Content Integration Is Still Too Loose & Low Tech

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.

Content  Integration & Low Tech

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.

Paul Korzeniowski

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 management systems.

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 AMEC Paragon.

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.

At 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 management systems.”



  • Content management's changing story line
    By Paul Korzeniowski
  • Information lifecycle management lives
    By Steve Ulfelder
  • App integration reflects a new ideal
    By Alan Radding