Content Integration Is Still Too Loose & Low Tech
- By Paul Korzeniowski
Content in One Big Container
- Organizations must manage a more diverse universe of content types: internal documents, collaborative projects, public information coming from the Internet, images and video, e-mail and instant messages.
- ECM technology is still in an early stage of development, and the systems show signs of immaturity. Most vendors started off delivering systems designed to manage certain types of content, and only recently tried to broaden their product lines.
- The systems are expensive, priced from $250,000 to more than $1 million, depending on the customer’s requirements.
Enterprise content management, which was once a tactical
solution designed to solve a specific problem,
such as claims processing, is now more strategic to the
enterprise. As a result, ECM solutions are more infrastructure-like than application-like, according to Meta Group.
The research firm defines ECM as comprising software for the
lifecycle management of digital content—tasks that include
create/capture, manage/secure, store/retain/destroy, publish/
distribute, search, personalize and present/view/print.
Tools that enable content creation, such as collaboration,
workflow and business process management, are also converging
under the ECM umbrella. In particular, ECM players are 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. It's a content-
driven process, but it's no longer just versioning and access
control; enterprises need more process orientation, support for
forms, some BPM and some added security. Organizations must
manage a more diverse universe of content types: internal documents,
collaborative projects, public information coming from
the Internet, images and video, e-mail and instant messages. And
then add the need to comply with new federal regulations, such
as Sarbanes-Oxley and the Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act of 1996.
Organizations concerned about compliance
with these and other regulations
require the ability to manage and audit
content across the enterprise. As a result,
many corporations are searching for ways
to gain greater control over their content.
Content management in the land of giants
Historically, content management represented a safe market for small and medium software suppliers. "The ongoing joke in the content management industry was it consisted of Documentum and the Seven Dwarfs," says Richard Medina, principal consultant at market research firm Doculabs.
Indeed, content management suppliers were able to build businesses generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue without attracting much competition from large suppliers.
Astoria Software, Day Software Holdings, Filenet, Interwoven,Mobius Management Systems, Opentext, Stellent, Tower Software and Vignette are some of the firms that thrived in the market.
EMC's purchase of Documentum in 2003 started to alter the typical vendor profile. Not only did that billion-dollar company enter the market, but also Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Oracle developed content management products. The large companies were attracted by the increasing revenue generated--content management became a multibillion-dollar business at the turn of the century--and the software's growing importance in the enterprise. "Because of many recent changes in government regulations, content management has been a top management concern," says Tony Byrne, founder of market research firm CMS Watch.
The changing vendor profile alarmed Frank Matthewson, manager of EPC systems at Bechtel, which has used Documentum to manage content for its projects since 1992, and has 150 copies of the software spread throughout the organization. "We were concerned that content management would become a low-priority item for EMC," he explains. "We have found the opposite to be true, and our relationship with Documentum is as good as it ever has been."
Other users should brace themselves for potential market changes. "They won't admit it, but every major content management supplier is looking to be acquired," says Doculabs' Medina. If that occurs, the tale in this market will switch from Snow White and Seven Dwarfs to Land of the Giants.
Gargantuan effort, sometimes
Enterprise content management systems
are designed to break down the barriers
among content types so enterprises can
manage their data with one product
rather than several. The systems have the
potential to reduce IT costs, ensure data
consistency, speed up application development
and enable companies to more
efficiently use corporate resources.
However, integrating a firm’s content represents a significant—in some cases,
gargantuan, effort—and the various
products’ ability to deliver on their
promises is questionable. “A lot of companies
are talking about ECMs, but I
haven’t seen many that have actually deployed
them,” says Tony Byrne, founder
of market research firm CMS Watch.
Whether migration to ECMs will become
a mass or niche movement is unclear
at the moment.
What is clear is that companies’
content management requirements are
changing. “The volume of data that corporations
need to manage is exploding,”
says Toby Bell, an analyst at Gartner.
Companies work with two types of
information: structured data, which
is housed in database management
systems, and unstructured data, such as
documents and Web-based content.
While database management systems
offer corporations a means to manage
structured data, overseeing unstructured
data is proving to be more challenging.
Companies are addressing the problem
by purchasing autonomous content
Less talk, more action
Despite the incessant talk in the past 2
decades about the paperless office, many
enterprises still rely on business processes
that revolve largely around paper
forms, which are difficult to manipulate.
The National Jewish Medical &
Research Center, which has been in business
since 1899, specializes in treating
tuberculosis patients, who have a variety
of insurance plans. Whenever questions
arose about patients’ healthcare coverage,
about 25 employees sifted through
paper folders to find the information
needed to answer them.
“Because we worked with paper files,
it was often difficult to match patients’
inquiries to the appropriate plans,” explains
Brenda Winfree, administrative assistant
at the healthcare company. Acontent
management system from Digitech
Systems enabled employees to enter
queries about various coverage plans and quickly answer patients’ questions. Content
management systems can also help
companies improve customer service.
AMEC Paragon provides consulting and
support services so energy companies can
perform complex tasks, such as drilling
for oil. Because the firm’s projects are
complicated, it produces large volumes
of data, which historically were shipped
to customers in sets of loose-leaf folders.
During a project, changes would occur, so pages in the folders had to be updated,
a process that was tedious and error
prone. Moving to a Filenet document
management system enabled AMEC
Paragon to dynamically manipulate project
information. “We won a $50-million
contract largely because we were able to
send the customer information electronically,
and our competitors could
not,” says Ernie Bahr, ECM architect at
In addition to paper documents, companies
have found it difficult to manage
Web content, which often is in XMLformat.
The City of Aurora, Colo., has 2,500
employees in 17 departments that rely on
a number of data types (maps, documents,
reports) to support municipal
services, such as balancing the city budgeting,
providing fire department services
and managing local golf courses.
the turn of the century, the city experienced
difficulty providing information
to residents and employees. “In some
cases, it took us 10 days to deliver data to
city officials,” notes Larry Hibbs, applications
development supervisor for the
city. By installing Stellent’s Universal
Content Management systems in 2002,
data is now instantly available to employees
and residents via Web browsers.
One thing or the other
Unfortunately, as companies were getting
their arms around paper and Web
content, new content management challenges
arose—corporations began deploying
applications that featured video
and Flash content. “Content management
has been a moving target, and
numerous new requirements emerged
during the past few years,” says Richard
Medina, principal consultant at market
research firm Doculabs.
Numerous is also an appropriate adjective
to describe enterprises’ content
management systems. Mergers, acquisitions
and legacy departmental initiatives
have left many organizations with a
mishmash of management systems: 78
percent of companies have more than
one content repository and 43 percent
have six or more, according to market research
firm Forrester Research.
The widely dispersed data creates a
number of inefficiencies. Employees often
need to complete a series of complex
steps to aggregate information stored in
e-mail messages, Web reports, Microsoft
Word documents and Adobe Systems
PDF files. In addition to being time consuming,
the processes can be error
prone—firms often have multiple versions
of documents, so users may unwittingly
work with outdated data.
One for all and all in one
In response, content management vendors
began building ECMs, systems
designed to work with all, rather than
select, types of content. The emergence
of ECMs has altered the profile of the
typical content management supplier.
As part of the process, vendors recently
completed a number of acquisitions and
began promoting systems that, at least theoretically,
can work with numerous data
types. ECMs include a common repository,
APIs and an object model. To simplify
the data movement, the products often
include wizards that walk users through
the steps needed to transform files and various
media types into the proper format.
Once data is in an ECM, users can enter
one query and search for information
spanning multiple systems. The systems
enable ITdepartments to invoke corporate
data management policies that outline
how long to retain e-mail messages,
documents and electronic transactions.
ECMs support a common security model
so only authorized individuals access information,
and the systems can generate
audit trails so firms can monitor the
movement of information.
Once information is in electronic formats, corporations can develop new business
processes that streamline the information
flow. ECMs include workflow
functions, so data moves in an efficient
manner. Once information, such as a payroll
form, is entered, it can automatically
be routed to the appropriate individuals
for approval, so processes that used to
take multiple steps and time to process
can be completed more effectively.
Increasingly, these systems include collaboration services, allowing users to conduct internal and external discussions.
Customer service personnel can
access correspondence, e-mail, technical
product documents, transcripts of voice
conversations and other information
needed to address client inquiries. In addition
to helping firms simplify content
management, these products deliver other
benefits. Recently, the government instituted
more-stringent information retention
and retrieval requirements.
Laws such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act stipulate that companies must limit access
to sensitive information, monitor its
movement and put checks in place so information
can easily be retrieved. ECMs
help firms meet those requirements.
Quantifiable benefits at a cost
Application development managers understand
the potential benefits ECMs
offer. “Like most organizations, we managed
our content in a silo fashion, with
data tied to specific applications,” notes
City of Aurora’s Hibbs. “This approach
was inefficient because there were many
times when the need for the information
cut across application boundaries.”
While ECMs offer many benefits,
they also present firms with various management
challenges, starting with cost.
The systems are expensive, priced from
$250,000 to more than $1 million, depending
on the customer’s requirements.
The products can be difficult to deploy.
Companies need to determine what
content should be stored in these systems
and who is responsible for loading
it. UnumProvident, which has 12,000
employees worldwide and is one of the
nation’s largest employers, has a central
business team that determines which
employees can place content into its
ECM. “There are 150 to 200 employees,
mainly department managers and administrators,
who are authorized to load
content into the system,” says Dan Amsden,
a programmer analyst at the firm.
Too loose, low tech?
ECM technology is still in an early stage of
development, and the systems show signs
of immaturity. Most vendors started off
delivering systems designed to manage
certain types of content, and only recently
tried to broaden their product lines. “On paper, vendors have all the pieces needed to deliver integrated content management,
but the simplicity, functionality and elegance found in the different modules
can be uneven,” says Gartner’s Bell.
The effectiveness of the integrated systems is open to question. “Companies
have such a wide range of data
types that it can be difficult for one
system to effectively manage all of the
different types of content,” says Jeff
Buhl, director of aviation data services
at Jeppesen, which supplies airlines
with flight information.
The Tobacco Merchants Association,
which supplies information services such
as news stories and government reports
to firms in the tobacco industry, found
that out. “We had an ECM system but
could not fine-tune it enough to meet
needs,” noted Farrell Delman, president
of TMA. Rather than continue with the
product, the information services company
decided to build its own ECM with
the help of systems integrator Cordiant
Technologies. “Now we can institute
needed changes without having to wait
for our vendor to add them to its next
product release,” Delman says.
Even when they opt for off-the-shelf
solutions, enterprises often find that deploying
an ECM requires a lot of systems integration work. “Users have to be very specific in outlining their requirements,
or else the ECM systems integration
work may end up costing more than the
system itself,” notes Jeppesen’s Buhl.
Standard interfaces would ease integration
chores, but they are more a possibility
than a current deliverable.
Because of the limitations, most enterprises
use ECMs for one or two applications
and continue to house the rest
of their data in a variety of locations,
so while talk about ECMs is picking
up, full-fledged deployments are rare.
“ECMs represent a significant investment
for enterprises,” concludes CMS
Watch’s Byrne. “Until vendors demonstrate
that deployment of their systems
leads to tangible ROI, companies will
continue to work with autonomous content
ILLUSTRATION BY MARCO PROZZO
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- App integration reflects a new ideal
By Alan Radding www.adtmag.com/article.asp?page=1&id=11362