Man in the Middle

A Conversation with ... Andy MacMillan, Oracle

I can remember when the document management industry viewed the inevitable encroachment of "the big guys" (the Oracles, the Microsofts) with anticipation and welcome. If by "anticipation," you mean "fear," and if by "welcome," you mean "dread."

It was widely held that the day Oracle "gets into content management," it’s game-over-take-your-ball-and-go-home-time for the many independent software vendors who were then scrabbling for marketshare in an emerging space.

Andy MacMillan surely remembers those days. He was then working at one of the ISVs in question—Stellent—and one day the inevitable happened. Oracle acquired Stellent. We cringed while we waited for the sky to fall.

It didn’t. Today an entire generation of knowledge professionals can welcome "the big guy" because it turns out… they ain’t so bad after all. "People just want to have an information management plan that spans structured and unstructured content in a simple, consolidated way," says Andy, who is now VP of product management at Oracle. With that in place, the difference between structured and unstructured data is irrelevant ("structured data" refers to data in a database; "unstructured data" refers to documents, email, images, etc). People want to use the tools normally associated with structured data on their unstructured data. They want auditing, BI, data mining, case-based reasoning… By the same token, things like search, version control, records and compliance, and rights management are also expected to be available for their structured data."

It’s a crazy mixed-up world.

But it makes sense. By applying certain content management philosophies to the database, and vice versa, "We have a value proposition for both the IT side and the business side. We take expenses out of the IT budget; we also take risk out of the equation (through compliance and risk management capabilities). And it brings efficiencies into play for both sides." It hits all three of the classic ‘technology purchase’ requirements, explains Andy.

The challenge, of course, is translating that value proposition to a diverse audience of business, technical and executive people, none of whom speak the same language. But simply by virtue of integrating all the content management and data management tools into a common platform—in this case Fusion Middleware—Oracle can in fact be the Rosetta Stone for the organization… everybody can read the message, no matter which language they understand. "We can talk to IT about integration issues, and then talk to the executives about the new ‘BI portal dashboards’ they’ll have at their disposal."

The more suspiciously minded of us might wonder whether all this lovey-dovey information sharing has a dark side. Doesn’t "open access" imply "vulnerability" from a security point of view? The fact, it turns out, is that the risk of exposure is even less of a threat, because in addition to the security at the repository level that document management typically provides, information can also be "sealed," or encrypted. This way, any piece of information, whether it’s a document or a spreadsheet, can be sent all over the world through any channel and still remain under the strictest of security controls. Or as Andy puts it, "Extending the security of the document to the consumption of information, not just its storage and retrieval."

This is the way it’s supposed to work: information available to those who need it in a friction-free experience, while at the same time maintaining the "management" part of "information management." It’s sounding as though the org chart borders of yesteryear have been blurred to the point of erasure.

But at what cost? Isn’t it disruptive to alter the entrenched work habits and familiar paradigms of the knowledge worker class, all for the sake of "integration?" "Nobody has NO content management in house," counters Andy. "To the contrary, what they tend to have is too much stuff. It’s not unusual for a customer to have 50 systems, counting DM, digital asset management, records, compliance, etc. What we offer is a pragmatic framework for consolidating those systems."

By "pragmatic," Andy means "reasonable." "We don’t expect customers to leave on a Friday, and come in on Monday, turn on the lights, and all 50 systems are consolidated and supporting all the applications they were supporting before. But what we can do is assess those systems, determine the ones that are ideal for consolidation, and provide an ECM platform to bring those together."

Andy continues: "There will always be certain ‘tactical’ systems that will remain in place. What we do is bring supporting tools, such as records management or search, to leverage against those applications. Maybe the application itself will be replaced in two years—who knows?—but in the meantime, there’s no need to hardwire some new content management technology into it. We can manage it where it lives."

It lives all over, as Oracle (and Andy) knows all too well. Whether it’s a brand-new business-process application, or an ingrained older application that has been well-tweaked over the years to feel like your favorite pair of jeans, it’s all the same to a consolidated information platform.

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