Enterprise Content Management: Hide What's Inside - InformationWeek
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5/22/2006
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Enterprise Content Management: Hide What's Inside

Content management works best when its behind the scenes -- and not treated it as an application unto itself. Consider integrating with e-mail and business apps or explore emerging options for infrastructure- or service-based management.

Deliver Content as a Service

Content enabling business applications is nothing new. The idea is to let workers access relevant documents within the applications they use every day. Historically, these links have been created through fragile, API-level integrations that take time to develop or that must be customized even if they're "certified" and "out-of-the-box." And with each software upgrade, there's always the risk of broken connections. The simpler screen-scrapping techniques that let you click on data fields and pop up related documents are equally vulnerable to changes in software. The default approach is still tabbing between interfaces.

Many ECM vendors are now developing Web services that can seamlessly and flexibly integrate content management functionality into business applications. Nearly all ECM vendors now claim some form of service-oriented approach or accessibility, but most are in the early stages of development. Some are little more than Band-Aids designed to tie together disparate product acquisitions.

Despite their relative immaturity in the ECM vendor community, Web services are very much in the plans of end-user organizations planning large-scale deployments. Outside of North America (where there is less of a predisposition to packaged software), many ECM solutions are being successfully deployed using SOA-ready application servers, databases and business process layers from the infrastructure vendors. Again, the main driver is simplicity for the user. Services-based approaches may well improve interoperability across applications and silos, but the biggest win for early adopters has been to embed content management functionality into tried-and-tested legacy systems.

Most early adopters of Web services for ECM have been in the engineering and manufacturing sectors, which have long required cross-app integration. These industries also rely on applications that are closely related to ECM, such as product lifecycle management and configuration change management tools. PLM systems are ripe for services-based integration with ECM functionality so that all product content could be stored in a single repository.

Serve the Masses

There are plenty of industry- and app-specific content management solutions that are proven and cost effective. They will continue to sell, and the vendors that offer them can meet many needs across the enterprise. But the one challenge most organizations have yet to meet is taming the huge masses of content that are currently unmanaged and overwhelming basic IT infrastructure.

If you're charged with reducing the number of file servers in the organization or, more worrisome, facing up to regulatory compliance challenges or legal risks, a broader approach is called for. Consider the database/infrastructure options, including Oracle 10g and pending products from Microsoft. Also look at storage-centric approaches, such as that offered by EMC Centera.

If you're considering broader deployments of ECM systems, make sure there are options that are technically scalable and economically scalable if you want to extend content and records management functionality to thousands or tens of thousands of users.

Most of all, make sure you ease or entirely remove the burden of electronic filing, access and distribution from business users. Content management is simply the ability to file, retrieve, manage and distribute unstructured data. True enterprisewide content management should unleash the power of business applications and processes, not be an end in itself.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe is principal strategist and ECM consulting practice lead at Wipro. He was previously an analyst with Ovum. Write him at Alan.pelzsharpe@wipro.com. Girish Iyer is a solutions architect within Wipro's technical consulting practice focused on ECM solutions. Write him at Girish.iyer@wipro.com

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