a common format to organize data and knowledge. It allows us to put together a proposal by drawing in information from a previous proposal the U.S. office may have written, for example. Livelink eliminates the middleman; you know when something is updated and you know when it's revised.'

While Livelink proved to be an effective tool for CARE Canada during the Kosovo crisis, it was not until Open Text made usability improvements targeted toward non-technical users that its use became more widespread at CARE Canada. 'There's still a lot of capacity nobody uses, yet it's an effective tool for us in sharing information,' said Rajani.

The integration work
Open Text, like other vendors in this space, has also made some moves to strengthen its position in the ECM market. With its roots in collaboration and content management, Open Text acquired IXOS at the end of 2003, a company strong in the document management and archiving area.

'We found remarkably little overlap between the two companies,' said Open Text's Glazer. 'What customers are asking us to build was pulling us directly toward each other. We started on the people-centric side with collaboration, and moved toward working with a variety of content. IXOS started on the data-centric side. Now we're seeing a great fit.'

Open Text last year also acquired Gauss, a developer of WCM software. Now for Open Text and other ECM vendors, efforts are under way to more tightly integrate all the components in their portfolios. At the AIIM Expo in March, Open Text announced plans to roll out its first combined ECM solutions beginning in six months, including new e-mail management, content archiving and WCM capabilities.

According to Open Text's Glazer, 'We won't have one UI, because we don't have one set of users. The interfaces will need to play well together. There will definitely be one architecture. We're moving toward a Services-Oriented Architecture. And we're moving toward one logical repository; underneath that logical repository you can configure multiple physical stores. For the end user there's one repository, and for the IT guy there are many repositories so you can mix and match physical data storage devices.'

IBM has also made some acquisitions in the ECM space: Green Pasture Software Inc., a leading provider of document management software; Tarian, a records management provider; and Aptrix, a WCM provider.

According to Lexington, Mass.-based WinterGreen Research, IBM has the top market share (20%) among vendors with broad participation in a range of ECM market segments, followed by Documentum (14%) and Open Text (9%).

IBM's Taufen said the company has a leg up on the integration issue since it has a common foundation technology in place. In addition to integrating the acquired products, IBM's ECM group is working closely with the Lotus, Tivoli and WebSphere groups at IBM.

For its part, Hummingbird Ltd., another longtime player in this space, recently announced Hummingbird Enterprise 2004, which offers 'better integration between our knowledge-enabling components,' said Andrew Perry, senior vice president of marketing at the Toronto-based firm. 'Hummingbird made a number of acquisitions around these technologies. This release provides a more integrated platform for managing the content life cycle.' Key enhancements include the addition of workflow capabilities, extended functionality for mobile users, and integrated secure instant messaging (IM).

Perry said integration efforts will continue 'moving toward a shared, unified repository for managing content.' While Hummingbird stays committed to the Microsoft platform, it also plans to offer full support for the J2EE environment by the beginning of the next calendar year, noted Perry.

So while the integration work remains ongoing, expect consolidation to continue. 'You will see us making stronger moves in the BPM area; not necessarily an acquisition, but we have a lot of initiatives there,' said Documentum's Ptacek. 'You will also, over the next 12 to 18 months, see a lot of initiatives in storage and storage management, which is obviously based on EMC's acquisition of Documentum.'

This type of consolidation is a trend that veterans like Dow's Horcher have seen before. 'We read the business pages regularly and see the trends. Documentum is acquiring a strong group of residual capabilities; they picked up a digital asset management company, the eRoom acquisition was positive and file storage is a good match,' she added.

Horcher's philosophy reinforces ECM vendors' belief that organizations are trying to minimize the number of vendors they deal with. 'At some point we try to not always be chasing the latest tools,' said Horcher.

Size and stability also matter, said Hummingbird's Perry. 'When you're implementing ECM solutions, you're not necessarily looking at the next best thing, but can I depend on this vendor? And does this vendor have financial stability?'

The concern Geisinger's Macko has is a vendor's commitment to support an acquired product. 'If a product is being acquired, what's the acquiring company's plan? If they're going to retire the product and they're only buying the customer, that's a concern,' he said. However, he is resigned to the reality: 'You can't worry about it.'

Please see the following related story: 'Where do portals fit in?' by Colleen Frye

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