The Perfect Flow: Mapping the New Information Supply Chain

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Nirvana is defined as an ideal condition of rest, harmony, stability, or joy.

In the world of content management, experts believe the road to such perfect bliss can only be found when content flows efficiently, with nothing hindering it on its path to usefulness. Just as a strong heart pumps blood to keep human bodies functionally sound, content management can keep businesses healthy and profitable, while unstructured information has the potential to weigh companies down in content chaos.

In the days when the Web first exploded, many technology businesses focused on unique niches and creating an environment where specialized data could be shared and used efficiently. However, in today's competitive landscape, many of these companies have been acquired or have merged with other businesses, indicating that niche-knowledge is not enough to effectively wrangle content.

"I think everyone recognizes that Nirvana, or the ideal, is to have more of a universal approach to the repository, the applications, and to the user experience," says Dan Ryan, EVP of marketing and business development for Stellent, a provider of content management solutions. "It's no longer enough that companies can have a niche and say, ‘Well, I only do document management or Web content management.' Now the products are expected to supply Web content, document management, and records management all from a single vendor and, hopefully, from a single product framework. That's where we're moving, to really having a single universal content management architecture picture, which literally is just one product that installs and can do those five or six things."

While Stellent focuses on enterprise intranets, its Stellent Universal Content Management system enables customers to deploy line-of-business Web sites and content management solutions for things such as business commerce applications and enterprise portals as part of its total offering. Ryan says the company has always taken a universal approach to content because they see the value proposition of enabling enterprises to become masters of their own information domains.

Ryan asserts that because 80% of content in enterprises is unstructured, companies have come to realize they need to figure out what they actually have content-wise in order to be able to put it to good use. This includes knowing how to create, access, manage, and store content…even when to discard it. Many enterprises have lost touch with the sheer amount of content they have. "We find companies where they have literally hundreds, even thousands of intranet sites," he says. "We jokingly refer to it as ‘The Undernet.' Large companies have all these intranets and many of them may not even be authorized—they're just there. So," he asks, "how do you get all of this content into a managed world?"

Strategy for Structure
While Ryan has found that a consulting component is always required for its business to help companies rein in and master content, he says Stellent offers a product that enables multi-site management to bring collaborative functionality to a company's infrastructure. The goal of this type of offering is that everyone—from the IT department to a company's individual business units, and, finally, to individual business users within an organization—has the ability to both contribute to and draw from the content stream. For example, an enterprise might have a host of international sites, and, with effective content management, a German division could build and maintain its own site while still keeping the look, feel, and branding the company wants.

Another trend that has become integral to successful CM, according to Ryan, is records management, which has become an integral part of big business today, adding another element to the content management picture. "Today, for compliance reasons, everything within a company needs to be treated as either a record or a non-record, which makes it part and parcel to content management systems," Ryan says. "In general, records management is really about the disposition of things, so the question then becomes not only ‘How long can I keep it?' but ‘When can I get rid of it?'" Therefore, having solutions that can manage content's life-cycle properly has become important to help organizations stay abreast of a host of ever-changing regulations and procedures in a wide range of industries.

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