A Conversation with ... Dan Ryan, COO, Stellent

Once upon a time, in the misty past of content management, the landscape was marked by islands of automation, as far as the eye could see. Each island had its own purpose; the isle of imaging; the isle of document management; the isle of workflow. The horizon was dotted with them—islands of automation for lines of business ("The Claims Processing Archipelago") and functions ("The Straits of Records Management"). The residents of these islands knew very little of one another; the passages between them were un-navigable, and their languages and customs were strange and foreign. It was isolated and difficult, and a heck of a way to run a landscape.

This was the way the world looked to Stellent—and everyone else—for a long time. And in many respects, is still does today. But the world always changes, and the content management space is no different. "Many of the analysts have looked at what we've built, and they are pretty impressed," remarked Dan Ryan, the (newly appointed) COO of Stellent. "But when we look back at it, it seems so obvious."

I talked with Dan in early March about the old days as well as the latest content-related solutions his company's customers are deploying. And the inescapable theme running through our conversation was this need to bridge the passages between islands of automation, tying them together through an enterprisewide set of records and retention rules.

"There's an opportunity for centralized records, retention and discovery management to come from a content management vendor, because so much of it has to do with unstructured data," said Dan. "We saw an opportunity for records and retention management that does central policy planning, file planning, audit/reporting, business rules and workflow, that is executed across ALL your content applications and repositories."

It seems to have found a resonance—and a certain logic—that appeals to both customer and vendor. "Our customers don't want to have separate records management repositories for all their departments," he explained. "And we don't want to roll out records management on every server. They want a central policy—call it "central planning"—using one set of rules decided at the corporate level. We want to know what the rules are, and that they're being executed across all information," said Dan.

"We've seen it all—it's gone from a number of specialty vendors taking up residence in the Web content management space, or the document management spaces, all the way through to integrated suites—which was probably more driven by the vendors, to be honest. But now people are choosing an ECM partner with ‘infrastructure rationalization' in mind. People still aren't making big-bang purchases any more than they used to. But they ARE seeking an ECM vendor to standardize on for the longer term."

Universal records management under centralized control (despite its vaguely Soviet-sounding tone) is actually a conflict-free concept: the IT people love it because it reduces storage issues for them; end-users like it because they can find the things they need to do their jobs; the legal people like it because it enhances discovery and reduces cost and risk; and compliance people like it because it gives them common records management across servers.

A centralized records management plan also overcomes the alternative, which is NO plan at all. If the end-user is forced to take additional steps to initiate a retention policy onto a document, he has two choices: 1. do it or 2. don't do it. There are a lot of people who fall into that second category. "That's why you have 725 revisions of your price book on your intranet," Dan pointed out. "If there were records or retention rules associated with that piece of content, this wouldn't be the case."

But the true enlightenment here—the real "a-ha!" moment—might be the realization that there can be a hybrid solution that acknowledges both the threat of risk and the need to accomplish a business process. A legal discovery action will expose your company's ability to accomplish both sides of that coin in a hurry—there's a risk associated with discovery and a cost associated with discovery. Your ability to satisfy both these dynamics at the same time may make the difference in a time of great stress on your business.

This best-of-both-worlds solution already shows in the kind of customer Stellent attracts. "It's either the largest customers, who have a lot of risk and a lot to lose," said Dan. "Or it's the highly regulated businesses that have a high requirement for compliance issues."

Being able to regulate email from the same application that manages records and retention policies, plus being able to place a legal hold on documents across the enterprise from one application (as opposed to initiating holds on every repository in the company) "seems obvious to us now...it's almost amazing no one thought of it sooner," laughed Dan. "We do it everywhere else—there are systems management agents that run on all of an organization's servers (doing routine backups and grade-of-service functions, etc.)...why not run records and retention in the same way?"

So if it's so obvious, how come everybody ISN'T doing it? "We're building on top of our prior work; we already have a substantial technical base to build on top of." If a new company wanted to attempt to start from scratch, "it would be tens of millions of dollars and many, many years of development to build a product like this," explained Dan.

"There's always opportunity in a new market. If people focus on a new area, they get a lot done, and they're usually more productive and efficient at it," Dan added "But, it would be hard to walk into a big customer and have credibility. We have credibility, and it's STILL a daunting task for us!"

I walked away with the impression that Dan worries too much. The ability of a company to apply records policy across the entire organization from a single console is a comforting thing. Risk is the scary thing. In today's environment—when the islands are merging into a heterogeneous culture where the currency is content and the language is collaborative—the emergence of a common language is a welcome thing indeed.

Andy Moore is a 25-year publishing professional, editor and writer who concentrates on business process improvement through document and content management. He is now publisher of KMWorld Magazine and its related online publications.

As editorial director for the Specialty Publishing Group, Moore is the editorial chair for the "KMWorld Best Practices White Paper" series. Moore is based in Camden, Maine, and can be reached at andy_moore@verizon.net.

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