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Where content meets technology

Feb 17, 2006

ECM as Infrastructure

A couple of days ago, I listened to an AIIM webinar presented by Stellent and DocuLab's Jeetu Patel. It has been a few months since I have listened to commercial ECM messaging and I have to admit that I was a little surprised. The key theme was ECM as Infrastructure. This concept is not new, Alan Pelz-Sharp nicely described the trend of Oracle, ECM, IBM, and Microsoft working their way into the content management market. The growth of several standards in content management (JSR 170, JSR 168, DocBook, and DITA...) shows that buyers now think the technology has reached a point where it is "good enough" and they will no longer stand for being locked into a single vendor's technology stack. Now that the basic functionality is widely available, companies can now make more strategic choices about their technology portfolio.

What surprised me was that the message was sponsored and endorsed by Stellent, a pure-play content management company. Moving content management into an infrastructure play essentially commoditizes the space and makes it even more accessible to the big hardware/software vendors and, you guessed it, open source. This reminds me a little of ATG. They used to have one of the better Java web development platforms. They were one of the earlier companies to have a certified J2EE application server and they pushed the envelope on Java Server Pages with their tag libraries. We all know what happened after that. Java application servers became dominated by BEA and IBM then open source (Tomcat (really a servlet container but frequently used as a web application server), JBoss, JonAS, and Geronimo) so ATG got out of it. Their repository layer was no longer special thanks to open source object-relational mapping technologies like Hibernate and Castor. Their "Nucleus" architecture is no better than open source Inversion of Control frameworks like Spring. Now they just keep their customers with their personalization and commerce functionality. The customers that don't use these features are drifting away from the technology. So will Stellent become a big infrastructure winner like BEA, IBM, and Oracle? Or will it suffer the same decline that ATG did?

Jeetu's part of the talk was mainly about Service Oriented Architecture, which is also one of our practices. Our SOA practice lead, Adam Michelson has two excellent white papers ("Service Oriented Architecture and Open Source Solutions" and "Delivering Service Oriented Architecture") that discuss how to leverage open source in service oriented architecture. One of the key aspects that Adam really understands and is able to eloquently communicate is that SOA is more than just installing an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). Success in SOA, like all previous generations of Enterprise Architecture, requires diligent planning and consideration for the organizational and political context. The technological plumbing is secondary. You just need to make sure that you are supporting the right standards, your components are reliable, and get into the right pricing model success (putting more applications on the bus) is not cost prohibitive. Adam also makes the point that it is difficult for a Service Oriented Architecture to cross divisional or P&L lines because of conflicting priorities and the inability to standardize. So maybe an enterprise-wide content infrastructure in a large company is unrealistic. I think Jeetu's talk, while very good, under-emphasized these issues. Still, I think that there is a huge potential to establish some core content services at the divisional level - which is where most I.T. decisions are really made anyway.

Other good points in the talk:

  • 80% of content is unstructured

  • 90% of content is unmanaged

  • This unstructured content grows at a rate of 36% per year.

Wow. I have to get to work!