Content Integration: Are You Ready for It? Is It Ready for You?

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You had to get a handle on your mushrooming content. First, you bought a document management (DM) system. Then you implemented Web content management (WCM). Finally, you invested in a digital asset management (DAM) system.

But like other companies, your content continues to grow 50 to 80 percent a year, challenging your ability to manage it through traditional, functional applications. Meanwhile, the proliferation of stovepiped applications calls into question the integrity, authenticity, and consistency of your content.

If you're the CIO of a major concern gazing out over your company's content application landscape, here is the vista you likely see: multiple types of function-point software solutions, multiplying content repositories, and competing vendor implementations, compounded by bolt-on applications inherited from company Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) activity. At the same time, you are expected to feed the nearly insatiable hunger of line managers for core, authorized corporate content, delivered in real time.

Increasingly, you sense that managing content properly will require integrating it effectively. But where to integrate—and how? And are the integration tools really enterprise-ready?

For better or worse, there is no lack of potential software alternatives. Portal vendors of all stripes are reinventing themselves as content integration players. Java application server vendors want to provide a central meeting ground for all your content applications, and so does Microsoft, with its growing list of XML-powered tools under the .NET rubric. Traditional point solutions providers—like Documentum, FileNET, and Interwoven—are combining functional applications into broad suites under the enticing lure of "enterprise" content management.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, a new breed of Content Integration (CI) vendors is emerging to offer custom software solutions not tied to any specific software system. In their potential breadth and complexity, these new solutions resemble their older Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) analogues from the data world, but CI tools also bring their own unique dimensions related to the way contemporary organizations want to use content.

The Business Case for Content Integration
Consider the case of the ACME Distribution Company, a (fictional) publicly-held wholesaler and distributor of manufactured goods. ACME uses Artesia to store and version images and collateral related to the parts it distributes. Its intranet and document management/ imaging systems are powered by two different versions of Stellent. Pricing, inventory, and other critical business information reside in its SAP system, except for a newly acquired division, which runs Oracle Financials. The marketing team uses several different instances of Vignette to publish ACME's public Web sites and extranets. The sales group is experimenting with outsourced automation via For Customer Relationship Management (CRM), ACME uses PartnerWare, a product from a defunct vendor that nevertheless suits the customer support team just fine.

Now consider some of the business requests that bubble up to ACME's CIO on a weekly basis:

  • To match competitors' capabilities, the marketing group needs a more efficient way to push authoritative product imagery and real-time inventory information out to ACME's Web sites and B2B exchange partners.
  • The sales group wants to speed time-to-contract by using key documents and forms via its outsourced Sales Force Automation (SFA) system, without logging in to the internal intranet or DM systems.
  • The customer support people have finally figured out how to tap good information from a variety of different repositories, but the manager fears that all this knowledge is "in their heads," and she needs to be able to instruct temporary hires where approved content resides in order to keep key customers happy during peak periods.
  • The investor relations director, citing new regulatory concerns, produces audit results showing that differing parts of the company are using various outdated versions of the same content. Gotta fix that!
  • And so on…

It's the job of software vendors to feel the pain of CIOs. Not surprisingly, a plethora of solutions—new and old—are being presented to the marketplace as content integration solutions. Let's take a look at some of the different approaches.

Portals: An Integrated Dashboard?
Portal vendors have a lot to say about content integration. The "pure play" vendors like Plumtree can point to successful intranet "dashboards" at major corporations that bring together functionality from diverse internal systems all in one. I label this kind of delivery-tier amalgamation "enterprise interface integration (EII)." It makes for a more powerful and usable intranet, but tends to expose merely the more visible elements and services of your individual systems, rather than actually mix and match content. For a more integrated view of heterogeneous repositories, portal vendors will point you to a search engine, and you'll definitely want a good one.

To be fair, the more platform-oriented portal vendors—like JD Edwards, SAP, and Oracle—offer more lower-level integration built around their powerful Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications. This might present a suitable alternative for a company like ACME Distribution, where the ERP system stores the true guts of its business. But with all portals, a buyer with a variety of different content applications is consigned to buying, building, or borrowing a potentially broad array of "portlets," many of varying quality, especially those of murky provenance. At the end of the day, portlet profusion can lead to content confusion.

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