Software // Information Management
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12/28/2009
12:33 PM
Ruth Blanco
Ruth Blanco
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Integration: ECM Curse and Opportunity

With the proliferation of enterprise content management (ECM) vendors at many organizations, a new challenge is developing around managing federated ECM systems. Can the content management applications within an organization be integrated to help users find the information they need?

With the proliferation of enterprise content management (ECM) vendors at many organizations, a new challenge is developing around managing federated ECM systems. Can the content management applications within an organization be integrated to help users find the information they need?Interoperability among different ECM systems is a big problem for organizations that are not using a monolithic solution from a single provider. What's more, the ECM vendors themselves likely have acquired technologies from different vendors and may not have integrated them yet into a tight package.

Organizations invariably have tons of knowledge. But they don't always know what they know -- if you know what I mean. Consider this scenario: a big, multinational company defines a corporate strategy to manage delivery centers across the globe. Managers know that the organization has managed delivery centers for years, and they would like to find knowledge on this topic. But, where is this information? How do they find it? Whom do they call?

The situation is complex due to the fact the information exists in a number of different forms. For example, a best-practice paper was written by a project group in one country while separate projects were launched to tackle the same problems in other countries (resulting in yet more e-mail messages, research findings and best practices on the topic). In yet another location, a process expert has written and published an article on the same subject. Even if this manager gets a hold of one or two good sources of expertise, what can be done to ensure that people have done more than scratch the surface of the available information?

Middleware solutions might be part of a solution, but it is more likely that Web services and open standards will lead the way along with powerful search tools that allow you to traverse the many data silos that exist within most organizations.

As organizations seek to develop a strategy around ECM, they should consider the silos of data that exist and not try to mash it all together into a single system. Instead look to federate your ECM environment and use the best products that exist for the particular functions you need. Also, keep an eye on the ECM standards effort called "Content Management Interoperability Services" (CMIS). This standard has been adopted by major ECM vendors, including IBM, EMC, Alfresco, OpenText, SAP and Oracle. Once adopted and implemented, CMIS promises to make it easier to move content across disparate content repositories. It will also make it less costly and simpler for developers to create applications that leverage multiple content management repositories.

The reality is that few ECM products work out of the box. A tremendous amount of work is needed to develop processes to deal with content and the variety of systems that exist. The need to meet regulatory compliance is often a driver behind ECM initiatives. But if implemented properly, ECM systems can transform data into knowledge and, ultimately, insight for better business decision making.

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