In Focus: EMC Claims the Lead in 'Unified' Architecture

When EMC announced the release of Documentum 5.3 yesterday, the company put its stake in the ground and claimed to offer the most unified enterprise content management (ECM) suite available.
When EMC announced the release of Documentum 5.3 yesterday, the company put its stake in the ground and claimed to offer the most unified enterprise content management (ECM) suite available. Collaboration is no longer a Microsoft-centric eRoom appendage on Documentum's Java-centric platform. Thus, collaboration services are no longer divorced from Documentum's process, records and content management services.

The upgrade gives EMC reason to crow. But what the company didn't announce yesterday — namely, not a shred of news pertaining to Web content management — said as much about its direction as the announcement itself.

So what's the big deal about a unified architecture? After the wave of acquisitions in the content management community in recent years, most ECM vendors have made at least some effort to pull together the often-disparate pieces. Surface appearances are a start, so GUIs and navigational approaches gain a common look and feel, thus easing training and improving usability. The next step is consolidating the overall architecture on a single code base, a single security model and a single API, thus eliminating Band-Aid integrations, leveraging common IT infrastructure and minimizing application development and support costs.

For EMC, unifying the architecture meant designing eRoom-like collaboration capabilities from scratch in Documentum. The company says it will continue to support and sell standalone versions of the eRoom system acquired several years ago, but the new environment is as original (and, one could add, as untested) as the collaboration module FileNet introduced last year.

And speaking of FileNet, that company's P8 platform and Stellent's Universal Content Manager are EMC's closest competitors in the unified architecture race. The two rivals introduced their unified platforms way back in 2003, but the difference is that high-volume document imaging applications in those two systems are still managed in separate, though well-linked repositories. EMC has it all under one roof, so to speak, and the company's amped-up emphasis on business process management and collaboration-enabled process support has it sounding like its headed in FileNet's direction. Stellent, too, hedged its bets on process orientation with last year's acquisition of Optika.

What Documentum has been very quiet about (in another parallel with FileNet) is Web content management, which was the center stage of ECM just a few short years ago. Stellent, Interwoven and Vignette haven't lost interest in Web content management because that's where they started. But for all the bluest blue chips — IBM, EMC, FileNet and, to a lesser extent, OpenText — it's all about document management, collaboration, records management and process enablement.

The common refrain from these top ECM vendors seems to reflect a customer focus turned inward, to internal controls and efficiencies. In many ways, it's a flashback to the pre-dot-com era, when the market was bifurcated into the document management and workflow crowd, with its focus on the proverbial "mission-critical" processes, and the smaller, lesser known Web content crowd, associated with marketing and the corporation's face to the customer.

The content management pendulum has swung the other way, it seems. But I wonder if the market is at a new apex and will go back toward Webby, outward-facing issues. More likely, it's just that getting and keeping arms around all the divergent content management issues is just to difficult a task for even the ECM giants.


a. EMC Launches Next-Generation Enterprise Content Management Platform

b. EMC Delivers New EMC Documentum Product Innovations