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Businesses turn to enterprise content management to help meet regulatory compliance mandates and boost revenue

Steven Marlin

July 22, 2005

7 Min Read

Enterprise content management, an amalgam of processes spanning Web content management, document management, imaging, forms management, and archiving, has become Topic A as companies struggle with an explosion of unstructured content and a relentless stream of regulations governing records retention. The overriding themes are regulatory compliance and business managers' desire for greater control over the content that drives revenue.

Content-management suites from vendors such as EMC Documentum, FileNet, Interwoven, Open Text, Stellent, and Vignette, as well as entries from IBM and Microsoft, provide companies with a wide choice of platforms. Oracle also has entered the fray with its Files 10g product. Both IBM and Oracle have provided tight linkage between their enterprise-content-management offerings and their relational database products.

Ovum Research pegs the market for content-management software at $1.6 billion globally, with projected annual growth of nearly 4% for the next five years. "What's driving demand is the explosion of unstructured data and what happens when companies realize that content management is a core business issue," Ovum senior analyst Sarah Kittmer says. "Compliance issues and more-stringent requirements around information retention are requiring companies to do something about unstructured data."

Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc.'s Thrifty Car Rental division uses enterprise content management to drive business on 450 city-specific Web sites it launched in May, bringing its total number of sites to 600. The new sites are managed using Rhythmyx, a content-management system from Percussion Software Inc. At Thrifty's original 150 city Web sites, which were launched in 2003, individual franchisees still are responsible for populating their sites with local content such as pricing, special offers, weather, and entertainment; the sites are maintained from a central location.

The new sites receive content through data feeds from Thrifty's central data center. Franchisees are free to tweak content to meet local needs. By centralizing content management, Thrifty is able to maintain control over the look and feel of its sites, as well as achieve brand consistency. "An astounding amount of content needs to be managed, and the only way to do that is with a regimented content-management methodology," says Brad Rosenthal, director of Internet marketing and strategy at Thrifty Car Rental.

Among the mechanisms that Rhythmyx provides for building, rendering, and publishing site content is a database publishing tool. Thrifty purchases data from outside sources, which comes along with XML tags for specific locations. For example, content tagged "DFW" is extracted from the data feed and uploaded to the Thrifty site in the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; the same process is performed for all 450 sites.

By automating the distribution of content, while giving franchisees the freedom to personalize their sites, Thrifty expects to boost the number of site visitors. "When a consumer goes into Google and types in 'Atlanta car rental,' there's now a greater chance of Thrifty coming up higher in search rankings," Rosenthal says. The sites serve 1.5 million unique visitors per month, delivering about 10,000 pages.

The Rhythmyx system is expected to boost revenue by 20%, Rosenthal says. Thrifty plans to roll out a Great Deals program tailored to individual customers. When a customer returns to a site, a cookie planted on the customer's initial visit will activate a special pricing mechanism on the site that will display the most competitive rate.

Thrifty is in the process of migrating its original 150 Web sites to the new content-delivery system. In the two years since the sites were launched, Thrifty's revenue has increased 40%.

Public-sector organizations, with their reliance on paper forms, are a natural for these implementations. The city of Newark, N.J., last month unveiled a five-year, $1.4 million contract with Xerox Corp. to simplify the storage and handling of documents. In the initial phase of the contract, the city has purchased 26 WorkCentre Pro multifunctional units that copy, print, scan, fax, and E-mail, and 50 DocuMate 252 scanners. The devices, which replace legacy copier systems, scan hard-copy documents into DocuShare, Xerox's enterprise-content-management application.

The city has named its document-management system Newark Document Express. By Sept. 1, 12 city departments will be linked to the system, enabling employees to collaboratively capture, manage, publish, and share electronic content.

The impetus for the project was the need to manage huge numbers of paper forms that were choking operations. "We were spending so much time transporting forms from one department to another that we needed to re-evaluate our processes," says Sherronda Carroll, Newark's project manager.

A payroll form generated by the human-resources department took nine steps and a month to process. With Newark Document Express, approval has been reduced to two days. During the summer months, the department generates thousands of such forms for its summer youth-hiring program. The system also will be used to prepare budgets and meeting agendas, both cumbersome, paper-bound tasks. A typical municipal agenda runs 30 pages; instead of printing it out, the city will send the agenda electronically.

For Corporate Express Inc., a business-to-business supplier of office and computer products and supplies, enterprise content management has been bound inextricably with the growth of its E-commerce Web site, E-Way. Since 1996, when the company launched its first content-management app using software from Documentum, the number and types of content have exploded, yet the complexity of managing that content has been simplified. The system lays down a set of rules, workflow, and checks and balances to ensure quality of content, says Wayne Aiello, VP of E-business services at Corporate Express.

In 1996, the company was storing millions of paper invoices; those invoices were scanned by Documentum and stored electronically. In 2001, Corporate Express made the invoices accessible over the Web. The next year, it began using Documentum to publish online reports to customers about their product-purchasing habits. "It dawned on us that the same architecture that we were using for publishing invoices could be used for online reports," Aiello says.

In 2003, Corporate Express again expanded its use of Documentum to include Web content management for all its Web sites, Aiello says. The company continually experiments with content; right now, it's exploring adding rich content such as videos and Flash, he says.

The Documentum system has greatly reduced the cost of providing customer-specific content. By funneling content through E-Way, the company has saved on expenses while creating a unique customer experience. "Everything is customized to their needs," with Documentum managing both customer-specific and standard content, Aiello says.

For some companies, enterprise content management can literally mean the difference between life and death. International SOS, which provides global medical and security assistance to multinational companies, is used to working in a crisis mode: In 2004, it handled more than 370,000 assistance cases, including more than 10,000 medical evacuations. During the recent tsunami disaster, International SOS centers in India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand managed more than 1,000 cases of clients requesting assistance.

Its 4,000 employees are spread across the globe, often working under hazardous conditions. "A lot of our work is in challenging places like Siberia, Libya, Afghanistan," CIO Tim Daniel says. The company also performs work in Iraq on behalf of subcontractors there.

When a client's employee needs medical assistance, both the client and the employee's family require up-to-the-minute reports on the patient's condition. Yet providing that information was an IT nightmare: International SOS would spend the better part of a day aggregating bits of information from E-mail and other reports, then distributing it through Word or PDF documents. In addition to being time-consuming, the process was error-prone. "There wasn't a single version of the truth," Daniel says.

In 2003, the company decided to replace the process with Metadot Portal Server, an open-source program from Metadot Corp. that publishes medical information over an extranet. Snapshots on a patient's condition are extracted from International SOS's case-management system and transported to clients over the extranet. Flexibility and speed of deployment were paramount: The system had to be able to serve clients with different needs, and it had to be capable of serving snapshots in a hurry. "When a person is admitted to a hospital, we need to feed back information to stakeholders continually," Daniel says.

International SOS installed Metadot Portal Server on its Linux operating platform. The system provided several immediate advan- tages. For one, it was inexpensive; as an open-source app, Metadot didn't require a license fee. Total expenditures on management and operations to date have been $150,000 to $200,000--a fraction of what International SOS was spending on Intranets.com, an ASP-based service that it had used before Metadot.

Even more importantly, the system is easy enough to use that applications can be developed on the fly by business users instead of relying on IT staff. "It gives users the power to run their own show," Daniel says. "We're looking for businesspeople to push that information out quickly and cost-effectively to different audiences."

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