Managing Content Gets Easier, Despite Big Challenges
Tulane, Volvo, and Coca-Cola are just a few of the organizations that have started to use commercial content management (CM) solutions. Products in the CM category tie together web pages, database files, e-mail, and other content into a single, searchable place. Major systems vendors like IBM, Microsoft, and Sun are also making big plays in this space. Beyond merely implementing CM, enterprise administrators are specifying systems requirements and even making buying decisions. With so many possibilities out there, how do you choose?
By 2004, more than 95 percent of Global 2000 will have purchased a CM system, compared to only 60 percent in early 2002, according to a study by the Meta Group. More CM deployments will be "large and strategic" by 2004 as well, instead of just limited to a single site, for instance.
Last year, though, 60 percent of all mid-sized to large organizations were still using homegrown tools and applications for managing Web content, according to research results from the Yankee Group. Yankee characterizes these homegrown tools as typically offering only "rudimentary" security, access control, and workflow. Meanwhile, analysts agree that the content management needs of most organizations keep growing more and more complex.
"Multiple Possible Points of Failure"
"Content management is a very difficult challenge," contends Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk. "There are multiple possible points of failure, including the content delivery system, the database backend, the application, and the user interface, for example."
Beyond web content, relational database files, and e-mail, companies may need to manage some or all of the following: accounting spreadsheets, PDF files, Microsoft Word documents, video files, application development code, X-ray results, and scanned-in, paper-based medical records.
Tulane University, for example, is now running five instances of Xerox's DocuShare content management system, two of them on Sun Solaris servers and the remainder on Windows 2000 and NT. Two of these five implementations -- an accounts payable system and a medical research archive -- have been customized to meet the needs of specific applications, says Tulane's Mike Britt.
Tulane started to move to DocuShare about 18 months ago from a series of FTP servers that were turning into "both a security issue and an administrative issue," according to Britt.
Network Managers Play a Growing Role
Network managers and other administrator pros are playing a growing role in content management. In the architectural planning phase, for example, network managers are often called in to determine bandwidth requirements, figure out ways to consolidate storage, and explore storage virtualization, reports Sal Sarkar, segment manager, Content & Knowledge Management, at Sun.
"You can put the content almost anywhere on the network," he elaborates. In addition to traditional servers and storage area networks (SANs), hardware choices include server clusters and hierarchical management systems (HMS).
At Tulane, participation by network managers has evolved over time, according to Britt. In the latest implementation of DocuShare, Tulane network managers determined user expectations, sized and evaluated network bandwidth, purchased servers, and installed the CM software.
Some Tools for Administrators, Others for Users
At the same time, CM software vendors are trying to ease administrative burdens by gearing some of their management tools to business users. "The latest version of DocuShare allows for multiple levels of administration," notes Tulane's Britt.
At Tulane, "content administrators" -- who are typically professional server administrators -- perform port filtering. They also write Visual Basic scripts for cleaning and rebuilding DocuShare's meta data indexes.
Other tasks, though, can be handed off to business users fulfilling the roles of "site administrators." Within the university, site administrators are responsible for adding new users, managing passwords for the CM system, and assigning meta data tags to content.
"Some of our tools are for systems administrators, and others are for end users," states James Rothstein, senior VP of marketing for FatWire, an ISV that produces administrative tools for multiple platforms. For Sun's emerging SunONE platform, FatWire's tools include workflow with approve/reject, check-in/check-out, metadata tagging, rollback, pre-built portlets, and "to do" lists.
Early leaders in CM have included specialists like Documentum, Xerox DocuShare, Vignette, FileNET, InterWoven, and Stellent. Overlapping the functionality of this sort of product are digital asset management (DAM) systems from companies like MediaBin and North Plain Systems, as well as video asset management (VAM) systems from vendors such as Virage.
Among major systems vendors, IBM pioneered with its introduction of DB2 Content Manager a number of years back. IBM's current CM customers range from large enterprises like Coca-Cola and the National Geographic Society down to mid-sized businesses like Genesys Health Systems.
Genesys, for instance, is using a health care application built by IBM partner Bluewave, which is integrated with DB2 Content Manager. Known as "The Wellness Connection," the application houses medical records, lab results, and other data from over 20 different clinical systems, says Genesys CIO and VP Dave Holland.
Is End-to-End Management in Sight?
Now that the big systems vendors are participating more in CM, better end-to-end management seems closer in sight. "What [IT managers] are really looking for is the ability to administer and monitor the entire system," affirms O'Grady.
Microsoft first stepped into CM several years ago with a .NET server dubbed the Windows Content Management Server. "Through the Jupiter effort, Microsoft is now integrating Content Management Server with DSI for centralized management," O'Grady points out. Microsoft's CM roster includes companies such as Volvo Car Corporation, Royal Canadian Mint, and the State of California Department of General Services.
Sun, for its part, unveiled its first CM initiative just last month. Sun's Sarkar describes the new iForce Content Network as "a small subset of Sun's much broader iForce network." Sun's initial set of thirty CM partners includes well known names like Xerox, Documentum, FileNET, Interwoven, Vignette, and FatWire. Aside from gaining early access to Sun technologies, members can take part in iForce Solutions Centers and go-to-market programs.
When a CM system is well crafted, end users find the advantages almost impossible to escape. "I use The Wellness Connection almost every day now. I can access it from anywhere. I can see multiple charts for a patient, including the previous visits," attests Dr. Clark Headrick, a physician at Genesys.
"Because there is immediate accessibility, I don't have to try to locate the chart on the floor if it is not in medical records, which often used to happen. I have more rapid access to reports such as lab and radiology. In addition, it assists us in our billing process, making it faster," the doctor continues.
End users typically don't even see the underlying intricacies. Tulane's accounts payable system, for example, features a user interface that's been customized to be particularly user-friendly. Underneath the covers, though, DocuShare has been integrated with Cofax. In the future, the university plans to integrate Oracle Financials with the accounting application. Meanwhile, Tulane's medical archiving system is being kept offline for compliance with new HIPAA regulations.
CM-hosted Services -- An Alternative
Hosted services constitute one big alternative to commercially packaged CM systems. Hosted services can be particularly useful to smaller organizations in vertical industries with very specialized content needs, such as health services.
Victory Springs Senior Health Associates has decided to go to market with its Smart E-records, a patient record management system first created for in-house use. In building the system, Victory Springs integrated Lotus Domino with a number of third-party tools and resources, including a PDF integration utility from ITM Associates and ElderPort, a Web-based portal for seniors and their families. The health care provider has already signed its first customer -- a doctor's office -- for its new hosted service, says Victory Springs' Mike Torppey.
Other hosted service providers, such as Akamai, specialize in providing streaming video management services to companies that don't have that sort of high-end expertise on hand in-house.
Many CM-hosted services are more generic. For instance, CrownPeak Advantage CMS serves users that include Consumer Review and the State of Virginia. Atomz Publish, another CM-hosted service, counts New Line Cinema and the San Francisco Ballet among its customers.
Key Criteria for Buying
If your organization does decide to buy a commercial CM system, what should the major criteria be? Requirements can vary considerably. However, key considerations typically include availability and performance, multiplatform operability, customer support, and the ability to integrate with other applications, databases, and management tools.
Performance and Availability. "Many of today's CM applications can be regarded as 'mission-critical.' They need to be available on a 24/7 basis," sums up RedMonk's O'Grady.
Multiplatform Operability. As might be expected, various vendors are taking different stances on OS support. "Microsoft's Content Manager is Microsoft-centric. Microsoft, however, seems to have some ideas about managing other platforms from inside Windows," according to O'Grady.
IBM, on the other hand, tends to position its software as a middleware infrastructure for running ISV and customer applications. IBM's infrastructure includes software branded under the DB2, WebSphere, Tivoli, and Lotus monikers.
DB2 Content Manager Version 8.2, an update expected to ship at the end of this month, will bring better integration with all IBM middleware, resulting in faster search, retrieval, and replication functions, maintains Janet Perna, IBM Software's general manager for Data Management Solutions.
In accordance with IBM's long-time multiplatform strategy, version 8.2 will run on Sun Solaris, Microsoft NT/2000, and IBM's own AIX and zServer servers.
In contrast, Sun's new CM initiative will initially support only Solaris for Sparc and Solaris for x86 applications, says Sun's Sarkar. "Some of our [iForce] partners are looking at applications for Linux. Right now, though, these tend to be applications that run at the edge of the network."
Sun is taking the "infrastructure" idea into the hardware and service arenas as well. Partners in Sun's new iForce initiative are working with Sun's new Digital Asset Management Reference Architecture, which includes SunONE middleware together with SunFire servers, Sun StorEdge Arrays, and assistance with architecture, design, and implementation from Sun Services.
Meanwhile, with DocuShare 3.0, Xerox is now supporting Linux along with Solaris and Windows. In fact, Tulane is currently running a test implementation of the Linux edition right now.
Customer Support. As Tulane's Britt sees it, the biggest benefit of vendor partnerships is customer support rather than integration. "We've had no issues with integration at all," said Britt.
"The comment I'm about to make isn't specific to Sun, at all," he adds. "As a general rule, though, the higher the number of products involved, the more fingers you have pointing to each other. It's exceptionally helpful when vendors are aware of one another's products. Resources can then become available in a more timely manner."
Integration. Under Jupiter, Microsoft's Content Manager is being integrated more tightly with Commerce Server, BizTalk Server, and Host Integration Server, as well as with the emerging DMI architecture for application-level management somewhere down the road.
IBM's DB2 Content Manager is already tightly integrated with both the DB2 Universal Database and Tivoli's network management and security framework. Although Content Manager contains an embedded DB2 database, it also works with outside RDBMSes such as Oracle. IBM has also built Content Manager interfaces to software products from outside vendors like Siebel and PeopleSoft, according to Perna.
"There's a ton of [network] management stuff out there, too, from vendors like Computer Associates (CA) and Hewlett-Packard (HP)," O'Grady observes. "The question is, how well will it integrate with content management?"
Connector-style architectures are still widely in use. Just about across the board, vendors are looking to industry standards like XML and SOAP for multi-product integration.
Content management is getting easier with the advent of new commercial CM packages, vendor alliances, and some industry standards. End-to-end administration is the logical next step. System vendors like IBM, HP, Microsoft, and Sun are already at work on autonomic computing initiatives that are geared to providing more granular management capabilities and that require less manual intervention from administrators. It won't be long before these benefits penetrate the content management market as well.