Lotus' announcement last week that it is entering the document management arena highlights the current boom in this market, fuelled by the growth of intranets.
Companies are rapidly realising that intranets bring their own content management problems, as well as opportunities. Analyst The Butler Group recognised the need for document management within the corporate intranet in its recent report, The Corporate Intranet/Internet. The report noted that "even within an intranet, Web sites spring up everywhere, making it very confusing and hard to determine where to get key information".
Faced with such information overload, "document management can come into its own", the report concluded.
A recent report by Ovum also identified the key advantages of using Web-enabled document management. "The Web can potentially be used for infinitely large document collections," it said, "as there is no need for all the documents that are accessible to be present in the same location."
Before Lotus' move, Novell had already incorporated many document management functions into its GroupWise 5.0 groupware software. It also plans further Web-related developments through its Jefferson Project, which will go into beta in April.
Companies such as Lotus and Novell are not the only ones to identify the opportunities offered by the Internet and intranets. Traditional document management players have also been keen to make their software Web-enabled, allowing users to take advantage of Web technology to lower the cost of ownership. Late last month IDC published figures on the Web-enabled document management market, placing Open Text in the number one position, with Information Dimensions second and Documentum third.
"Web-enabled document management costs less - that's the bottom line," said Praj Patel, European marketing director at Open Text. "It's also become a mass market thing - we're seeing much larger installations now, with far more users within an organisation gaining access to the software."
Analysts agree that document management is increasingly important. But some go on to say that users can be confused by this new-found choice, whether to go for traditional software, the new Web-enabled versions or to remain satisfied with the document management functions found in groupware products from the likes of Novell and Lotus.
In reality, there is no straight answer. According to Ovum: "These technologies compete with each other but can also be complementary." What users should choose depends on the size of their organisation and their specific needs, although the continuing lack of compatibility between competing products may also be a factor.
Although Web-based document management promises a unified front-end, with all document management functions accessible from a standard Web browser, the back ends of existing document management systems still do not talk to each other. This can be a problem in enterprise wide environments, noted Ovum analyst Heather Stark. "Sometimes islands of information have grown up in separate systems, and new business processes mean they need to communicate," she said. In this scenario, she added, "the advantages of interoperability are that it helps to future-proof your installation".
Industry standards bodies are working on interoperability standards.
The Document Management Alliance is set to propagate a new specification within months. Some companies, such as Interleaf, are already making products that claim to be DMA-ready, but others are more gloomy at the prospects.
The central difficulty, according to Open Text's Patel, is that standards bodies just can't keep up with the changing pace of technological development.
"The standards bodies need to move faster but it's like trying to make an elephant dance," he said.
If interoperability standards are to be effective, they need to be brought in faster, Patel concluded. Sadly, from the user community's point of view he "can't see that happening".
Equinox's Dave Millett explores how phone, mobile and broadband could be affected by a no-deal Brexit
Dust storm on Titan only the third Solar System body where such storms have been observed
New technique could enable quantum computers to scale-up to millions of qubits
Systrom and Krieger taking time off "to explore our curiosity and creativity"