How Peter Met Mary Jane: The Mythology of Enterprise Content Management

If you've been paying attention, you might have picked up a little bit of Spiderman mythology hovering over what we now call "enterprise content management." At the beginning of the story you have the humble but sincere document management. Good at saving money by automating repetitive tasks in the basement of the building. Sort of a Peter Parker vibe: nice enough guy, but kinda nerdy. Definitely skillful and book-smart, but in no way is he going to get MJ's attention. And forget about J. Jonah Jameson. He'd laugh him out of his office in a nanosecond.

Then along comes a spider. The mutation of electronic document management and Web content management, this little monster bites document management one day, and BAM! You've suddenly got an unholy hybrid of puritan work ethic crossed with 21st Century cyber-nautics. The only question: Will he use his power for good or for evil? For with great power comes great responsibility...

I'm just messin' with you. But it's weirdly true that the maturity of what we now correctly or incorrectly call enterprise content management has followed a mostly accidental evolutionary formula that put business automation in a beaker, added some electronic content requirements and shook vigorously until...

What came out? I set out to learn what, exactly, is just so "enterprise" about enterprise content management... "The shift has been dramatic in the last three or four years. Customers now commonly think of content management as an enterprise solution, much in the same way they think of email as an enterprise solution, or database applications," says Rich Buchheim, senior director, product management, content products and strategy at Oracle.

Eric Stevens, senior director, industry and solution marketing group, at Hummingbird, follows on: "Examples of enterprise content management, to us, are those companies that value content the same way they value data at an organizational level. It's a tricky definition. Sometimes the CMS is just a filing cabinet—I put Word documents there when I save them. But a better example is the company that says: ‘How do I use that content to help people do their jobs better?' That's when it's an enterprise application."

"Enterprise means more than cross- disciplines; it also means cross-functional," adds Brian Anderson, vice president of marketing at Siderean Software, adding that ECM transcends the boundaries of mere departments to include information located outside the organization as well. He gives an example: "An aerospace company researching a new project needs information from everyone in their large enterprise who has worked on similar projects (internal). But they also need all the papers and research related to technologies around this kind of project (external)." Colman Murphy, senior product manager, Xerox DocuShare, puts the definition into a different context: "Corporate functions (HR, call center, AR/AP) are obviously very different, but they all share the unifying characteristic of involving content that can either represent opportunity or represent risk—opportunity in the sense of protecting corporate investments; risk in the sense of not effectively disposing of content across the enterprise."

Oracle's Buchheim adds that "it enters the realm of ‘enterprise' when it no longer solves the productivity (or compliance and risk management) problems of a single function, but facilitates the sharing of information across departments. I can put a CM system in my HR department tomorrow, and it will help the HR department. But when the HR folks and the legal department need to collaborate (and heaven help us when they do—ed.), it suddenly looks like a true enterprise solution."

So, does any of this mean that the ECM system has to come from a single source? "No," insists Bill Seawick, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Interwoven. "ECM can mean multiple vendors forming an infrastructure for managing unstructured data. The more interesting facet, then, is not buying the infrastructure, but buying solutions for business problems and then relying on the infrastructure to migrate those solutions from department to department. I challenge anyone to show me a Global 1000 company that uses one vendor and one toolkit. Yes, there's a trend to consolidate down to a smaller number of vendors, but there are very few companies that can do it today."

Richard Holling, director, insurance segment, financial services at Hewlett-Packard, agrees that the sentiment is accurate...just a little too soon perhaps: "In the past, content management solutions were bought to solve separate problems—one for the portal, one for the claims department, another for records management...IT departments are now recognizing that's crazy, and we ought to be deploying the same software for everybody in the same way we standardize on Oracle or SQL databases, or on UNIX or Windows.

"That said, I'm not sure it's actually happening yet in terms of buying behavior. They want their purchases to fit into an overall content management strategy, but they haven't made the full commitment to go with one of the larger, more comprehensive software vendors and thereby give up some of the functionality they might get from the niche vendors. They want both; to deploy enterprisewide but to also have the best product for the individual task."

John Page, executive vice president, global services for Stellent, has a slightly different take: "The excellent companies think it's silly to have five different vendors, and pay maintenance on five different applications. The same piece of content, perhaps created for a transaction, then has to be shared out to a website, then saved as a record...having three different applications to do all that has created a lot of integration problems and excess cost. The excellent companies want to know which strategy fits their overall needs as an enterprise, and get rid of the other ones."

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