The Perfect Flow: Mapping the New Information Supply Chain

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The Content Chain
Interwoven's ECM platform, TeamSite, was created with the lofty goal of helping companies manage any type of content for any purpose. Interwoven's latest strategy, Content Networks, will include introducing new products designed to strengthen content collaboration for business users, including mobile workers who need to be able to contribute to and be kept tied into the information loop. "The fundamental challenge today is when you move assets from one place to another, you lose all the information and business processes that go with them," according to Dr. Mark Hale, Interwoven's VP of field marketing. "If you're lucky, you get the document plus metadata, but you lose all the content management. In thinking about content in terms of an information supply chain, it's not just about transferring these assets, but also transferring those other properties with it so you can continue to work seamlessly."

Hale's background in decision theory at Georgia Tech has given him both a knowledge about and passion for putting content into context. "The trend we're seeing is the portability of content in a managed fashion, a content network," Hale says. He explains that moving content through an organization and even to outside agencies can bring with it a host of concerns, including compliance issues. Without a paper trail, companies can find themselves in plenty of hot water. By providing a service-oriented architecture, Interwoven's objective is to facilitate a virtual work environment, allowing for collaboration both within an organization and for outsourcing purposes as well. The platform helps ensure that the right users have access to the right content. "It's important to make this information portable across this networker supply chain and that's the area we're moving into," says Hale.

While he believes the notion of managing content in the context of an information supply chain is indeed an emerging trend, Hale thinks that it will take time to achieve it. "Technologies take a while," he says. "In the next 24 months, we will have fundamental shifts into these types of systems. With all new technologies, there's always a hype period. So, for the next year you'll have all the evangelists saying how many things they can do, but then, fundamentally, it becomes what we are able to build."

Web Smarts
After the shattering of many myths about what the Internet purported to be and was not, its ability to share information effectively and efficiently has changed the scope of how businesses operate, including smaller entities that have taken advantage of software solutions to cost-effectively manage their content. Boston-based Smartwebs offers a hosted, subscription-based content management system called Smartwebs IRT (In Real Time) that can be used to power both Web and private intranet sites. According to Chuck Murphy, Smartwebs' president and CEO, its product is designed for small businesses and the department level of larger businesses. "Within an organization, we're trying to allow people to re-use content assets, so instead of just using the same information once, they can use it in multiple aspects, whether it's on their Web site, intranet, or extranet," Murphy says. "It's really taking the whole value of what they have and spreading it across multiple mediums."

Murphy believes that the key to helping companies better use and deploy content is to get content out of silos so that it can be disseminated effectively. He offers the example of Smartwebs' work with AMICA Mutual Insurance to help employees stay current with vital policies and procedures. "As a big insurance company, they had 250,000 static Web pages on their intranet," he says. "One way employees would use information they needed was to print out the pages that were important to them and post them on their cubicle walls." Obviously, this information would quickly become old news whenever the intranet information was updated. "If we could've figured out a way to update their cubicle walls, we would be millionaires," he jokes. However, a solution was found: Smartwebs provided employees with the ability to subscribe to certain noteworthy intranet pages and receive email notifications whenever those pages were changed. "So, then they could go ahead and print out those new pages and stick them on the walls," now the company could be sure its employees would receive notification when that information was updated. "But the key," according to Murphy, "was to find out how they used that information and then create a solution that would help them get to that content in an efficient manner."

In helping customers better navigate the way they develop, use, and manage content, Murphy says the company focuses on helping to solve their clients' problems rather than the industry's problems. He believes that each CM solution needs to be targeted at specific needs. To do so, he advocates a modular approach. (Smartweb's IRT product uses modules that focus on individual departments.)

"From a Web site aspect, what typically happens with content is there's a bottleneck," according to Murphy. To avoid this disruption of the content flow, Smartwebs' philosophy focuses on enabling a variety of users to create and update content. "Then, they can log into the system to the part of the content that they're responsible for. For instance, the HR people can log in to the job postings area to post new job listings, and the HR manager gets an email to approve it before it goes live. Business rules are put into place, so it's not a free-for-all, and once we deliver the solution it is self-managed."

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