As ECM Consolidates, the Focus Turns to Content Applications - InformationWeek

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Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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As ECM Consolidates, the Focus Turns to Content Applications

FileNet is now part of IBM, Hummingbird has been acquired by Open Text and Stellent will soon be part of Oracle. This trio of announcements, all within the last month, marks a turning point for enterprise content management (ECM).

FileNet is now part of IBM, Hummingbird has been acquired by Open Text and Stellent will soon be part of Oracle. This trio of announcements, all within the last month, marks a turning point for enterprise content management (ECM).The Nov. 2 Oracle-Stellent announcement, in particular, has me in a nostalgic mood. I started covering Stellent way back in 1998 when I became editor of what was then known as Imaging Magazine. Interestingly, my predecessor had predicted that Microsoft -- then rumored to be eyeing the document management market -- would quickly drive most independent vendors out of the business. A premature prediction, to say the least, but here we are eight years later and we can count the community of credible ECM vendors on two hands.

In 1998, Stellent was known as Intranet Solutions, and it was a feisty upstart, pioneering Web-based document management and intranet publishing. It has thrived independently all these years precisely because it remained a pioneer, adding new functionality ahead of or in step with other innovators such as Documentum. As Web content management came to the fore, the company was among the first document management vendors to credibly embrace that market.

Microsoft eventually introduced basic document management capabilities through SharePoint, and pressured to offer more value, document management vendors joined the enterprise content management arms race. Scores of acquisitions and mergers followed as the definition of ECM expanded to include Web content management, collaboration and digital asset management. In the wake of the Enron scandal in 2002 and passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley act soon after, imaging, workflow and records management gained new relevance and respect and many of those firms were acquired.

Never mind that very few content management deployments are actually enteprisewide and that fewer still involve all of the capabilities in a typical ECM suite; customers still like the idea of one-stop shopping and supporting all content management needs within the enterprise from a single suite (going forward, at least), so ECM has flourished.

ECM will continue to flourish (it's still growing at a 13-percent-per-year clip), but vendor positions are more entrenched and the nature of your buying decisions will change. If you embrace the ECM concept and you're looking to support most if not all content management needs through a single platform, there just aren't many vendors left that can believably respond to your RFP. If you're heavily invested in an Oracle or IBM stack, you'll have good reason to consider those portfolios. EMC looks like Switzerland, with platform and database neutrality and supporting virtualization, BPM and storage options.

What about the remaining independents? OpenText has breadth and it also has strong ties to both SAP and Microsoft technologies, so it could end up in one of those two camps. Vignette and Interwoven appeal most when big Web content management deployments are needed, though the latter also has the WorkSite document management and collaboration system popular with law firms. Mobius' strongest play continues to be in handling the super-high-volume transaction reports output by big financial institutions. Hyland OnBase and smaller players rooted in imaging don't do Web content management and their systems are most often deployed departmentally (though that might be in dozens of departments).

In truth, most buyers still buy content management to solve business problems first, so vertical industry apps and experience count a lot, but the top vendors will have a big leg up because they'll have a presence within your enterprise, both through their non-ECM products and through the content technologies they have sold to you or acquired over the years. Custoemrs might quickly narrow down their choice to, say, two candidates from the now very-short list of ECM players. The choice will then become much more about the integrators, consultants and other apps partners that have both vertical industry expertise and experience with the ECM portfolios in question.

For firms that aren't hung up on buying an ECM suite (or that won't mind using, say, a separate Web content management system), the choices are more numerous and, perhaps, more interesting. I now look to the Web content management community (far from consolidated and still growing), XML-based content management vendors and the few open-source and SaaS-based content management vendors as the most fertile ground for innovation. And when Microsoft soon introduces SharePoint Server 2007, a number of smaller vendors, integrators and consultants will be building content management apps on top of this low-cost infrastructure. ECM consolidation may be close to over, but the push for new, better or more affordable content management apps has only just begun.

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