Can all-in-one content management suites reduce costs and integration hassles?
Content management has typically remained within the boundaries of individual workgroups or departments within large organizations. But now, some vendors are adopting a wider view and think technology managers ought to do the same. If it makes sense to automate the creation, control and distribution of documents within departments and divisions, enterprisewide automation will give organizations even greater efficiencies in management and cost containment, proponents believe.
Advocates of bigger-is-better enterprise content management suites say they can eliminate stand-alone databases that make it difficult to share information across an organization. In addition, by buying a suite of products from a single vendor, federal and state agencies can avoid the integration hassles that sometimes result from combining components from different vendors, according to experts.
Vendors adopt this philosophy by expanding their content management suites through internal research projects and acquisitions of smaller companies. For example, Documentum Inc., Interwoven Inc. and Stellent Inc. recently looked to outside acquisitions for digital asset management technologies that they could fold into their existing document and Web site management products.
"We've seen a real evolution in the last year," said Monte Wilson, vice president of government operations for Documentum, which sells enterprise content management tools to the Army, Navy, Food and Drug Administration and State Department. "The emphasis on [enterprise resource planning] systems and relational databases in recent years has turned on a light bulb for [enterprise content management] as a way to manage all this unstructured content."
But not everybody buys into this argument. Government agencies disagree about which approach is cheaper — an important consideration because content management systems can cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, depending on the organization's size.
Also, suite components that come from third-party acquisitions don't necessarily work together flawlessly, even when they're sold within the same package, said Tony Byrne, a consultant and managing editor of CMSWorks Inc.'s CMSWatch.com, a Web site devoted to content management issues.
"The integrated suite approach on the surface looks extremely attractive to [chief information officers] who are looking to simplify and consolidate technologies," Byrne said. "But a vendor that is good at one thing may not be best-of-breed in everything."
"We needed to maintain our existing processes for our growing county without increasing costs," Pond said. "Content management was a more efficient way of filing documents and collecting fees."
Touting the county's fiscal responsibility, symbolized by its coveted AAA bond rating, Pond said that by paying about
$1.9 million for an enterprise content management suite, he saved on costs associated with buying components separately. "The individual systems would have cost us about 25 to 30 percent more" in development and equipment costs.
Maintenance efficiency was high on the list of goals for Ray Lazzaro, CIO for the Army's Program Manager for Elimination of Chemical Weapons at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, when he evaluated enterprise content management tools.
The group, which directs the disposal of chemical and weapons stockpiles, uses FileNet Corp.'s suite to manage a sea of contracts, test reports and other documents, some of which must be archived for 50 years.
"We're a relatively small [information technology] shop, and we don't have the resources to devote to dealing with all the [application program interfaces] and the variety of vendors to make individual [content management] pieces work," Lazzaro said.
He said the FileNet technology has been relatively easy to install, adding that the business process analysis and planning took longer than it did to deploy the software.
"We've also been able to add new pieces from FileNet without starting from scratch with regression testing," which he said would have been required if he didn't go with a single vendor.
Officials of other public organizations, however, say they're glad they chose to use separate best-of-breed components. At the California State Office of the Bureau of Land Management, officials found the high prices of content management suites beyond their budget.
The Sacramento-based agency of the Interior Department manages more than 15 million acres of public lands. Officials turned to content management to keep their various Web sites current with the latest information on public meetings, bureau projects, reports and internal news. They found a number of products for small workgroups or for multimillion-dollar enterprises but few choices for midsize organizations.
"The price point we were trying to hit — below $25,000 — was difficult to find," said Jeff Graham, the bureau's Webmaster. Only a handful of vendors were able to meet that budget requirement and handle the 50,000 pages of content spread across the bureau's servers. Officials chose Collage from Merant Inc., which can convert Microsoft Corp. Word files to HTML or PDF files on the fly. This allows lawyers, botanists and other non-IT staffers to create Web content.
"They don't need special software or training," Graham said. "It's like filling out a form."
Maj. Ramon Lao, CIO of the Defense Department's Quality of Life Information Technology Center at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard, was also surprised by content management prices.
"I was amazed at the expense associated with the products from the larger vendors," Lao said. "Just the content management piece was $300,000 to $400,000," which didn't include programming and other expenses.
Two years ago, he chose the less expensive Ingeniux Content Management System from Ingeniux Corp. as the underlying technology to control 20G of content on the Navy Yard's Web sites.
"We have partners all over the DOD environment," Lao said, "and they can maintain their content in a way that is no more difficult than maintaining Microsoft Word documents, except that it now shows up on [a] Web site." If the center wants to add components in the future, he believes he'll be able to plug them into the Ingeniux platform with nominal integration costs.
One approach is to think globally but act departmentally. "Installing some core applications that are very focused for a particular department gives you proof of concept and shows you whether you'll be getting the benefits you want," said Priscilla Emery, president of e-Nterprise Advisors, a consulting firm that specializes in enterprise content management. Within each department, officials should focus on the core processes that generate revenue or sap productivity, she said.
Byrne believes that forging strong relationships with vendors and systems integrators may be the most critical factor of all.
"You'll probably be spending two to four times the cost of the software on consulting," he said. "This will have a much greater bearing on success than the differences in the individual [content management] products."
Start by determining the core competencies of prospective vendors and consultants by talking with their clients. When possible, get vendors to set up pilot implementations to gauge how easy it is to work with them in a real-world setting. With good planning, public agencies can turn content management from a concept into a valuable tool.
Joch is a business and technology writer based in New England. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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