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Turning the corner: DM crosses the chasm toward mainstream

This article appears in the issue May 1998 [Volume 7, Issue 6]

Document management has grown over the past five years from a specialized implementation for document-challenged businesses to a core capability of corporate information management. In 1998, a key shift is underway in document management. It's the shift from "Do I need this?" to "Which one do I bring in?" Organizations that have already implemented document management and those that are introducing related applications (such as Web publishing, process automation and knowledge management) recognize that the pivotal business role of the electronic document mandates a document management capability.

As document management moves mainstream, leading developers are differentiating their product offerings by providing vertical expertise and/or facilitated application toolkits. Those vendors are acquiring application expertise in lines of business with heavy document challenges (such as regulated financial services, high-tech manufacturing or litigation support) and using that application insight to create market-specialized solutions.

The inspiration for those more capable solutions is simple: more sources of supply for baseline document management services. In 1997, Novell (www.novell.com) and IBM/Lotus (www.lotus.com) released document management features into their groupware environments. Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) intends to incorporate library services in its BackOffice platform. Baseline functionality offered by the large platform suppliers will offer users a new price/performance option, gaining the value of a controlled document environment over broadly diffuse uses.

The shift taking place in document management amounts to a reassessment of the role of the technology in the organization. Originally, document management solutions centered on the notion and value of a secure archive for the new electronic document. Today there is a spreading awareness of the role document management can play in facilitating the creation and distribution process. In the past, document management was often about dead documents; today, it is about how to maximize the value of live ones.

Standards move DM across the enterprise and beyond

1998 will see the beginning of practical adoptions of the Document Management Alliance (DMA) standard, after two and a half years of development. In Delphi's 1998 survey of document management users, 53% of respondents said they would implement ODMA (the only standard that was complete and available in the market in 1997), while 30% of the respondents voted for the DMA standard. DMA Release 1.0 did not occur until the end of 1997, so the 30% support it received from respondents represents a strong vote of confidence for the need to face the challenge of user level integration among multiple document management systems. The DMA interoperability standard promises to ease the current level of pain organizations contend with as they integrate disparate document systems in the enterprise. This is the year in which a foundation will be laid to leverage document management investment across the enterprise.

Users suggest improvements

Each year in its market research, The Delphi Group asks users and evaluators to identify areas of improvement for the technology. As recently as 1996, Delphi's research showed users citing the lack of standards as a top priority. This year, the standards issue dropped to a second-level rank, while integration with other enterprise software has become the major concern. That change reflects the widening perception that in order to achieve the business benefits of document management, the systems must be kept from becoming yet another silo for proprietary information.

Integration with enterprise applications is to becoming a standard feature of document management packages. Lava Systems (www.lavasys.com) initiated a movement with its early integration with SAP (www.sap.com) and J.D. Edwards (www.jdedwards.com). In 1997, Documentum (www.documentum.com), PC Docs (www.pcdocs.com) and others delivered similar offerings. Open Text (www.opentext.com) announced plans to provide a gateway early this year. While users' concerns go beyond gateways to enterprise application vendors' software, the response by document management suppliers is positive to that improvement area.

While the ability to create and manage an electronic document as an assembly of "virtual" components is probably the single most important functional advance since the filing cabinet, respondents indicate that the current state of our practice has not incorporated those new capabilities. While 76% of the respondents to the Delphi survey indicate that the functionality is required, only one-third rank compound document support as having the highest value. Twenty-four percent of survey respondents still believe that compound document support is merely desirable or not necessary at this stage.

Web Integration

The results support a conclusion that the transition to using the full capabilities of an object-oriented electronic document environment will be slow and protracted as organizations take a conservative posture toward adopting a fully electronic business process.

Document management was still a relatively new technology when the Internet and intranet wave swept through U.S. industry in 1995-96. Users were quick to demand the ability to use their convenient Web-browser software and remote-access capabilities over inexpensive IP connections for their controlled document applications. The industry-leading growth of Open Text, whose software was the first to fully support intranet use, is a testimonial to that trend. Respondents gave the "highest value" rating for Internet document management, noting that for those applications that can use it, intranet deployment is a key functionality.

The responses rating the importance of integrating document management with the intranet environment correlate substantially to the actual installation penetration of intranet document management. Sixty-three percent of respondents indicated that they have some form of intranet-based document management available, while 37% have yet to implement document management in the intranet environment.

What about KM?

Document management vendors will continue to be enticed by the idea of knowledge management. Some vendors are scrambling to rearchitect their products to take advantage of knowledge management's high market profile. Those vendors should not be surprised by a skeptical reception from a user community savvy enough to discern hype from reality.

Document management does enable a significant piece of the knowledge management application puzzle, however. Vendors are already beginning to provide specific enabling functionality. Look for automated clustering approaches, automatic creation of user expertise and knowledge profiles, and one-to-one communication techniques to begin to emerge on feature lists for knowledge-oriented document management software.

On the supply side, after five years of new product introductions and rapid growth, the market is sorting out a group of leading document software developers who will define future directions. As Delphi's survey results show, document management will become much more widespread in the organization this year. New installations will seek out market-leading products that promise stability and longevity for the electronic document environment. In particular, users will demand such features as compound document architecture support, virtual document assembly and viewing, dynamic agent-controlled Web page assembly (to support true one-to-one communication) and Web site management. With the consumer community much cognizant of its functionality needs and more critical of product configurations, the document management market's array of more than 30 products will rapidly narrow.


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