CMS keeps users data under control

With companies generating huge amounts of data, users are finding it difficult to retrieve information. This is where content management systems come in.

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By  Caroline Denslow Published  May 22, 2005

|~|main_cms_01.jpg|~|Companies generate a great deal of content of — e-mails, word documents, spreadsheets — which is very hard to keep track of. Within these documents lie precious information, which is largely untapped because of the difficulty of retrieving them when needed. That is why the need for a proper content management tool becomes of utmost importance.|~|That the big Jumbo (Boeing 747) weighs an earth should hardly be a surprise. But, the story goes, the support documents you get when you buy the airliner weigh even more. To make matters worse, Boeing upgrades or modifies its aircraft once every few years. So new documents to capture these changes have to be produced. In other words, Boeing generates a huge amount of content. Ditto for most corporations. While technical documentation is, relatively speaking, an organised exercise, there is a great deal of content corporates generate, which is very hard to keep track of — e-mails, word documents, spreadsheets. Such documents, which go by the industry jargon of unstructured data, account for around 80% to 90% of all data in an enterprise, according to Owen Taraniuk, vice president, Open Text Middle East, a content management software company. Within these documents lies precious information, even knowledge. Right now, in most companies across the world, this valuable resource is untapped, which makes the need for a proper tool to discover, classify and archive this large pool of content so that it can be retrieved as and when required more ardent. Ever-declining storage costs make the proposition doubly attractive. Companies such as EMC Documentum, Vignette and Open Text promise to help enterprises organise content in a meaningful way with what they call Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems. “ECM is to unstructured data what ERP was to structured data,” explains Richard Jones, territory director, Vignette Middle East and Turkey. Content management software builds and organises the management and storage of collections of digital work in any format. It covers electronic content management, electronic records management, imaging management, archiving, document management and web content management. ||**||Area of growth|~|main_cms_02.jpg|~|Vignette’s Richard Jones believes the recent trend on ECM is the second wave of growth, with e-government initiatives, policy compliance and regulatory norms in the banking and finance sectors keeping the industry buoyant.|~|ECM, says Taraniuk, is no small market. He is right. According to IDC, the content management market around the world increased from US$2.6 billion in 2002 to an estimated US$2.93 billion in 2003. Gartner predicts the market will continue to grow in double digits till 2008. “Earlier, the demand largely came from complex manufacturing industries such as automotive and aerospace. We see a lot of demand now coming from service companies, banking for instance. These companies are using the internet to push out a lot of information. They are creating things like customer and employee portals — all of which require a robust ECM at its core,” says Benoit Feracci, vice president, sales, Southern Europe, EMC Documentum. And while numbers for the Middle East are hard to come by, vendors claim their business pipelines are overflowing. “Our pipeline is 15 to 20 times what it was 12 months ago,” says Jones, who calls it the second wave for ECM in the region. (The first wave happened around 2001.) Vignette has signed a very large deal with telecom company Etisalat. The solution involves delivery of a B2B and B2C portal as well as content management over the company’s intranets. “An increasing number of companies in the Middle East are exploring the idea,” says Benoit. While the first wave, as Jones calls it, was driven by traditional industries in the region — oil and gas and big project businesses — the new wave, says Benoit, is a consequence of sweeping e-governance initiatives and tightening compliance and regulatory norms in banking and finance. Growing manufacturing activities in the region are also helping boost demand for these solutions. On the solution providers’ side, there are vendors such as Vignette who was a pioneer in content management for web portals in the mid-1990s. Then there are big enterprise software players like IBM who have sensed blood and acquired companies (Venetia) to accelerate their entry into the market. Then there is EMC Documentum (which was taken over by EMC) that has its origins in relational database (RDBMS) technology. Having started with aerospace, EMC Documentum has a strong history with complex manufacturing-oriented industries. Vignette, on the other hand, has a better grip on service businesses such as telecom and banking as it started off by providing solutions that helped organise content for web portals. But now, both types of players are converging: EMC Documentum sees growing opportunity in services, while Vignette is getting into manufacturing companies. Nokia is one of Vignette’s bigger customers, as is HP. ||**||ECM benefits|~|main_cms_03.jpg|~|The huge amount of unstructured data that companies generate makes it very difficult to keep track of valuable information, says Owen Taraniuk.|~|ECM uses archiving and metadata technologies to give users visibility into content lying in different applications, such as e-mail or Word, across the organisation. By doing this, it makes it possible for users to search and access these documents easily. A simple instance of ECM at work would be the digitisation of paper documents, which can then be stored and accessed by anyone across the organisation and across geographies. This type of implementation has been quite common and has generally shown a good, quick ROI. A somewhat complex example of ECM would be using the technology to power, let us say, a B2C portal. This requires bringing together and blending different types of content — product price information as well as snazzy promotions or slogans to lure consumers. A good content management solution should be able to automate much of this process. Let us start with product information. There is a good chance that the company already has a product catalogue or brochure of some kind. It might be stored as an image or a PDF file somewhere. The promotional offer and the punch line too are likely to be out there, sitting on some server. And someone would have created, most probably in a spreadsheet, a document that clearly outlines quantity discounts. Now if a smart content management solution were in place, it would have, at the time when all these files were created, assigned tags (in simple terms, descriptors) that would help the system recognise these files and their content. Then, the presentation component of the system (something that creates a web page for the portal) would blend these documents in a predefined manner to create a page. There is, of course, a chance that something might go wrong somewhere. After all, machines execute this entire process. For this reason, the system will mail the page to an assigned authority (again, predefined for each category of content, for example marketing or engineering) for approval. Once the page is given the green light, the system will automatically upload it on the web site. Content management systems can also help reuse existing content to create newer outputs such as service manuals. Many of the instructions in any service manual are common across products. For instance, no matter which car a company is selling, the tips on how to replace the tyres on it safely would remain the same. ||**||Duplicates|~|main_cms_04.jpg|~|Although Veritas does not offer a complete content management package, it brings enough solutions that will allow companies to index data and create virtual repositories from which they can mine information, says Simon Taylor. |~| Research by Data Conversion Laboratory, a firm that specialises in preparing data for electronic distribution and the web, found that as much as 50% of product-related content development is duplicated. The malaise afflicts a range of industries from aerospace to pharmaceutical to automotive to defence. In some cases, duplication was as high as 83%. In other words, almost entire manuals were being created afresh when nearly all the content for them already existed. Current content management systems help solve this problem by breaking content into components. This is called ‘shredding’ or ‘chunking’. Each component is predefined and given a tag. For example, one such component could be ‘part replacement’ instructions for a particular category of a product. Once this is stored as a component, the system can pull the component automatically from the repository and add it to a new service manual. What’s more, it also allows the system to pull and present data across formats — PDF for printing or HTML for the web. While helpful, this approach has certain serious limitations. Once a chunk has been defined, any changes become extremely difficult. The problem here is that the information and the logic are rolled into one. This is how transactional data (or structured data) was stored in the previous generations of applications. Which is why enterprise application integration (EAI) turned out to be such a monstrous challenge. The new generation of applications keeps the data and the logic separate. Data stays in the warehouse while rules for end-user interpretation reside in front-end applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) or business intelligence (BI). A middle layer helps transform the raw data into chunks that can be understood and processed by front-end applications. Efforts are on to try and accomplish something similar in content management solutions. But these are still works in progress. Besides, the ever-exploding number of formats is posing new challenges to vendors even before they have had time to resolve the existing ones. Content is generated in newer and newer formats all the time: audio and video being the new favourites. A host of competing standards — XML, HTML, .NET, Java and Flash — further complicates matters. And now, Adobe and Macromedia are fighting over which electronic document format — PDF or Flash Paper — we must all use, thus aggravating the situation further. Vendors, of course, are quick to dismiss these fears. “We work with open standards,” is the common refrain. But open standards do not guarantee data integrity or easy integration. At best, they make integration a possibility. Newer software from vendors such as EMC Documentum allows the application to pull content from multiple depositories. But that’s about it. ||**||Stick to one|~|main_cms_05.jpg|~|If you are starting an ECM initiative, a good place to start is e-mail, says FileNet’s Carlo Stellati. FileNet has recently launched Email Manager, a server-based management solution to help “organisations struggling to manage the exponential growth in the use of corporate email.”|~|Research firm Gartner suggests companies taking up ECM projects should stick to a single vendor for the entire solution. The reason being, Gartner claims, that integrating solutions from different vendors can be quite a challenge, despite all the open source claims made by the vendors. The logic of such solutions too favours the single-vendor option. The content value chain tightly overlaps the product creation-marketing chain. The first lot of content gets created at the product design stage. At the next stage, which is manufacturing, more documents get added. Then the marketing department creates collateral such as brochures to promote the product. Finally, more content, such as service manuals, are created to facilitate post-sales service. Content generated around one or more parts — design, for instance — often forms the backbone for content for another stage, like marketing when it creates the brochure. “A single vendor solution spanning the enterprise also helps you maintain the integrity of information,” says Benoit. Luckily, most vendors now offer comprehensive ECM suites that address most parts of the content value chain. And, it would be fair to say that solutions available today are far superior and offer substantial value compared with those available even just two years ago. For instance, companies needed to invest in storage to create repositories for ECM. Now, Vignette’s ECM solution obviates the need for a dedicated, physical repository by creating a virtual repository. IBM, on the other hand, has bolstered its offering by acquiring Venetica. Open Text, another pioneer who claims 13,000 deployments in over 100 countries, has acquired IXOS, a market leader in SAP document management systems. The rush to offer end-to-end solutions is a big driver for mergers and acquisitions that have swept the segment. But what if you are not ready to roll out a complete enterprise-wide content management strategy? Well, most vendors offer suites targeted at specific tasks. In fact, most ECM initiatives start with simple projects targeting a single document source. A good place to start is e-mail. IDC predicts 35 billion e-mails will be sent globally every day in 2005. Canalys, a European research firm, says 60% of all business transactions involve exchange of e-mails. FileNet, a leading player in the content management space, recently launched Email Manager, a server-based management solution to help “organisations struggling to manage the exponential growth in the use of corporate email,” as Carlo Stellati, vice president FileNet, South Europe, Middle East and Africa, puts it. There is, of course, Veritas, which does not claim to offer complete ECM solutions but brings enough to the table for any company to test out the idea. Its solution offers indexing, creation of virtual repositories and retrieval of information. “We are not offering a knowledge management solution but our solution allows you to create vaults around projects where users can go and hunt for information,” says Simon Taylor, business development and integration manager, Veritas KVS. You may start small but you need to keep the big picture in mind. There is too much precious knowledge lying untapped in your company. The sooner you tap it, the better it will be. The cost of doing so tomorrow will be greater than it is today — after all, the content pile will have grown manifold. Whichever vendor you choose, make sure it can meet not only today’s needs but tomorrow’s requirements as well.||**||

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