ECM...no slowdown in sight
The disparate nature of content and the desire to share it companywide, as well as with business partners and customers, are challenges facing vendors and users of enterprise content management (ECM) systems.
Corporate executives and government officials are searching for new ways to manage text documents, photos and other images, audio and video files, e-mails, faxes, blogs and other forms of content. As a result, several trends have emerged.
"The big issue for many companies is to break down content management silos," says Doug Armstrong, leader of Internet service practices for West Monroe Partners. "Many companies have been using point solutions."
By deploying enterprise solutions, a firm, for example, can get new hires up to speed more quickly with the knowledge contained in different parts of the organization, Armstrong explains.
Another trend in ECM technology is that small and medium-sized firms have begun to adopt it, in addition to the large organizations that first embraced it, says Barry Malter, president of Advantage Technologies.
"Even a 25-person firm can create a lot of documents," Malter says. "Today enterprise content management is on everyone's radar." The reason is simple: It takes too long to access paper-based information, and information is much easier to find electronically, using keywords, phrases and other search techniques, he adds.
New laws have certainly helped expand ECM's reach. For example, under the newly amended Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (see KMWorld January 2007), which went into effect Dec. 1, 2006, companies involved in civil litigation must provide electronically stored data as evidence earlier in the process then ever before, or face the prospect of penalties or losses in court. Companies must store final copies of e-mail and other documents that go out to clients, and, in some instances, different versions of content throughout the organization.
Those rules support earlier requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act regarding retention of certain e-mails for publicly traded companies, says Arthur Riel, CTO of Lighthouse Global Technologies.
"This will really push enterprises [to embrace] enterprise content management and search," says Craig Carpenter, VP of marketing and business development for Recommind. "Enterprise search can help bring together different [content management] systems."
E-mail will continue to grow in importance as a source of enterprise content. Citing a Gartner report, Riel says that the number of e-mails that need to be maintained as a result of the new rules is expected to leap from 800 million today to 7.8 billion by 2010.
Managing government content
Beyond legal requirements, providing the ability to search electronically through an enterprise's content can save an enormous amount of time, says Ed Stern, senior program analyst for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (osha.gov). Also, for rules as complex as the 1,500 pages of OSHA regulations in the Federal Register, the user must be able to tell if a particular regulation applies to a specific project. That means collaboration between the writers of the rules and the enforcers of the rules. "You need to have subject matter experts and lawyers agree on how the rules apply," Stern says.
So OSHA worked with EXSYS to develop an application that enables the searcher to not only look for content on the OSHA site, but also to determine whether particular rules apply to the searcher or to a particular project. The application—available for general industry queries now, with a plan to expand to other OSHA rules in the future—asks the user for specific information about a project. The application will ask follow-up questions if initial responses aren't sufficient to determine how and if specific rules apply.
Blogs enter content management
Today's ECM systems must provide access to knowledge contained in blogs as well. For example, companies with aging work forces can capture knowledge from workers that would otherwise be lost to the company after the employee retires, says Robin Hopper, founder and president of iUpload.
Content management systems should include those internal blogs and as well as information from outside the company, according to Eli Cooley, solutions manager for ByteManagers. Cooley adds that a company can gain important market information by enabling customers to see its Web site as a portal to view content about not only its products and services, but also related products and services. For example, if a provider of electric supplies finds that customers are coming to the site looking for content and documentation regarding a product or service the company doesn't sell, the company could consider adding the item to its inventory.
Faxing goes to the Web
Today's ECM systems must work with faxes so that those documents stay in electronic format when received via data lines or Web-based fax services. For example, one single real estate transaction might require 15 to 20 pages of faxes. Multiply that by the number of sales with which each agent is involved, and then by the number of agents, and the numbers become substantial if not staggering.
The number of faxes, like the number of e-mails, is continuing to rise, although scanned attachments are replacing some faxes. And more and more faxes are staying in their electronic form rather than being printed out at a recipient's machine. Because such documents are growing at 25 percent per year, enterprise content management systems must address them, says Steve Adams, VP of marketing for Protus IP Solutions.
The use of enterprise content and document management systems will become even more pervasive in the future, experts agree.
"Today, enterprise content management and document management are on everyone's radar," Advantage Technologies' Malter says. "To be competitive today, you can't rely on paper-based information."
Turning to open source
While many of today's enterprise content management and document management solutions rely on proprietary software from one or more vendors, other companies are turning to open source technology to handle their needs.
The publisher of The Christian Science Monitor has started to use open source technology for managing the content of that newspaper, with the plan to extend the technology to the content of its other publications in the near future.
"When you come to open source, everyone talks about cost and price. For us, open source was a better business model," says Russ Danner, software architect, The Christian Science Monitor. "We can evaluate whether or not we are getting what we are paying for. If we don't, we can take out the product and replace it with something else."
Another important factor with the open source model, according to Danner, was that it connects the publisher with the open source community of developers.
"Others work together on this, so it leverages the network more effectively," Danner says, explaining that members of the open source community might have solutions, shortcuts or other help to enable The Christian Science Monitor to use the software more effectively.
The Christian Science Monitor downloaded the Alfresco ECM software for free and pays an annual support fee to Alfresco. There have been more than 500,000 downloads of Alfresco since its debut a little more than a year ago, says Ian Howells, chief marketing officer.