Managing content

Enterprise content management (ECM) systems help companies take control of content across their organisations and make a big difference to employee productivity and customer response

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By  Peter Branton Published  March 5, 2006

|~|ECMmain.jpg|~|Unstructured data has varied, and often random, origin points. It is a problem which ECM, with its integrated approach, is helping to address.|~|Oracle generates about 30,000 new documents every day. In its time it has accumulated nearly 22 million documents — from white papers to product catalogues to e-mails — that occupy 7tbytes of storage space. Every time an Oracle employee, and there are 44,000 of them worldwide, has to answer a customer query, prepare a presentation or interact with journalists, he or she should be able to find exactly what they want from this huge information repository — quickly. That is a challenging task. Unlike structured data that is generated in a predefined manner by applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and stored in dedicated databases, unstructured data has varied — often random — origin points. It could be an application form, an e-mail or a whitepaper. And it could be sitting anywhere — in a printed document, within an e-mail client or on the desktop of an employee. Locating, storing, classifying and then making this data available to users in a meaningful context is the challenge enterprise content management (ECM) promises to overcome. It comprises tools that can collate content such as documents, images and e-mail from multiple sources; organise them in a database based on defined policies; and publish them in different formats such as PDF and HTML. Consulting firm KPMG defines ECM as an ‘integrated approach to managing web content, documents and digital assets’. This presents a sizeable market opportunity — research firm Gartner estimates that ECM is a US$3 billion-plus market. The major customer segments, according to fellow research company, Ovum Evaluate, are financial services and public sector enterprises which contribute to over one-third of ECM sales worldwide. Although exact numbers are not available for the region, Giancarlo Sassi, presales director, FileNet South Europe, Middle East and Africa, says, “ECM is gathering steam in all the traditionally IT-oriented markets such as telecom, financial services and so on. So far, the activity is concentrated in the large firms and the government.” The latter has emerged as a huge customer of large, integrated solutions as most governments in the GCC have launched major e–governance initiatives. The seeds of ECM first surfaced in the form of document management (DM). This promised a paperless office future. As the internet became pervasive, and portals emerged as a medium of choice to deliver content — to employees, customers and business associates — a new dimension to content management appeared. The focus shifted from document management towards automating web publishing and personalisation — a proccess which was called web content management (WCM). Consequently, the early content management vendors came from one of the two sides: Companies such as Documentum (now owned by EMC) had their origins in document management. Vignette, on the other hand, was a pioneer in delivering content over the web/portal. This was content management version 1.0, which was more document management or web content management than ECM. Common to these solutions was the implicit division between creators of content and users of content. Early document management and enterprise content portal solutions focused on helping the specialist creators of content — for example, technical writers who created manuals and white papers — to organise and publish content in such a manner that users can find them easily. These solutions also attempted to boost productivity of con- tent writers by facilitating reuse. For instance, product manuals for different products in the same category often share large amount of instructions that can — and should — be reused. Good document management solutions automated this sharing and reuse. Such solutions also automated large parts of delivery, or publishing process. As the market matured, vendors began to make their offerings more complete. Those that had strong document management capabilities added web content management and digital asset management to their portfolio — and vice versa. Often, the route taken was acquisition. Firms such as Vigne- tte, and IBM acquired firms offering point solutions and then tried to integrate their technology with the rest of the solution. A few such as Ever chose to build the entire suite on its own. This stage can be defined as content management 2.0. As Gartner reports, the market has continued its transition from best-of-breed point solutions to more mature, fully integrated ECM suites. The research firm expects acquisitions to continue as the preferred route to adding functionalities as buyers of these solutions want a single vendor to deal with. The nature of solution however has not change all that much — rather, integration between different parts of content management has become easier since it is now possible to buy a complete solution for different needs from a single vendor. ||**||Market players|~|Kilanibody.jpg|~|Bashar Kilani of IBM Middle East,|~|Meanwhile, the market opportunity became larger. As internet access has become commonplace, the volume of unstructured content has grown exponentially. “Today, 80% of all data in an enterprise is unstructured,” says Bashar Kilani, software group manager, IBM Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan. E-mail, internet downloads and blogs are accelerating the growth of unstructured data. Managing these vast data rep-ositories has engaged the attention of mainstream IT companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. These companies already have strong presences in enterprise IT infrastructure and can therefore bring easier integration features to the existing content management solutions. IBM has made rapid inroads in this market, and Oracle and Microsoft are also raising their involvement levels. These firms are eyeing the information worker for desktop content management. There is a need for a product that is inexpensive and has basic functionalities such as document libraries, Gartner believes. These vendors, along with Xerox, are introducing low-cost, content management solutions that would be affordable for the small and medium-sized business (SMB) sector. Oracle, a relative late arrival to this market, has adopted Apple’s approach — computers for the rest of us — to capture potential ECM customers. As Mohamed Alojaimi, technology-marketing manager, Oracle EMEA explains, “Existing solutions target specialist users who make up just 5% of the workforce. We are targeting the remaining 95%.” Specialist vendors such as Ever claim an advantage over others because all the elements of its solution have been developed internally. This ensures smooth integration, says Michel Diab, senior vice president, Ever ME. Besides, he claims, Ever supports both J2EE and .NET platform giving it more flexibility. Vignette is another specialist vendor and was one of the early entrants in the ECM market. It highlights its mature, off-the-shelf solutions that can be configured using a graphical user interface (GUI). So implementation does not require any software coding. IBM boasts an end-to-end integration capability. “We are a leading player in space and can provide all the components with a very strong integration layer,” claims Kilani. EMC, which bought Documentum, highlights its document management capabilities, which is the most crucial element of an ECM solution according to Gartner. In this fast-changing market, it is difficult to keep tabs on the relative strengths and merits of each vendor solution. Gartner has created what it calls a Magic Quadrant, which assigns each vendor a position based on the completeness of its ECM vision and its ability to implement it. Factors such as stability and network of partners determine the strength of its vision, whereas completeness of the ECM offering currently and initiatives to stay ahead of the curve determine a vendor’s execution capabilities. Gartner publishes the quadrant every year. The changing position of vendors on the quadrant throws up interesting ins- ights. Among the big firms, IBM and EMC have retained their position in the leaders quadrant. Microsoft, though still in the niche quadrant, is slowly moving up while Oracle has some way to go. FileNet too has made substantial headway in the past one year or so. Firms such as Interwoven and Vignette find themselves out of the leaders’ quadrant but still in visionary quadrant that reflects their mature product portfolio and innovation capabilities. Gartner predicts the technology giants such as IBM, EMC, Oracle and Microsoft will rule the market with a 50% market share by 2007. But does that mean any company wanting to buy an ECM solution should just consider only these four vendors? Not necessarily. Even though, a company maybe considering enterprise-wide deployment, and therefore needs a scalable solution from a stable vendor, it may have unique needs or constraints. “Certain vendors may be strong in very niche solutions. For instance, Documentum’s document management solution is very popular in the pharmacutical business in the Europe,” says Christine Loh, sales engineer director, Vignette EMEA. She adds that Vignette’s solution is also attractive because its standards-based interfaces help co-opt such implementations within its solutions. “We make migration easier. Some companies do not want to throw away their current data repositories even if it will not integrate with a new solution being implemented. We have tools that pull data into a virtual repository, helping firms preserve their existing data repositories,” claims Loh. ||**||Right approach|~|ECM3body.jpg|~|A good test of whether a firm has got its ECM solution right is the extent to which the system can be re-used in other areas by the company.|~|According to Loh, a key differentiator for Vignette is the strong delivery layer. “We started with web content management. Over time, we have added more capabilities by acquiring best-of-breed solution makers,” she says. Another factor in choosing a vendor is related to local execution capabilities. Ever has a consulting and services division based in the region. Loh agrees: “One of the biggest mistake companies make is they go with a team that is not experienced on the product they are implementing.” Oracle, on the other hand, presents choices from a database-driven perspective. “We are trying to eliminate the distinction between structured data and content. Oracle has perfected the use of the database for storing of all content-related information — metadata, relationships — and the content itself,” says Alojaimi. This means information workers can pull out both the relevant documents, which is what ECM helps with, and the structured data that resides in other applications such as business intelligence (BI) software more easily, at the same time. This could be a significant advantage in the future. Analyst firms predict that by 2007 most Global 2000 organisations will take a web services-based infrastructure approach that would be able to address all forms of digital content through its lifecycle. This will result in greater overlap with storage and relational database vendors for strategic deployments that will increasingly blur data and content management. Choosing the right vendor is one part of getting an ECM project right. The other is about the approach a company takes. “The most important thing is to think at the enterprise level and not at department level. You have to know how many and what processes will be impacted. Design your architecture at the enterprise level, right from the start,” says Diab. According to Diab, a common mistake companies make is that they think at a tactical level. One department feels the need for some content management and the company responds by deploying ECM in that department. “That is not ECM. No attention is paid to the scalability of what is being deployed or how it integrates with the rest of the organisation’s IT infrastructure,” he believes. There are often cost or other pressures, which also lead to local or department-level deployments, feels Diab. “The real challenge is to create a framework. That’s a matter of defining the DNA, which will make your company different from competitors and be a source of competitive advantage. So you should prepare a common infrastructure. That does not mean you have to roll it out all at once. You can deploy it in a step-wise fashion,” says Sassi. A good test of whether a company has got its ECM solution right is the extent to which the system, which has been bought for a single application, can be re-used in other areas. However, vendors are not advocating an ‘all or nothing’ approach to ECM deployment. “We don’t see companies implementing a full suite although that’s what analysts suggest. You would either find them putting in place a WCM or some sort of an intranet for employees,” says David Thorpe, business strategy director, Vignette. According to him, employee portals are most common. Companies are then looking at personalising these portals for different users. “It is more like ‘Let’s choose a project and see how it works and then extend it to other departments’,” says Thorpe. In fact, deal sizes have shrunk in recent times. “Two-to-three years back, deal sizes were much larger and took more time. A typical ECM project would cost $300,000-500,000 and take about six-to nine months. Now it’s two-to-three months and $100,000-200,000,” says Thorpe. The implementation approach depends on the type of problem a company is seeking to solve. “For instance, you could have applications addressing very specific pain points such as invoice management and image capture in financial services industry,” says Loh. On the other hand, there is a whole lot of information that needs to be culled from across the organisation and stored away safely, to meet regulatory requirements. “In such cases, you need to take a horizontal approach,” she says. But, according to Loh, these distinctions are at the technology level. From a user perspective, the needs are always around a task — functional or vertical — and IT would do well to keep that in mind. ECM technologies are evolving rapidly. According to most of the vendors, there is room for standardisation and creation of an integration layer that simplifies implementation. Besides, convergence too will impact the technology. “You will need tools for more dynamic delivery over the front-end. You will need to deliver content in the mobile environment. How you unlock all the content, and deliver it in a context, over different media will be the next frontier,” says Loh. As customers demand increasingly quicker response, a well-implemented ECM solution that puts the right information in the hands of employees at the press of button, will be a source of significant competitive advantage. Interviewing for this feature, Mohamed Alojaimi took just 15 minutes to collate all the relevant documents, combine it with the discussion and shoot the summation in an e-mail to the correspondent. Done right, ECM can make a big difference. ||**||

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