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Convergence in content management

A slew of factors are driving the convergence of content management technologies and vendors.

By John Harney

For many vendors, content management has transcended Web publishing. Competitive pressure and technological innovation are spurring the convergence of complementary technologies in the form of "smart suites" and of disparate processes via "active documents." Regulatory compliance is also driving adoption of content management because content, e-mail and records management facilitate it. Competition in the content management space is even originating from open-source vendors, many of whom have evolved robust functionality. Content management also has caught the eye of the big platform vendors--some experts predict they will bid for content management companies late this year. That said, don't look for content management to be swallowed by the infrastructure super-vendors. There are plenty of pure-play entrants in the mid-range jockeying for market share, as well as scalable and feature-rich players entrenched in the high end above the fray.

Content management suites

Content management and a spate of related technologies are converging into what Gartner calls smart enterprise suites (SES). According to the research report, "Magic Quadrant for the Smart Enterprise Suite, 2004," enterprise content management as well as portal vendors are incorporating collaboration, records management, expertise location, business intelligence and analytics, business process management (BPM) and e-mail (for both communication and records management) into their range of functionality.

Traditional content management vendors like Vignette , of course, excel in that area and build their suites on their legacy infrastructure, but are augmenting their portfolios with portal offerings. Portal vendors like Plumtree meanwhile feature new functionality including content management as add-on applications integrated into their portal infrastructure, and excel at tasks native to portals--accessing applications and data through a common interface. Both approaches let users invoke various applications through a portal interface and access content management and closely related applications. Though they may not lead this niche, traditional document management vendors like Documentum and imaging/workflow vendors like FileNet are distinctive in that they build their suites around their strong legacy disciplines.

Table 1 lists the salient features that the Gartner report associates with the six leading SES vendors. It also says all share a consistent look and feel, common installation and administration, and a common execution platform, and can also serve as application development platforms. What the table does not show is the degree to which each suite's constituent applications are truly integrated. Where companies have grown their suites by acquisition, they may experience relative success in that regard. Generally, the leaders demonstrate strength where they have legacy expertise.

Vignette exemplifies the scope of offerings of Gartner's leaders. Kyle McNabb, Vignette's director of strategy, explains that his product offers highly scalable "management and delivery capabilities for the capture, management, publishing, retention and disposition of all forms of structured and unstructured information." So, he says, through aggressive acquisitions over the last two years, Vignette offers document management, records management, Web content management, a portal, collaboration and application integration via XML and Web services between the suite's component applications, between those applications and its portal, and with customers' legacy applications. That, he says, lets Vignette leverage and personalize organizations' data across multiple channels like self-service customer service Web sites and to multiple constituencies like customers.

RedDot Solutions is representative of mid-market suites. Kevin Kohn, VP of marketing, says it provides collaboration, Web content management, business process management, personalization, document management and application integration, so users can create, view, manage and archive content elements, personalize data from diverse sources and serve it to disparate constituencies over multiple channels like intranets and extranets. Furthermore, the suite permits integration of its component applications with customers' legacy ones and all applications with RedDot's portal. The company developed all of its own functionality and stresses ease of installation and use.

Smart enterprise suites bring with them some powerful benefits. They primarily "reduce the integration risks of developing comparable solutions from disparate products, while users have fewer vendors to deal with and ought to get a better overall price," according to Nikos Drakos, research director, Knowledge Support, Gartner.

Active documents

While smart enterprise suites have been around for some time, "active documents" are something entirely new--and groundbreaking. The IDC research report, "Active Documents: Changing How the Enterprise Works," stipulates that for a document to be active it must:

  • embed code and/or business rules within the content of a document

  • enable a user's document interactions to launch actions, make calls on other applications or initiate processes without express commands being given at the time of use

  • change content based on actions that were taken

  • optionally, create an audit trail and provide rollback and versioning to create a history of the changes and the actions that were taken at any point

  • change appearance based on actions that were taken; the user's rights, roles or privileges; or as determined by the document's content itself.

That's a tall order. But vendors are actually filling it. Sidney Sloane, group manager of product marketing at Adobe, says Adobe's brand of active documents is enabled by the company's Intelligent Document Platform, which customers use primarily for document generation and process management. For instance, she says, customers can use the forms to get quotes on insurance from banks offering it. They might want to apply for car, home and life insurance, but the Adobe form lets them do it without filling out three applications.

"Adobe can create a dynamic form pre-populated with data about a specific customer so the customer has to fill out relevant personal data like income and dependents only once," Sloane says. The customer can "go offline and use all intelligence of the PDF form like calculations and validations, complete the form, save a copy locally, electronically sign it and go back online to submit it," she adds. The customer can even make a Web services call from the form to the bank's Web site to get a real-time quote. Users might embed rights in the document that unlock functionality in Adobe Reader, like sticky notes as attachments, or even authentication capabilities that restrict access to the document to certain users, according to Sloane.

Like smart enterprise suites, active documents drive technology, says Joshua Duhl, research director, Content Management and Rich Media, IDC, by acting as an interface to major enterprise applications while also uniting "their technologies, including database technologies, visualization, search and retrieval, language understanding, collaborative technologies, and document and content management systems." As they become more pervasive, he says, users will have to know less about using enterprise applications because they will interact with the document instead--which will expedite knowledge work tremendously.

Key to convergence is XML. For several years, content management vendors have used XML to expedite integration and interoperability between systems and have outfitted legacy systems with XML interfaces so they can repurpose content from them onto the Web via Web services in a dialect of XML like Web Services Definition Language. In that way, XML can represent content in various applications. What's new, explains Duhl, is that active documents combine highly structured XML with executable behavior so that the code is contained in or attached to the document but executed by an external processor.

While they hold infinite promise, active documents are mostly used now with forms processing tools to make validation and function calls to databases or to Web services for retrieval, Duhl says.


Regulatory compliance is a major theme for companies now adopting content management systems. The Gartner research note entitled "Sarbanes-Oxley Will Boost Content and Process Management" states that compliance requirements will account for 50% of spending on content and business process management systems from 2004." Furthermore, it predicts that "companies with poor content management and largely manual business processes will spend at least three times as much on compliance per year as those with good records management." That's because content management systems perform activities like providing document tracking and audit trails and offer records management capabilities like retention policies.

Among the major regulations requiring compliance in the near future, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is the most pressing--by June 2004, CEOs and CFOs in companies in all industries must sign off on all financial reports. Others worth mentioning have later deadlines. SEC Rules 17a-3, 17a-4 and NYSE 342, 440 stipulate that brokerages and others retain all materials and e-mails associated with trading activity, while the NASD Conduct Rule 3010/ 3110 regulates any publicly traded company to perform electronic e-mail and electronic records management and archival to nonerasable electronic media. And 21 CFR Part 11 holds that life sciences companies can use electronic records and/or signatures instead of their paper counterparts and explains how companies should create and manage them.

Open-source offerings

Companies that don't want to make large capital investments in content management systems or risk deployments that might need to be later replaced with newer technology might consider deploying open-source solutions. They have gained traction in the last few years. According to Drakos, the leaders in that field are Zope/CMF/CPS, Red Hat CMF and Apache Lenya because they demonstrate the greatest product maturity and market presence. He cautions, however, that they are hardly off-the-shelf products, so adopters will have to take some responsibility for deployment, customization and ongoing maintenance, and be willing to work with small service providers.

Price pressure and big-time acquisitions

Price pressure from new entrants and industry consolidation will change the content management landscape in the near future. Drakos says content management vendors like Percussion and Fatwire do nothing but publish content to Web sites--and they are competing with value-added, mid-market content management vendors and pushing prices down as a result. Microsoft is also applying competitive pressure, he says--its Content Management Server is a mid-market offering with great potential because of Microsoft's installed base and marketing clout. Drakos believes content management products with inclusive features and functions at the high end of the market are insulated from price pressure because mid-range vendors simply can't compete with their capabilities.

Price pressure is also driving consolidation. To offer more functionality for a lower total cost of ownership, content management vendors are making more acquisitions, especially of forms processing vendors. Duhl points out that FileNet bought XML forms vendor, Shana, and on the periphery of content management, Verity bought forms vendor Cardiff, to play in the SES and active document spaces.

"Forms is becoming more of a strategic requisite for these vendors," he explains, "because there are so many forms-based processes within and between organizations."

Finally, Gartner's Sarbanes-Oxley report predicts that Oracle, SAP and Microsoft will each purchase one or more of the specialist content management vendors by the end of 2004. That development should make content management an integral part of the IT infrastructure and really broaden its adoption. But while the industry will consolidate, content management does not risk becoming just another button on the big vendors' platforms. Best-of-breed companies will still have a viable place, the report concludes, especially where production imaging and workflow as well as sophisticated collaboration are needed.

Table 1.



— Broad and well-integrated

— Industry-leading document management



— Broad portfolio of technology that includes Lotus Workplace

— Aptrix content management

— Strong service-oriented architecture and tools, including business process management

— Vertical solutions

Open Text


— Leading content management and collaboration

— Portal functionality via acquisition of Corechange

Plumtree Software


— Strong portal offering

— Collaboration with its Collaboration Server

— Content management via acquisition of Hablador

— Compatibility with repositories like Documentum and FileNet



— Strong portal offering

— New content management and collaboration — NetWeaver strategy delivers one element of smart enterprise suite within a comprehensive infrastructure stack, not a product bundle



— Strong content management

— Epicentric portal

— Collaboration via acquisition of Intraspect

—Document and records management via acquisition of Tower Technology

An XML sampler

A few of the many companies providing XML-based structured document management, content management or enterprise application suites:



Ascential Software

Astoria Software

Cardiff Software (now Verity)





Epicor Software







Open Text


Percussion Software

Plumtree Software


Red Dot




John Harney is president of ASPWatch, a consultancy focusing on market, partner and technology strategy for ASPs, e-mail johnharney4@msn.com.

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