Aside from information security, enterprise content management (ECM) is perhaps one of the few areas in IT still seeing pretty healthy growth despite the downturn, with most firms now realising that effective content management is critical to the smooth running and efficiency of their operations.
But many users have been burned by huge, unwieldy projects in the past that never even got them close to achieving what the vendors claimed the technology could do.
So what are ECM companies doing today to improve the technology, and can they actually come good on their bold claims to help customers really get to grips with information overload? We spoke to a number of senior executives working in the ECM sector to find out, and in this first part of our report we hear from EMC and Open Text.
Mark Lewis - president, content management and archiving division, EMC
"We see cloud computing representing a great opportunity – whether we are talking about customers doing it within their own datacentres, or public cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. Information management in the cloud becomes an even greater challenge, because people are asking what they should do if their data is spread out across different repositories and not even within their four walls.
"They're asking us, 'How can we federate the data and help manage federated repositories'. It’s not about physically centralising the information but tying it together so you can find it.
"I don't think it's feasible to assume everyone will store their information in big centralised content repositories – instead systems will evolve to federate the information, and new applications will evolve to leverage in place that information, for example virtual patient records.
"We've also spent a lot of time on the idea of building case-centric applications on top of ECM. We've managed information for a long time in the same way; building repositories, providing metadata and coming up with good ways to find, track and organise that information. But how do you leverage technology to allow customers to build applications directly in a single platform, to automate things like claims processing in insurance, or employee on-boarding in HR? That is our Documentum xCelerated Composition Platform – the customer defines the business logic and just drags and drops [to create the apps].
"It's what we see taking ECM to the next level because it is about building a platform not just to manage the information, but to improve productivity in whole new areas of the business."
John Shackleton - president and chief executive, Open Text
"If you think the explosion in email was bad enough, it's going to get worse with all the rich media – the technology challenge is finding a way to manage all this stuff. You can easily tag an email and make a record of it, but how do you do that with streaming video? How do you search that and what's in it? These are the things we're looking at – taking concepts used for documents and doing it for rich media. You can realise massive productivity gains if you know how to do this.
"Also, for companies with highly distributed workforces, such as the police or military, the use of smartphones is overtaking the use of laptops and other devices. So the ability to help collaborate through them and access corporate data at any time is becoming critical and can help give firms a competitive advantage.
"If you work for the emergency services and a fire breaks out somewhere, for example, you have a news helicopter filming, the fire brigade is looking at where the flames are and blueprints of the building, the police are looking at the same video from the point of view of who owns it and who insures it, and all of this can be done from a portable smartphone.
"We're also doing a lot of work on in-context personalisation. The system knows who I am – whether I am highly visual or analytical, what topics I like to review – and where I am. If I decide to go on a business trip to London, then the system will start looking at my database profile and start queuing information I might want in London – so I have it all at my fingertips should I need it."
In the second part of our analysis, we will be talking to Autonomy chief executive Mike Lynch, Alfresco chief executive and founder John Powell and IBM's Ken Bisconti to get their views on whether the ECM industry is up to the information overload challenge.
Visit our dedicated Summit web site for more breaking news, views, analysis and video on the topic of Information Overload.
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