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In Focus: An Update on Convergence

As the New Year dawns, it's apparent that what we're facing is really a tectonic IT convergence that goes well beyond just content and data.

It has been one year since Transform Magazine merged with Intelligent Enterprise, a union that reflected a much larger convergence of structured and unstructured information management systems. As I wrote in late 2004, "content and data are on a collision course, and we're beginning to see new tools and technologies emerge at that intersection."

The intersections have included business process management (BPM), business intelligence (BI), content management and information integration, and the gaps only narrowed during 2005. BPM and BI vendors forged alliances and built tighter integrations through the course of the year. These ties support continuous process improvement by surfacing real-time key performance indicators and enabling business activity monitoring. Rumors of impending BI vendor acquisitions of BPM suites never materialized, but infrastructure vendors including IBM and Oracle beefed up their BPM products while enhancing supporting content management and BI services.

Content management inched closer to the structured world last year, with the boutique XML-based content management market increasingly striking strategic corporate nerves. Many organizations now recognize that they're wasting money creating content over and over again, and the larger and more global the enterprise, the bigger the opportunity for savings and corporate consistency. Modeling and componentizing content is a big undertaking, but the DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) gathered steam as a standardized way to move toward content reuse and multichannel delivery.

Content integration all but disappeared as a separate software category last year, with Oracle's acquisition of Context Media. Content integration is now just a facet of enterprise information integration. No matter, the maturing JSR 170 standard looks like the surest route to tapping any repository anywhere. Nobody talks about the mythical "single repository for all content" anymore; it's all about leveraging existing investments with virtual access.

As the New Year dawns, it's apparent that what we're facing is really a tectonic IT convergence that goes well beyond just content and data. Business information and business processes look like the larger axes upon which all IT systems will operate. Eventually, users will see only the information and processes that matter to them. Customized role-based environments will hide the complexity of disparate applications, interfaces and reports. Content management, collaboration, BI and knowledge management will operate behind the scenes, providing tools and surfacing relevant information at the right time and in the context of the task at hand.

Does this sound like a far off dream? Read this week's story on process portals ("HCR Manor Care Puts a Process Portal into Practice"), and you'll recognize that vendors are just beginning to deliver what users have been aching for and what some pioneers are building on their own.