The power of the platform

Paul Fontaine of the US Federal Aviation Authority got an unwelcome surprise when he started work on a Department of Transport project: although every department had a content management system in place to help keep track of information, each was developed as a standalone system; little integration was possible and information could not be shared across agencies.

For the IT departments of many organisations across the world, this discovery is not new. According to IT advisory group Gartner, typically businesses will run between five and 20 disparate content management systems.

But there is a change underway. The common components of previously distinct systems – such as document, records and web content repositories, workflow functions and search tools – have been merging into a more integrated platform known as enterprise content management (ECM). Within a short space of time, ECM has become a pervasive part of the organisational infrastructure.

“It is a framework for handling information assets,” says Atle Skjekkeland, MD of ECM association AIIM Europe. “It includes strategies, methods and tools to store, capture, manage, preserve and deliver information in support of business processes.

Vertical goes horizontal

Historically, document, records and web management systems were all designed to service one particular content type – such as automating document flow, or archiving and disposing of electronic records.

“Typically in the past you had discussions around vertical applications and those applications were geared towards a specific function within an information management platform,” says Michael Kuhn, EMEA portal & content management practice lead at Accenture. “The problem was that they were not really integrated. They were owned by various departments and the costs of maintaining them were too expensive.” 

But market consolidation amongst traditional point-solution vendors has, in part, forced the move to a more integrated platform. And the entrance of major IT names, such as IBM, Oracle and Microsoft, is further fuelling consolidation amongst vendors as they try to establish a critical mass to ensure longevity.

The supporting platform

  • Typically businesses have between five and 20 content management systems
  • Multiple content management systems stifle information sharing
  • Integrated platforms may ease interoperability issues
  • Phased implementation will make rollout easier
  • Standards to solve interoperability issues are beginning to mature

 “There’s going to be no more point players,” says Barry Litwin, CEO of Hummingbird, a supplier of integrated enterprise content management software. He says that components such as records management, portal software and document management are all gradually being subsumed into a greater whole.

One size fits all?

However, the emergence of an integrated enterprise content management system does not assume a monolithic system replacing the individual component technologies that many companies already have substantial investments in. Rather, it refers to a series of content-centric applications that meet the requirements set out in the information strategy.

It also means that customers are looking for a unified strategy to take advantage of their investments in traditional, structured information projects, says Con O’Connell, CTO at content management supplier Vignette. “What you want to do is have this included in your enterprise content management strategy to get a single view of the information you are working with.”

This does not mean finding a solution that fits across the entire organisation, but instead implementing ECM in a phased process by dentifying high-priority business processes first.

A role-based approach to managing ECM works because it is very hard to create an ideal information environment for everybody in the organisation, says Tom Davenport, distinguished professor of information technology and management at Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Davenport describes the example at BT, the UK telecommunications carrier, where together with Accenture, an ‘advisor space’ was created for call centre agents.

“The idea was to give the advisors everything they needed to work well with the customer,” he says, “including transaction data, what services does the customer already have, when did they last call, and knowledge about how to make BT’s products and services work more effectively.”

Web enabled

This approach to ECM is also having a direct effect on web content management (WCM) and how dynamic content is both managed and authored. According to Kyle McNabb, a senior analyst at market watchers Forrester Research, many organisations are increasing their use of WCM, especially in areas of improving support for customer-related initiatives.

The Athens 2004 Olympics Games website is a case in point. As a point of delivery, the site contained 21,000 pieces of news, more than 8,000 pages of results from 3,800 events and 7,500 photos. At peak hour traffic, the site had more than 53 million page views per day.

Yet the website required minimal input to keep it running and up-to-date. Content, from event results from the judges’ tables and images from a photographers pictures bank, was fed directly into a Vignette content management system using a combination of real time integration with the servers and XML messaging.

“You need to build something that works, not something that is too complicated to use,” says Christina Fotinopoulou, editor-in-chief of the Athens 2004 Olympic web site.

But for those where simplicity is not an option – such as Fontaine’s project at the US Department of Transport – a standards-based approach may be an option. Fontaine used the emerging interoperable content management standard to integrate disparate systems.

The standard, overseen by AIIM, aims to build a set of requirements for web services to enable both structured and unstructured content to interoperate with each other across all enterprise systems. But until this standard is finalised, Davenport says modest ambitions might be the best way to deliver value from a complex system.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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