eXtreme Content: Web Services Break Down Content Silos

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Format Follows Function
The use of XML makes content flexible, enabling users to do with it what they will, via a variety of technologies. "Companies are less tolerant of formats and technologies that force them into silos," says David Spenhoff, VP of marketing for Mark Logic Corp. This extends not only to the format in which they receive the information, but also to the type of device on which they can receive the content as people and businesses become more mobile.

For example, Oxford University Press (OUP) uses Mark Logic's Content Interaction Server to enable customers to view reference materials, including the New Oxford American Dictionary, Writer's Thesaurus, and various specialized music files on handheld as well as desktop devices. In many cases, this electronic material replaces the reference material that would have been on office shelves just a few years ago, according to OUP officials.

"We wouldn't have been able to do this without XML tagging," says Corey Podolsky, director of technology and marketing services for OUP. "It improves the richness, the ability to cross-link related articles, more easily and seamlessly" than other technologies.

Despite the benefits, OUP has used the technology for only a few years, according to Podolsky. "We're very protective of our brands. We have a philosophy of measuring twice. We wanted to make very sure the technology was stable in the marketplace. Now publishing our products online is very central to our content initiative. It may have taken us awhile to get started, but now we're very committed to it."

Various universities and other publishers are using the capabilities of XML to publish books "on the fly," according to Spenhoff. Teachers can pull information from various sources via XML tags and can produce a book quickly. In the same vein, book and document publishers are using XML's capabilities to reuse and repackage information from previously published works for newly packaged documents, enabling them to generate more revenue from subscriptions and advertising, Spenhoff says.

Publishers of periodicals and e-zines use XML and RSS readers to push out new content to subscribers, says Vern Imrich, CTO of Percussion Software. He expects these uses to keep growing as Microsoft, Firefox, and other email providers to start including RSS capabilities in their systems.

Bringing Down Storage Silos
Another way Web Services and XML help companies break down silos is by reducing data storage needs, according to Eric Piersol, global MIS projects manager for Alltech Biotechnology, a company that manufactures natural animal feed and health products. Alltech uses Exact's e-Synergy application for its company intranet, enabling it to share information with partners, including different agriculture schools and people inside the company.

"It was a huge task to manage all of the emails and attachments," Piersol says. As attachments were added to emails, the process became unwieldy not only for the email process, but also in storage throughout the company. Rather than a 10 MB PowerPoint presentation stored in a host system, for example, financial would email it to marketing, which would email it to sales, which might email it to the sales and marketing departments at one of the company's foreign locations. So, rather than one 10 MB file, there would be several. With one piece of content, this may not add up too much, but with several hundred or thousand emails and attached content, storage capacity issues arose throughout the company, according to Piersol. 

Another consideration for some companies is legal issues regarding the transmission of econtent, according to Piersol. Though Alltech isn't required by the Sarbanes-Oxley law to keep emails, a large number of firms are required to do so. With the ever-increasing quantity of emails and attachments, the higher the storage hurdle grows. But just how much using XML can cut these storage needs is largely dependent on how much the users actually use the capabilities, Piersol says. "We're still trying to get people to use [XML-enabled] workflow rather than email."

Looking Ahead
Despite the uses of Web services and XML described here, the market still has plenty of room to grow. Web services are still largely in their infancy, and still use basic query modules rather than more sophisticated technology, so further evolution is expected, according to Blossom.

Outsell agrees, pointing to the growth of service-oriented architectures (SOAs) via the use of simple object access protocol (SOAP) for the delivery and movement of content. Outsell's Strohlein believes that SOAs will reshape the way that content is created, bought, sold, managed, and used over the next several years.

Web services is still solidifying its framework, agrees Rohit Agarwal, the founder and CEO of Digital Harbor, who likens today's capabilities to the early days of electronic banking, when there was little linkage among applications. Despite the advancements mentioned above, many companies are still lacking when it comes to linking all information across silos, he says.

Looking ahead, Blossom expects more development around objects, which would provide active applications to those authorized to use them.

For example, a content subscriber might have access to a financial calculator that would work if he paid an additional fee. But Blossom thinks development in this area is three to five years away. So while there's room to grow, Web services has finally started to establish strong foothold in organizations of all types, paving the way for truly integrated agile content.

Companies Featured in This Article

Computer Associates

Day Software

Digital Harbor

Exact Software

Mark Logic Corporation

Outsell, Inc.



Shore Communications

Vignette Corporation

You Software

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