When you need to connect disparate content stores, you can use content integration software, federated search, portals or a new option called enterprise information integration. Most firms should use a combinartion of approaches.
In plumbing, a pipe that's not connected to anything else isn't much use. But a main line that's connected to a network of subsidiary pipes is powerful because it can distribute or gather water throughout a building, town or city.
Similarly, in large organizations with multiple and often disparate content and document management repositories, it's increasingly important to have interconnections to varied content so researchers, product developers, administrators, marketers and customers can gain access to all unstructured information.
Mergers, acquisitions and legacy departmental initiatives have left many organizations with a mishmash of management systems from suppliers including IBM, EMC, FileNet, OpenText, Vignette, Interwoven and dozens of smaller companies, many of which have been acquired by these larger enterprise content management (ECM) vendors. In fact, 78 percent of companies have more than one content repository and 43 percent have six or more, according to Forrester research.
Here are six common scenarios that call for integration of content from previously isolated sources:
You want to standardize on a new content management platform but still make use of legacy systems.
New regulations or laws such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act require your company to provide access control and audit trails for certain classes of documents stored in incompatible systems.
Your customer service or help desk department needs to handle customer queries more efficiently. Thus, customer service reps need unified access to customer correspondence, e-mails, technical product documents, transcripts of voice conversations and other information in order to address inquiries in a single call.
A manager preparing for a product launch needs to access technical publications, marketing materials from previous campaigns and regulatory submissions housed in various repositories.
A merger or acquisition brings together two companies that need to provide access to the multiple content stores of the combined organization.
Your company needs to build new business processes that require access to information managed by multiple systems.
Four Paths to Content
In the aftermath of mergers, acquisitions and departmental document and content management initiatives, many companies are bogged down with isolated and incompatible repositories. To avoid the cost and complexity of ripping out legacy systems and migrating content, organizations have turned to content integration software, federated search and portals to create connections between sources. The most recent trend is a movement toward an enterprise information integration (EII) approach that addresses both data and content integration issues.
Which approach is right for you? Content integration software enables content editing, updating and workflow. Federated search provides simpler content and document access. Portals aggregate content with basic on-screen integration. EII is the choice when processes require access to structured and unstructured data. Most large enterprises will require a combination of approaches to foster free-flowing information.
Companies used to address these needs by building custom integrations or migrating content to the preferred management solution. These projects often turned out to be expensive and time-consuming. In a merger situation, for example, "It may not be practical to migrate a terabyte of content from one application to another," says Gartner analyst Ken Chin. "Content integration makes a lot of sense."
Content integration is both a specific breed of middleware software and, to some, a catch-all term for a range of approaches to providing unified access to content. The alternatives include federated search, portals and a new hybrid approach called enterprise information integration (EII). As this article explains, each of these approaches has a best fit with different scenarios and user needs. You may find that the best solution lies in combining techniques and technologies to your best advantage.
Content Integration: Middleware for Content
Content integration software acts as a middle layer between incompatible content management systems and external applications. It provides a single application programming interface that adapts to each content repository as well as schema mapping to handle variations in tagging among them.
Content integration software supports applications such as customer service, product marketing, contract management and others that require access to unstructured content, and it enables related processes by bringing needed content into workflows. Two-way integration lets users edit and update content as well as read it.
Content integration software is relatively inexpensive and provides prebuilt, quickly deployable connectors to popular document and content management systems as well as portals and enterprise applications. A typical installation costs around $300,000 compared to enterprise application integration projects, which often cost $1 million or more.
Be forewarned that content integration software won't plug and play with any content management system. If you have content repositories that aren't among the top sellers, you may still need to build connectors and customize the solution to your needs.
There are few independent content integration software suppliers, and the field recently narrowed with IBM's October acquisition of Venetica. Among the first and most widely deployed content integration products, Venetica's VeniceBridge software offers connections to more than 20 leading content stores, including IBM's DB2 Content Manager products.
IBM says VeniceBridge will become part of its DB2 Information Integrator product, which is EII software designed to unite structured data and unstructured content sources .
The field of independent, content-to-and-from-anywhere integration suppliers now includes only Context Media and Windfire. Most other content integration products are designed to bring content into a single management system. Several ECM vendors offer software that helps you integrate disparate repositories into their management regimes. FileNet and Interwoven, for example, use VeniceBridge-developed technology to provide integration between these systems and third-party content management silos. Mobius, Vignette, Day, Documentum and others similarly use homegrown content integration modules to gain access to content in other systems.
The development of content integration software parallels a trend of the mid 1990s in which middleware technology overtook databases as the cornerstone of IT architecture, according to Ovum analyst Laurent Lachal. "In increasingly distributed environments, it's the plumbing that counts more than the water tank," he says.
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