Content management gets collaboration features

Dow Corning Corp. installed its content management system in 1996, using the software to manage everything from project documentation to material safety data sheets to technical reports. It also used the Documentum-supplied system for some light collaboration, such as document sharing, within the company.

Two years ago, the silicon manufacturer realized it needed a way to share information and work with partners, suppliers and customers outside its corporate network. It deployed eRoom Technology Inc.'s collaboration software.

Then it realized it would make sense to hook together the two systems.

"From time to time, we talked about how to pull documents out of Documentum and get them into an eRoom, and after an eRoom session how to move that documentation back," says Ann Marie Horcher, senior architect for document management at Dow Corning in Midland, Mich. "But there is nothing automated there. It's two products in a state of nonintegration."

But not for much longer. In September, Documentum Inc. announced an agreement to acquire eRoom and tightly integrate the company's real-time collaboration capabilities into its enterprise content management system. The announcement came just months after Documentum laid out plans to enhance collaboration within its native product, signaling a focus on collaboration as a key feature.

Analysts say collaboration is an important piece of a bigger content management picture that knowledge management and portal vendors are looking at as they try to address the changing needs of businesses searching for a more cohesive way to get the most out of their growing amounts of digital data.

Content management companies such as Interwoven Inc., Documentum, Stellent Inc. and Vignette Corp. provide the framework companies need to manage digital information by applying categorization and workflow processes to existing content. A big focus is on managing how content is published on Web sites, an area where collaboration has long been important. But content management vendors are now starting to look at ad hoc collaboration capabilities, where users can manage information during the content creation process, using virtual whiteboards, threaded discussions and instant messaging, for example.

"There is an increasing drive to help employees get more done online," says Nate Root, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "Instead of just looking at documents, instead of just finding information they need, there is the drive to use quick, always-on collaboration channels."

Companies want those collaboration channels tied in to the content management, portal or knowledge management system they already have, analysts say. Businesses are no longer satisfied with buying systems from different vendors, a big reason why content management companies now find themselves vying with application platform vendors such as IBM, Microsoft Corp. and BEA Systems Inc. that can combine content management, collaboration and portals in one piece. Integrating collaboration into their content management systems is one of the first steps these content management vendors are taking to provide customers with the one-stop product they're looking for, experts say.

"Many companies are asking, 'Why do I need to buy a collaboration tool from one company, a portal from another company, content management from another company and a search engine from another company? Isn't this a waste of time and money?'" says Hadley Reynolds, director of research at Delphi Group.

He says that, as a result, IBM or Microsoft hold a dramatic advantage because they can provide a full spectrum of capabilities.

"That leaves content specialists like content management firms kind of out in the cold. They're widely regarded as having superior technology in their specialist area, but they have not had the breadth," Reynolds says. "Over the last six months, though, these vendors have realized they need to put together a more-extensive set of functions."

That's why business users are seeing content management companies announce new features. In April, Interwoven released TeamDoc, which enables document collaboration, and Stellent unveiled its Collaboration Server, which lets business users set up project teams. Documentum unveiled its collaboration edition in August and the next month announced the eRoom acquisition. In September, Divine outlined its ability to combine content management, collaboration and search technologies, although it did not announce any new products.

Companies such as OpenText Corp. and iManage Inc. have played up their products that combine knowledge management and collaboration.

The weak link

For the most part, though, support for cross-company collaboration has remained relatively weak among content management vendors, analysts say.

"The eRoom acquisition certainly allows Documentum to leapfrog the other content-management-oriented offerings in this [collaboration] area," Reynolds says.

For Horcher, the combination is music to her ears. Dow Corning had considered integrating eRoom and Documentum as various projects demanded it.

"But let me put it this way, we weren't not jumping on it because it was easy," Horcher says. "It was one of those things where somebody wasn't willing to pay for it. So we did it the back-door way, which is manually."

That meant documents from Documentum had to be ported to eRoom for collaboration and then a finished product created through an eRoom ported back to Documentum for archiving. For other companies, the link between content management and collaboration is even weaker.

In Scott County, a fast-growing area just south of Minneapolis, Deputy County Administrator Gary Shelton estimates he's saving as much as $300,00 per year by using Stellent's content management system. A large part of the savings comes from the fact that the county no longer has to keep tons of paper files, which took up office space and required staff to manage, Shelton says. In addition, employees know they're getting the most up-to-date files because they're coming from the Stellent repository. But the county hasn't taken advantage of any collaboration features.

"Now, the way we collaborate, and the way most companies collaborate, is we use e-mail. In some respects it works fine. In other respects, it doesn't. It's not always secure," he says. "What we're looking for is a way to bring structure to an unstructured world . . . the question is, how do you do it without creating something cumbersome, and how do you build upon what you already have?"

Shelton says he believes Stellent's Collaboration Server, which lets business users set up team workspaces and set up secure access rights without the aid of IT, likely will meet the county's needs.

The security issue

Security also is an issue at Stanford University Hospital and Clinics in Palo Alto, Calif., which uses Interwoven's content management system and collaboration features. As the medical center expands the system to more departments, collaboration -- and the security of the content within collaborative sessions -- will become increasingly important, says Mattice Harris, Web branch administrator.

"We're happy with Interwoven's collaboration capabilities, but we're not using the tool to the fullest capability. Right now we're investigating what the tool can do," he says. "I feel like we have a Swiss Army Knife and we're only using the scissors."

One issue for businesses is whether they already use a collaboration product. Michael Dortch, a principal analyst with Robert Frances Group, says he doubts companies with collaboration tools will scrap what they have to use features from content management vendors. What's important in that case, he says, is that content management systems interoperate with proven collaboration software.

This story, "Content management gets collaboration features" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon