Content management firm Documentum moves into Web content

Content management firm Documentum believes it can bring the ballooning content on corporate Web sites back under control. Stuart...

Content management firm Documentum believes it can bring the ballooning content on corporate Web sites back under control. Stuart Lauchlan reports.

Ever since the Internet emerged as a viable business platform, IT suppliers have been repositioning themselves to exploit it. In many cases, they've done little more than stick an 'e' in front of a product name. There is, however, much more to becoming a genuine e-business player than overhauling the product literature. One company that appears to have learned this lesson is Documentum, formerly best known as a document management company, but now reinventing itself as a Web content management firm.

"Of the 8.5 million Web sites out there, only around 2,000 currently use content management," says Jeff Miller, Documentum's CEO. "As Global 2000 companies race to bring their businesses online, they face a tremendous content challenge. They must manage multiple e-business sites with hundreds of thousands of pages and deal with the prospect of content growing at the phenomenal rate of 200% a year." Miller's thinking is endorsed by analyst Christopher Harris-Jones of research firm Ovum. "As more and more businesses turn to the Web, it is extremely important for them to develop a content management strategy," he says. "The task of managing massive volumes of changing Web content can't be executed manually. The only solution is effective tools, which automate as much content management as possible. These tools are the only way to ensure a Web site remains attractive to visitors, conveys accurate and up-to-date information, and keeps all the links working - despite frequent updating."

But while analysts have to date given Documentum's regeneration the benefit of the doubt, there remain wider issues at stake which the company will have to ride out, not the least of which is the end-user reaction to the changing forces of the market. Content management may be the logical successor to document management, but it remains an industry in a state of radical flux.

Document management was a process end-users grasped with relative ease: products were little more than glorified software filing cabinets. But in the e-enabled world, documents become volatile and active components of collaborative commerce. It's a complex transition for any company to make and it's notable that Documentum's customers are huge multinationals that can devote the back-end resources to managing the paradigm shift. A greater challenge may yet emerge when the company targets the SME space.

Despite these unknowns, the market presents plenty of opportunities for new pretenders. "The 'Web content management' label is increasingly attached to scores of rebadged products, particularly Web development tools and document management software," says Harris-Jones.

Document management suppliers have been managing content for many years, when content was often if incorrectly thought of as 'just documents'. They are adding Web interfaces to their software and bringing out modules focused on the publication of content on the Web. The content being managed tends to be large volumes of documents, which may be split into sub-components with significant and often complex interrelationships.

"These suppliers often have a deep understanding of the people and organisational issues required to implement content management software," says Harris-Jones. "They've also built up substantial relationships with service providers that can give additional support to the organisational issues of rolling it out."

Documentum now intends to offer generic content management that can be adopted by any market sector. It argues that Web content management so far has focused only on the design and publishing of Web pages and on Web-team productivity. But funnelling all content through the Web team results in huge bottlenecks and the redirection of precious resources to complete e-business projects. According to Miller, this means typical Web content solutions fall short of the real need to incorporate meaningful and dynamic content from across the entire business.

To assist it in the transformation challenge, it has called upon a series of partnerships with management consultancies, most notably PricewaterhouseCoopers. While this enables the firm to offer consulting assistance to end-users and also opens a number of corporate doors, end-users may draw a parallel with the ERP market, which also drew upon systems and services houses to implement complex software. Many end-users ended up hostages to fortune as the services giants effectively annexed their IT departments.

One early user that has bought into the company's new direction is Delta Air Lines, which has spent several months updating its Web site. Documentum software is being used to pre-assemble, track and control versions of text and graphics objects displayed on the Delta web site by the e-commerce transaction platform from BEA Systems.

"The Web site is a central element in our business strategy," says Wayne Hyde, vice-president of ePartners at Delta. "We were handling $400,000 a day on the site last year; now we're doing $2m a day. At any given time we may have fewer than 1,000 or as many as 12,000 individuals logged onto the site simultaneously."

A key reason for Delta's choice of software was Documentum's ability to support the dynamic assembly of objects. "Pre-assembling objects allows us to optimise Web page response time for our customers," explains Hyde, who adds that the Web content management software also means the site can be updated and enhanced without being shut down. "We can't just turn it off - it's too crucial to the business. You need good content management so that you can do all the work on your site without taking it offline."

Competitive threats to the Documentum strategy clearly come from other software powerhouses which are unlikely to watch a potentially highly lucrative revenue stream slip away. The likes of Microsoft and Oracle will almost certainly pose a challenge to Documentum sooner rather than later. For the moment, though, the company appears to be doing nicely from its e-business ventures.

Analysts have given a cautious thumbs-up to the new direction. "Documentum has grasped the potential of its products in the e-business world," argues Andrew Warzecha, analyst with Meta Group. "The company's strategy is a positive step, and large-scale content management deployments require more robust repository and approval/process automation services than are currently being offered by suppliers such as Vignette, Broadvision and ATG. Documentum still has work to do to complete its offerings but it has seen the e-business light and put together a viable strategy to become a component player in the larger e-business market."

CEO Miller meanwhile is betting the farm on getting it right. He believes content management is the future for the company. "We may not be right with this strategy, " he says, "but we're not confused about it."

Case Study: Ford Motor

When Ford Motor Company wanted to improve corporate responsiveness to its network of dealers, suppliers and customers, it decided the way to do so was via the World Wide Web. The company prides itself on its ability to respond to enquiries and continually evaluates new technologies to improve that process.

As a key technology plank of its marketing, sales and service library, Ford implemented Documentum 4i eBusiness Edition to manage corporate records, enterprise content and Web content. The platform will be rolled out to 156,000 users throughout Ford offices worldwide.

The library is intended to act as common enterprise repository guaranteeing the integrity of information, automating the re-use of information, and helping Ford in its pursuit of QS9000 compliance. It contains vehicle literature, owner and accessory manuals, ordering guides, policy documents and marketing bulletins. Users can access thousands of documents using standard desktop Web browsers. The documents relate to every Ford, Lincoln and Mercury car and truck made since 1996. Ultimately, the library will include international operations, making documents available in multiple languages to facilitate global access.

The library application allows 600 staff to respond to more than 12,000 calls from customer and business accounts every day. By getting instant online access to any section of a product manual or related documentation, staff can handle calls faster and more accurately. "This will accelerate the publishing of accurate information across Ford's intranet," says Andy Shallman, vice-president of BRT, which is managing the Documentum deployment for Ford. The Documentum software is also saving money and increasing operational efficiency by eliminating Web site development and maintenance costs.


January 1990 Founded as a wholly owned subsidiary of Xerox to develop, market and support object-oriented, client/server document management software

1993 Rolled out Documentum EDMS (Electronic Document Management System)

October 1993 Xerox sells off 62% of shares

September 1995 Announces EDMS integration with SAP's R/3

January 1996 Announces Accelera, its first product to manage Web content

October 1996 Announces RightSite - heavy-duty Web content management tool

May 1997 Introduces DocSolution for Standard Operating Procedures

December 1998 Global 2000 customer base exceeds 500

March 1999 Launches broad range of Web applications

June 1999 Announces delivery of 4i platform for managing content creation and delivery

December 1999 Annual sales revenues reaches $123m

March 2000 Announces plans to focus on content management

September 2000 Global 2000 customer base exceeds 900

Read more on Web software