Enterprise content management - is it anything new?

The phrase "enterprise content management" (ECM) has been appearing with increasing regularity this year. But is this a real...

The phrase "enterprise content management" (ECM) has been appearing with increasing regularity this year. But is this a real development in the content management world, or is it just rebranding to revitalise a slowing market?

Going enterprise-wide
Enterprise content management has gained considerable credibility in the market since its launch at AIIM 2001. AIIM even refers to itself now as the "enterprise content management association"'.

Many of the content management software vendors focus on the idea that everyone in an organisation needs access to unstructured (that is, non-database) content, and that all the content in the organisation, whatever its source or purpose, should be managed by an ECM system.

This is hardly revolutionary. Many of the document management vendors that have been in business for more than a decade, and which have been profitable for much of that time (unlike many of the newer content management vendors), have been trying to pass on this message for much of their life. It is largely the newer, Web-focused vendors that are beginning to realise that a wider scope for content management is actually a good idea.

Some of the newer vendors have even dared to suggest that the concept of retaining a single source for any piece of content is also valuable. If you ask the document management vendors, then they would agree - because they have also been preaching this message for many years.

However, very few organisations have attempted implemented enterprise-wide document or content management. It has usually been confined to the areas that have had an urgent need to place tight control on their content. Examples include full documentation and

"A complete ECM solution from one vendor is a great idea, but it currently remains just that - a great idea"
Source: Ovum

audit trail information in pharmaceutical companies; engineering organisations managing international design and build projects; organisations managing large and rapidly changing Web sites; and other key areas where managing content effectively is core to running a sound business.

What is ECM?
Enterprise content management software provides a set of tools and processes for managing all types of content, from simple documentation through to interactive realtime video, throughout its life from creation, through updating and distribution, to archiving.

A fragmented market
A complete ECM solution from one vendor is a great idea, but it currently remains just that - a great idea. All the technology pieces are available from a range of vendors. Some are even close to offering all of the functionality from one source. However, few of these are affordable as an enterprise-wide solution available from everyone's desk.

The content managed by most mainstream content management vendors is limited to textual information, with some graphics and usually simple images. They provide a range of facilities for doing this effectively. The storage of large volumes of rich media (such as audio, video and complex image files) has generally been left to specialist software tools, simply because it involves many difficult issues well beyond those of the management of simpler content.

Once you move outside the enterprise to deliver content to suppliers and customers, the issue of retaining control over your content also arises - you do not want it copied and distributed freely by others. You have incurred significant costs creating the content and, in many cases, will be trying to gain revenues from that content. If it can be copied and redistributed by others, then you will lose financially.

All these elements must be covered in any enterprise content management system. The complete range is covered by the following technology solutions, but, despite the marketing hype, no one yet covers them all:

- document management
- Web content management
- e-commerce
- digital asset management
- digital rights management

Document management
Document management has been saddled with a name that has given a very misleading idea about what it does. It has not just been about managing "documents". Many document management products can cater for any type of content - for example, images, diagrams, CAD/CAM, pictures, audio and video. However, very few functions are provided for the latter two, apart from storage and retrieval.

Rebranding of document management to content management has succeeded in raising the profile of traditional document management. Many of these vendors have also added Web publishing facilities, although some of these amounts to little more than making document management facilities available over the Web. A few can actually manage the construction of complete Web sites.

High-profile organisations that have been operating in this space for more than ten years include FileNET, Documentum and Open Text. Documentum offers a significant range of the technology components required for ECM, but it is prohibitively expensive for enterprise-wide implementation.

Web content management
Since the coming of age of the Web during the mid-1990s, an increasing number of start-up companies have recognised that creating, managing and delivering content to a Web site is not a trivial task. Ensuring that the right pieces of content are delivered on time, that the site is continually refreshed with new content, and that the right content is shown to the right person, are all difficult and time-consuming tasks. Therefore, vendors have developed software to help the beleaguered Webmaster.

A typical organisation in this space is Interwoven, whose software is aimed at complex site development. However, it is aimed principally at groups of Web developers rather than enterprise-wide. Crossover companies such as Stellent, whose main focus has been managing documentation, now provides strong Web publishing facilities, as well as delivering a significant slice of ECM at a reasonably affordable price.

Many vendors that started in the Web content management world have moved towards e-commerce and have added significant transactional functionality to their content management tools. This adds the ability to manage a Web site with transactional capabilities. Vendors have also added sophisticated personalisation facilities, so that sites can be assembled in realtime to meet the needs of individual users. Typical vendors in this space include Vignette and BroadVision.

Digital asset management
Digital asset management (DAM) solutions have arisen in parallel with many of the systems already described. They also are perfectly capable of handling text and a wide array of more conventional media files. What distinguishes the digital asset management solution is its ability to handle video, audio and complex image files. This is something that most standard content management software offerings struggle with. Standard content management software can store and manage the metadata and source-rich media files, but have little or no capacity to transform, analyse or generally manage the distribution of rich media. Vendors active in this area include Artesia and Bulldog.

Digital rights management
Digital rights management (DRM) adds important functionality to all forms of content management by securing your rights to your content. You can prevent others from duplicating your content at various levels; for example, by locking the content and publishing via Adobe, you can stop the document from being printed. However, doing this with rich media is more difficult. This clearly needs to be addressed if the future of digital asset management beyond the company is to be secure.

However, many of the technical problems have been resolved, and the biggest player in DRM is IBM, which offers a comprehensive solution. Many other smaller vendors offer specific niche solutions.

No single vendor has yet achieved true enterprise content management. The closest offerings in terms of functionality are usually far too expensive to be regarded as a true enterprise-wide solution. Many of the solutions that are affordable only address a relatively small segment of the total solution. Convergence between document and Web content management is essential if coherent ECM solutions are to be created within user organisations. A complete and affordable technology solution is a long way off, but there are clear signs of deepening relationships between major organisations in the content management market.

IBM is the vendor closest to offering a truly comprehensive ECM solution, because:

  • It is already firmly in the document management market with its own product, and has made moves into the Web-focused area It has relationships with Vignette and Interwoven in Web content management and is pushing into e-commerce content management It has its own DRM solution The IBM Lotus software provides a genuine enterprise-wide solution to some of the ECM technology requirements

In the content management market:

  • Vignette and FileNET are working together to link Web-focused content and traditional document management Documentum is expanding its portfolio of offerings into Web content management Vignette, BroadVision, Documentum, as well as many other vendors, are starting to provide portal software

The movement towards portals provides a Web-based delivery mechanism that can truly provide enterprise-wide access to functions such as content management. A portal demands to be available and used by an entire organisation, and therefore provides the ideal delivery mechanism for enterprise content management.

In the digital asset management market:

  • Artesia has relationships with several leading players in the content management world, including Interwoven and Vignette
    Artesia is participating in the Vignette-led eXtended Content Management (XCM) Alliance, which is looking at the challenges of integrating content management solutions
    Artesia offers an integrated solution with InterTrust for digital rights management.

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