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Enterprise content management: Is it anything new?

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This article appears in the issue May 2002 [Volume 11, Issue 5]

The phrase "enterprise content management" has been appearing with increasing regularity this year. Is it a real development in the content management world, or is it just a rebranding to revitalize a slowing market?

By Alan Pelz-Sharpe and Chris Harris-Jones

Enterprise content management (ECM) has gained considerable credence in the market since its launch at AIIM AIIM 2001. AIIM even refers to itself now as the "Enterprise Content Management Association."

Many of the content management software vendors focus on the idea that everyone in an organization needs access to unstructured (that is, non-database) content, and that all the content in the organization, whatever its source or purpose, should be managed by an ECM system.

That is hardly revolutionary. Many of the document management vendors that have been in business for more than a decade, and which have been profitable for much of that time (unlike many of the newer content management vendors), have been trying to pass on this message for much of their life. It is largely the newer, Web-focused vendors that are beginning to realize that a wider scope for content management is actually a good idea.

Some of the newer vendors have even dared to suggest that the concept of retaining a single source for any piece of content is also valuable. If you ask the document management vendors, they would agree—because they have also been preaching that message for many years.

However, very few organizations have implemented enterprisewide document or content management. It has usually been confined to the areas that have had an urgent need to place tight control on their content. Examples include full documentation and audit trail information in pharmaceutical companies, engineering organizations managing international design and build projects, organizations managing large and rapidly changing Web sites and other key areas where managing content effectively is core to running a sound business.

Enterprise content management software provides a set of tools and processes for managing all types of content, from simple documentation through to interactive realtime video, throughout its life from creation, through updating and distribution, to archiving.

Extending the functionality

A complete ECM solution from one vendor is a great idea, but it currently remains just that—a great idea. All the technology pieces are available from a range of vendors. Some are even close to offering all of the functionality from one source. However, few of those are affordable as an enterprisewide solution available from everyone's desk. The content managed by most mainstream content management vendors is limited to textual information, with some graphics and usually simple images. They provide a range of facilities for doing that effectively. The storage of large volumes of rich media (such as audio, video and complex image files) has generally been left to specialist software tools, simply because it involves many difficult issues well beyond those of the management of simpler content.

Once you move outside the enterprise to deliver content to suppliers and customers, the issue of retaining control over your content also arises—you do not want it copied and distributed freely by others. You have incurred significant costs creating the content and, in many cases, will be trying to gain revenues from that content. If it can be copied and redistributed by others, then you will lose financially.

All those elements must be covered in any enterprise content management system. The complete range is covered by the following technology solutions, but, despite the marketing hype, no one yet covers them all:

  • document management, ;
  • Web content management, ;
  • e-commerce, ;
  • digital asset management, and;
  • digital rights management.;

Document management

Document management has been saddled with a name that has given a misleading idea about what it does. It has not just been about managing "documents." Many document management products can cater to any type of content--for example, images, diagrams, CAD/CAM, pictures, audio and video. However, very few functions are provided for the latter two, apart from storage and retrieval. Rebranding of document management to content management has succeeded in raising the profile of traditional document management. Many of those vendors have also added Web publishing facilities, although some of them amount to little more than making document management facilities available over the Web. A few can actually manage the construction of complete Web sites.

High-profile organizations that have been operating in this space for more than 10 years include Filenet , Documentum and Open Text. Documentum offers a significant range of the technology components required for ECM, but it is prohibitively expensive for enterprisewide implementation.

Web content management

Since the coming of age of the Web during the mid-1990s, an increasing number of start-up companies have recognized that creating, managing and delivering content to a Web site is not a trivial task. Ensuring that the right pieces of content are delivered on time, that the site is continually refreshed with new content, and that the right content is shown to the right person, are all difficult and time-consuming tasks. Therefore, vendors have developed software to help the beleaguered Webmaster.A typical organization in this space is Interwoven (interwoven.com), whose software is aimed at complex site development. However, it is aimed principally at groups of Web developers rather than enterprisewide. Crossover companies such as Stellent (stellent.com), whose main focus has been managing documentation, now provides strong Web publishing facilities, as well as delivering a significant slice of ECM at a reasonably affordable price.

E-commerce

Many vendors that started in the Web content management world have moved toward e-commerce and have added significant transactional functionality to their content management tools. That adds the ability to manage a Web site with transactional capabilities. Vendors have also added sophisticated personalization facilities, so that sites can be assembled in real time to meet the needs of individual users. Typical vendors in this space include Vignette and BroadVision.

Digital asset management

Digital asset management (DAM) solutions have arisen in parallel with many of the systems already described. They also are perfectly capable of handling text and a wide array of more conventional media files. What distinguishes the digital asset management solution is its ability to handle video, audio and complex image files. That is something with which most standard content management software offerings struggle. Standard content management software can store and manage the metadata and source-rich media files, but have little or no capacity to transform, analyze or generally manage the distribution of rich media. Vendors active in this area include Artesia (artesia.com) and Bulldog (recently acquired by Documentum).Digital rights management

Digital rights management (DRM) adds important functionality to all forms of content management by securing your rights to your content. You can prevent others from duplicating your content at various levels; for example, by locking the content and publishing via Adobe (adobe.com), you can stop the document from being printed. However, doing


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