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10/29/2009
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Content Management: Collaboration And Social Networks Change The Game

The blurring lines between different types of content mean IT organizations needs to adapt their strategies.

The realms of collaboration, social software, and document management are coming together, and your company is at the center. Your strategy over the next 12 to 18 months will determine whether these three pieces can slide together reasonably neatly--or end up scattered all over the floor.

Business content is coming from more sources and in larger quantities than ever. In addition to accumulating reams of traditional documents and transaction-oriented content, companies are wrestling with newer content types such as blogs, wikis, and threaded discussions on Facebook-style employee profile pages. All of this content needs to be accessible to the right people, meet regulatory requirements, and be governed by an appropriate retention period.

Until recently, however, the content management vendors and the social software vendors didn't have much to do with each other. Social business software that encourages ad hoc information creation and sharing--meaning blogs, wikis, social profiles--stood apart, creating its own taxonomy through tag clouds and user ranking of content. Social software companies such as Jive and Telligent didn't see a need to build rich back-end content management systems with complex taxonomies, file plans, and retention/disposition capabilities because those systems already exist.

Meanwhile, document management systems usually have been relegated to being the back-end repositories for a set of specialized applications, such as loan originations or moving a new drug through FDA approval. While companies might benefit from enterprise content management, or ECM, capabilities related to data retention and access control, many employees never touch an ECM system. Such systems just haven't been relevant to the way most people work or to the content they produce. Instead, those systems stand like islands, open only to a segment of employees.

"Documentum, Open Text, FileNet--they don't handle blogs and wikis very well," says Mike Gotta, principal analyst at the Burton Group. "And you have social business software vendors that wish they didn't have to do document management. We're in a classic market gap."

CIOs need to close that gap in their information architectures, and vendors are responding, at least in a limited sense. ECM vendors are trying to become social software vendors. Collaboration products are taking on more content management features. And social networking software vendors are building connections, albeit slowly, into document management platforms.

The mega-brand vendors such as EMC, IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft are taking small steps to more easily integrate with other companies' content-related products, but most of their efforts go to building out their own software portfolio to make a suite broad enough to encompass all of a company's content needs.

They have lucrative reasons to do so. Gartner predicts that the ECM market will grow at a compound annual rate of 9.5% through 2013, with worldwide software revenue reaching more than $5 billion.

At the same time, collaboration and social business software are red hot. IBM says its Lotus Connections platform, which provides wikis, blogs, user profiles, and other social capabilities, has the fastest organic growth of any IBM-developed software in the company's history. Microsoft's SharePoint, which mixes document-centric collaboration with social features, has racked up $1.3 billion in revenue since 2001 and is Microsoft's fastest-growing server software product.

Where We're Headed

At present, these three platforms address different enterprise use cases. Collaboration tools such as SharePoint and IBM's Lotus Quickr let business teams create work spaces to share and edit document-centric content, such as Word and PowerPoint files. Social business software such as Lotus Connections and Telligent Enterprise lets employees create corporate profiles, create blogs and wikis, forge connections with co-workers, and find expertise. And ECM systems provide workflow and content control for a specific set of business applications, such as filing claims or opening customer accounts.

Each platform generates reams of content, yet many companies let it accumulate in the databases and file shares attached to these platforms. That's a missed opportunity. For one thing, simply letting content pile up goes against the main use case of collaboration and social business software: to liberate useful insights from data silos that lock out users who aren't members of a specific project team or business unit.

Also, IT has to dedicate resources to manage content in each system. Some of the information being worked on in these systems may constitute a legal record, such as financial data that drives a quarterly report. Some of this digital content may be relevant to litigation and has to be retained in a way so that it can be found in an e-discovery search. And other content, such as a blog about the company picnic, has no business sitting on production disk space longer than 10 minutes after the event.

When information sits in silos, users have a harder time finding and using it, and IT has to spend too much to manage those silos to ensure that the content has proper access controls, retention, and disposition plans and meets regulatory requirements.

Going Social

Content management vendors are obvious candidates for bringing the enterprise controls to collaboration and social software that administrators need. But rather than focus on deep integration with popular platforms, two major document management vendors have decided to see if they can grab that social software market for themselves.

Open Text introduced Social Media, a social business software package, in June. And in October, EMC will finally make CenterStage, which the company announced last summer, generally available to business customers. Open Text Social Media and CenterStage let people create profiles, create and share wikis and blogs, create team work spaces, and share documents. Open Text sells Social Media on its own, or it can integrate with Content Server, the company's flagship document management platform, formerly called LiveLink.

CenterStage is tied directly to Documentum, EMC's content management platform. All the content created inside CenterStage is an object stored in a Documentum repository, including blogs, wikis, and threaded discussions, and administrators can set access controls and retention policies for all that content. EMC's previous collaboration offering, eRoom, will be going into maintenance mode as the company encourages customers to switch to CenterStage.

Dee Cantrell, CIO of Emory Health Services, which has 10,000 employees at four hospitals in the Atlanta area and numerous physician clinics across Georgia, bought CenterStage and Documentum this summer to help improve communication among its healthcare providers. All its hospitals and clinics follow specific protocols for patient care. For example, if a patient checks in with pneumonia, a protocol provides treatment guidelines, such as recommending an antibiotic every six hours, ensuring that nurses measure vital signs every four hours, and so on.

If evidence emerges that a new or different practice may improve care, the providers get together to decide whether to adjust the protocols. Before the collaboration platform, Cantrell says, upward of 100 people from different hospitals and clinics would gather in a meeting room and dial in on a conference line to discuss changes. "It was a manual process. It was a lot of paper and a lot of meetings," Cantrell says. "It might take months to get all the folks together to get feedback and make changes." Today, providers access a team Web site and use blogs, wikis, and online documents to discuss and approve proposed changes. Providers can log in when it best suits their schedule. "Now it just takes a few days," says Cantrell.

In addition to the time savings, all the discussions and amendments are stored in a repository, where they can be secured and audited. "We have to comply with security and privacy regulations," Cantrell says. "So the auditability to know who's accessing what and when, and what information is being collected, and being able to report on it--that's a key component to everything we do."

However, it won't be easy for document management vendors to make significant headway into social business software."It's wishful thinking," says Burton Group's Gotta. "Most people I talk to are using Jive, Telligent, and Lotus Connections." Instead, the content management vendors should focus on deep integration with the social platforms with the most momentum, he says.

So far, that's not happening. EMC says it has had some customer requests to integrate Jive and standalone wiki tools with Documentum, but the company isn't offering direct integration as a built-in feature. Instead, the company creates one-off integrations through its professional services arm. EMC itself was an early adopter of Jive and uses the software for its internal community site. The company plans to replace Jive with its own CenterStage over time.

Stack 'Em Up

Other vendors, including IBM and Oracle, already have built a complete stack of collaboration and content management software, and they're pushing hard to get those products adopted as a stack across companies. Oracle Beehive provides messaging, such as e-mail and IM, while WebCenter Suite 11g includes WebCenter Spaces, which provides social software features such as blogs, wikis, and team work spaces. WebCenter Suite is built on top of Universal Content Management System, the company's ECM suite, which comes from its 2006 acquisition of Stellent.

In September, IBM announced a new version of Lotus Connections, its own social business offering. Connections 2.5 adds microblogging (think inside-the-company Twitter) and a Facebook-like message board. The new version also includes a file-sharing library, where employees can upload documents and files. Other people can view and comment on those files, but not edit them in Connections. In addition to Connections, IBM offers Quickr, a document collaboration platform that's a direct competitor to SharePoint.

For some companies, one stack from a single vendor is ideal. That's the case with one Fortune 500 consumer-goods company. The IT manager in charge of collaboration software, who asked that the company not be identified, says it did a major bake-off a few years ago that came down to Microsoft and IBM: "Should we run Outlook, Exchange, and SharePoint, or Notes, Domino, Quickr, and Connections?" was the company's decision, he says. "We aren't big into pulling pieces from here and there. We want a strategic partner." The company chose IBM and now is heavily invested in Quickr. It's in the process of a company-wide deployment of Connections.

A key driver for Connections is to help employees find the right people in the organization to get work done. "You used to be able to stand on your desk and shout, 'Who knows how to get this purchase order through the system?'" says the manager. But in a global organization where job functions are being shifted and staff being cut amid layoffs, the odds are against the right person sitting within shouting distance.

The consumer-goods company uses the Profiles feature, in which employees create a page with a personal and professional biography as well as contact information. "You can see the organizational chart and reporting structure, but more important, you can see the underlying social structure as people create networks and put in the things they've worked on," says the communications manager.

However, the consumer-goods company hasn't yet integrated Quickr and Connections with a content management system. So all content in Quickr resides in one set of back-end databases, and all content in Connections sits in a separate set of databases, and each has to be separately managed and archived. The company is evaluating whether to move content to an official content management system. Today, it has several Documentum instances--no IBM ECM--run by groups within the company subject to strict regulatory requirements.

The SharePoint Factor

And then there's SharePoint. Like the other brand-name vendors, Microsoft is building off its own strengths--in this case, collaboration. With the success of SharePoint in the enterprise, Microsoft is expanding the software to encompass content management and social business capabilities.

SharePoint 2010, just announced and due in the first half of next year, will improve its blog and wiki capabilities, as well as add a Facebook-like user profile feature. It also will extend the content management features that the company began adding to SharePoint 2007.

In fact, Microsoft is positioning SharePoint 2010 as a full-fledged content management system. It will add features such as file plans that describe the user company's policy for identifying and categorizing content to manage. It will allow for retention policies, taxonomy management, and legal holds when information must be preserved for litigation or investigations. The idea is that as SharePoint grows as a content repository, users can search for files using a variety of information, such as dates or product names. In addition to documents, SharePoint can be used to manage Web content and digital media such as videos.

And while vendors may be reluctant to integrate with other vendors' tools, SharePoint is an exception. Thanks to SharePoint's market penetration, vendors must work with it. EMC announced several new products at Microsoft's SharePoint conference in October, including the Documentum Repository Services for SharePoint. This application taps SharePoint APIs so that content inside SharePoint gets saved to a Documentum repository rather than SQL Server.

Standalone social software vendors, which don't have major software stacks to build on, are instead doing two things. Jive, for instance, is wrapping itself tightly around SharePoint, both for collaboration and content management. And both Jive and Telligent are extending their social software outside the firewall to business partners and customers.

Jive recently announced a product line, Jive Connect, whose modules let the social software integrate with formal content management systems. The first module is Jive SharePoint Connector, which will let customers use SharePoint to store content created in Jive. The connector will be generally available in December. "Our customers have been clear that they have content management systems they want to leverage," says Bill Lynch, a Jive co-founder and VP of strategic initiatives. "So Jive is the front end and SharePoint becomes the back-end document management system."

For example, if employees collaborate using a wiki in Jive, the software can transform that wiki into a Word document, an HTML file, or a PDF and send it to a SharePoint repository. People also can search SharePoint repositories from the Jive user interface. The connector also provides two-way integration. Employees can create a window for Jive in the SharePoint user interface. Jive promises to build modules for other content management platforms, but Lynch declined to say which vendor would come next. Look for new modules in the first half of 2010, he says.

Telligent is helping customers extend its social software outside the firewall. Telligent Community lets companies set up blogs, forums, and groups for customers. Companies can use these tools to get feedback, provide customer support, and share information, such as best practices and answers to common questions. Companies can then mine this interaction to ensure customer problems are being addressed, track public opinion, and get insight into potential new markets.

Jive has a similar feature, Jive Bridging, to help companies create public communities for customers and partners. Jive also offers a mobile version of its application for the iPhone and BlackBerry. The iPhone app lets employees use the most important Jive features: access colleagues' profiles, read and write blog posts, and monitor activity feeds.

Break Out Or Break Even

The convergence of content management, collaboration, and social software is still in its early stages. But we'll make our best predictions about how the major vendors' strategies will play out, and which are most likely to dominate.

The popularity of SharePoint puts Microsoft in the enviable position of being the platform that all the other players build to. EMC, Open Text, Oracle, IBM, and other ECM vendors have connectors that let companies move content from SharePoint into their repositories. The pure-play social networking vendors are also embracing SharePoint, both as a platform with which they can participate and as a content management repository.

SharePoint has the potential to become a default productivity tool, something that becomes second nature to end users in the same way Word and Excel have become. SharePoint 2010 should open new opportunities, including more tools to let employees build workflows, which allows its use in formal processes. For example, the public relations team may set up an approval workflow to ensure all key people sign off on a press release before its release, and that the final copy is archived along with other relevant material. SharePoint also will have a front end to post Web content.

Standalone social business software vendors such as Jive and Telligent may also come out as winners. If Microsoft continues to take three years between major SharePoint upgrades, these smaller vendors can add features and functions that push the boundaries of social collaboration. They'll need to if companies are to have a reason to keep a separate system for these functions.By embracing SharePoint and other third-party content management systems, and acting as an information feed inside SharePoint, these independent social software vendors can gain market share. They may, however, also wind up as acquisition targets.

EMC may find itself in a draw. On the one hand, Documentum is entrenched in key business apps and is the formal content management platform for some of the world's biggest companies. CenterStage has the features you'd expect in a collaboration and social business software platform; its tight integration with Documentum makes a logical case for existing customers to get on board.

However, EMC's customer base also demands that it ensure a good working relationship between SharePoint and Documentum, and there's little reason for customers that have invested in SharePoint to throw CenterStage into the mix, though the company would certainly argue to the contrary. It's unlikely that EMC will seize the lead in the collaboration and social business software markets. That said, by embracing SharePoint and making it easier for customers to take advantage of Documentum's content management and retention features, it could broaden its appeal. If nothing else, it will mean businesspeople interact with Documentum repositories as live resource for timely information, not just a cold storage to stash content until it gets deleted.

IBM has potential to be a winner. It can count on a robust installed base of Lotus customers who will buy more of the software in the stack. Lotus gives it a notable advantage that other conventional content management vendors don't have. IBM also may fare well in companies that haven't committed to SharePoint and are ready to move into social business software and greater collaboration.

The Challenge

It will be a challenge for Oracle and Open Text to expand their roles. Oracle has a large base of customers to which it can pitch its collaboration software, Beehive and WebCenter. But Oracle also lacks mindshare and market share here. The company has yet to create a big presence with Beehive, which is a unified communications play and alternative to the Microsoft e-mail stack. However, while people like to bad-mouth Microsoft, the company's productivity software tends to be hard to dislodge.

Open Text is firmly associated with content management, not collaboration or social business software, and it will have to work hard to get Open Text Social Media on the radar of potential buyers. It could try to position itself as an anti-Microsoft option, but there are lots of those already. And it's unlikely to push that tactic too hard, as Open Text is working to make its content management systems work well with others, particularly SharePoint. As with EMC, Open Text needs to be a good SharePoint partner to keep its content management platforms relevant to a wide business audience engaged in content creation and collaboration.

The problem that IT leaders must address is the fact that the neat distinctions among document-centric content, social-centric content, and collaboration-driven content are blurring. Employees are driving this change, and software vendors are trying to keep up. Regardless of what kind of business content you're dealing with or what platform generated it, it all has to be managed. Now is the time to plot a business content management strategy that can cope with all these content sources at once.

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