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Mainstream Enterprise Vendors Begin to Grasp Content Management Part Three: Challenges

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: November 13 2004

Can PCM Address the Challenges?

With buyers keen on seeing payback for their investments in e-procurement and PTX, suppliers on the other hand being urged to participate in on-line sales channels in a great part by distributors and aggregators (which repackage the product data with catalogs from many like suppliers, and resell the content to companies undertaking e-procurement initiatives) that have constructed their e-commerce and collaboration platforms, PCM vendors have naturally abounded from many sides.

Yet, the all-encompassing content management solution is still in the ever-evolving design stage, as vendors try to piece together comprehensive systems. Therefore, as mentioned earlier on, there seems to be a proliferation (and subsequent confusion about) of the pertinent terms like enterprise content management (ECM), product content management (PCM), catalog management, product information management (PIM), records management (RM), product data management (PDM), enterprise data repositories (EDR), document management (DM), knowledge management (KM), web content management (WCM), digital asset management (DAM), enterprise information management (EIM), digital rights management (DRM), document imaging, workflow management (WM) or business process management (BPM) and more.

As also said earlier on, generally speaking, PCM or PIM refers to a system for managing all types of information about finished products, and it is a further evolutionary step of catalog content management backed up with a workflow management. This is however different from ECM, which focuses more on document management and unstructured editorial and web content, whereas PCM is more granular around individual data elements and focuses on highly structured product content. ECM encompasses many of the above-cited technologies used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. In other words, it allows the management of an organization's unstructured information (e.g., e-mails, photos, spreadsheets, documents, etc.), wherever that information exists—stored in repositories, shuttled across networks, and managed over the course of its existence or life cycle.

However, regardless of the name and purpose, all the above software categories aim at the same goal of being the sole trustworthy, master source of product information for the enterprise. Still, business purposes for such systems could fall roughly into the following three groups:

  1. The product information related to the design, development, and introduction of the products, which belongs to PLM and PDM, as its subset, that captures and manages product data generated during the product design and development process.

  2. The information related to the buying (procurement) or selling side of e-commerce of the products, where PIM systems come into play later in the product life cycle, after a product is manufactured and introduced to the market. PIM vendors aim at helping manufacturers and distributors create centralized product information repositories that can be used for multiple purposes by people in various roles throughout the company and the supply chain.

  3. The information about already owned products, equipment, and facilities, that is, assets.

Yet, to conduct collaborative processes, businesses need embedded intelligence, and business intelligence (BI) or analytics applications, focused on structured data offer only a part of the total solution. In other words, businesses also need content management for the unstructured data and content, which can contain a majority of business information, given that many decisions makers collaborate via e-mail or voicemail, which are examples of vast unstructured info that currently resides outside of business processes and of the reach of ERP and BI systems. Also, while PIM addresses data synchronization, ECM, bundled with strong storage management systems has been bolstered by abounding record retention regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or Department of Defense Requirements for Records Management Applications (DoD 5015.2). Owing to well-publicized accounting and document shredding scandals at the likes of Enron, enterprises must be capable to retrieve unstructured data quickly, at least in case of a court appearance.

This is part three of a three-part note.

Part one defined PCM system attributes.

Part two presented background information and lessons learned.

Unified System Needed

Therefore, ideally, one unified system of record should be able to support all the above purposes, as it would thereby vouch for efficiency, accuracy, control, and agility. For example, while there are some compelling reasons to deploy PIM in isolation, the real benefits would come if PIM would complement PLM in an integrated fashion during the product's attributes and specifications release (introduction) to the market, which is often treated separately as an addendum and handled by marketing or sales folks working with isolated spreadsheets or custom databases. In other words, the majority of current UCCnet data synchronization solutions focus on processes such as aggregating product data in a product catalog designed to meet UCCnet's specifications, encapsulating the data in the correct message format, and establishing connectivity for the data synchronization with the retailer through UCCnet or via a third party e-commerce network services providers (e.g., Transora or Worldwide Retail Exchange [WWRE]).

While these solutions may address the basic requirements for UCCnet compliance, they fail to address the fundamental business issue that all parties operate using accurate current data, rather than the same (but possibly outdated) data. Hence, enterprises should expand their UCCnet compliance efforts to include product data integrity processes, enabled by PLM tools that ensure that there is a single version of the truth throughout the extended enterprise and that changes are reflected in all systems immediately, improving data quality and the effectiveness of internal and external business processes. Only then the data shared with business partners will be accurate, which is the true value, given that synchronizing bad data will still result in fines by the likes of Wal-Mart.

Because of these same initiatives, PLM vendors are also being increasingly asked by their customers to include more commercially-oriented product information in their PLM systems. A few high profile case studies have shown how the data in a PLM system can serve as the source of valid, consistent and up-to-date product information for synchronization and syndication to supply chain partners. However, most PLM systems lack a PIM system's ability for secure, trusted synchronization of information to data pools like UCCnet. For more information, see The Role of PIM and PLM in the Product Information Supply Chain: Where is Your Link?

Enterprise Vendors Move to ECM

While the notion of a single source for all the product content, given a highly distributed, multi-application, heterogeneous environment, remains a tall order at this stage, it also remains a sensible vision to pursue. Namely, the desire to reach unstructured sources too (e.g., paper records, faxes, electronic document, web pages, e-mails, multimedia objects, etc.) and pull them closer to collaborative business processes will likely drive ERP vendors to pull ECM into their domain, in a manner similar to their encroachment into the land of BI and PLM (see BI Approaches of Enterprise Software Vendors and PLM Coming of Age: ERP Vendors Take Notice).

True, such single-source PCM or ECM system would challenge many notions about what is structured and what is unstructured information, given it would have to cover a wide variety of information formats and types, whereby the information has to be granular and systematically ascribed to serve various audiences and integrate or synchronize with other systems. Further, not only does the classification differ in vertical industries, so do the taxonomy and protocol standards that allow companies to do business with others. For that reason, most pure-play PCM vendors have been very industry-specific, managing to survive on a large percentage of consulting services revenue versus software license fees. Recently though, some of the providers have been expanding into offering versatile, scalable systems with the ability to work across industries, vertical markets, and business functions.

On the other hand, the ECM vendors, the likes of Documentum (now a part of EMC), FileNet, Stellent, Vignette, and Open Text to name some, are used effectively as repositories for PCM, most often in design, engineering, or other PLM roles. But repository functions of content management are quickly being commoditized, since the standard DBMS from Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft will soon offer support for functions like storing, versioning, and tracking most kinds of content, although the ECM vendors will respond by adding value on top their repositories by again offering vertical solutions and support for key business processes. The particular danger might be coming from IBM, who has not been hiding its interest in the ECM market either with a slew of recent acquisitions, including Tarian in 2002 for records management, Aptrix and Green Pastures in 2003 for WCM and collaborative authoring and version control respectively, and most recently Venetica for content integration. The potential for new business and broadened offering (e.g., combining portal frameworks, ECM components, storage systems, etc.) has prompted several intra-market acquisitions, the most notable being Documentum's acquisition of former askOnce's search technology (before it was acquired by EMC), Vignette's acquisition of TOWER Software, and Open Text's acquisition of IXOS Software.

Therefore, as many companies are already realizing value from recent BI or ERP and PLM or ERP convergence and consolidation (see Has Consolidation Made the PLM Market More Agile? and BI Market Consolidation Compared to ERP Market Consolidation), the eventual ECM and PCM convergence with ERP should also result with benefits of allowing companies to take advantage of knowledge and content hidden within enormous untapped pools of unstructured content.

The likes of SAP will gladly serve as a convergence point that would bring ECM within collaborative business processes. Even now the SAP Records Management (SAP RM) component of SAP NetWeaver offers more than tools, as it has predefined industry specific records management layouts and scenarios, such as SAP Public Sector Records Management, mySAP Financials Dispute Management, and mySAP CRM Case Management. Also, SAP's business processes (or even processes outside SAP applications) can share content gathered at any SAP NetWeaver layer through open standards. For example, participants can publish BI content in the SAP Knowledge Management (SAP KM) repository, which then enables KM objects to exploit all SAP KM services, like subscriptions, discussions, collaboration, information aggregation, etc., and the documents associated with BI, business processes, and product models. Also, through the collaboration engine, cFolders, users can make the analytic model available to participating teams without requiring them to open a SAP Business Warehouse (SAP BW) developer workbench or have to study the metadata or databases.

On the other hand, a flexible workflow management facility, which is instrumental to allow users to build collaborative processes that reflect their unique product development issues, is another critical PLM underlying technology element that Oracle has long mastered and offered as a stand-alone option to Oracle applications users. BI or analytics too goes without saying, given Oracle has long sold stand-alone OLAP tools for years. Oracle has also been making strides in document management and ECM, with a project code-called Tsunami that is slated for the end of 2004, which will provide a major upgrade for Oracle Collaboration Suite and will also come in handy for managing unstructured data within PLM systems. Oracle has already helped some customers with basic document management functions of Oracle Application Server 10g that features Oracle Content Management SDK (software development kit). Formerly known as Internet File System (iFS), the SDK is a collection of tools that handles tasks such as managing multiple versions of a document, check-in and check out capabilities, etc. Thus, Oracle's moves seem to counteract the Microsoft ones of Microsoft SharePoint document-sharing and collaboration technology that the vendors has bundled within recent server versions of its Windows operation system, and which will eventually morph into WinFS (Windows File System) within the next version of Windows code named Longhorn.

Manufacturers Perspective

From the perspective of manufacturers, data synchronization is an important part of keeping up good relationships with retailers like Wal-Mart, and one solution is internal data integration via a catalog product such as xCat offered by former A2i (now part of SAP MDM), with the GDS capability expected in late 2004. However, for the above ECM or PCM "bigger picture" discussion, SAP is interested not only in GDS, but also in the greater value of PCM, with tie-ins for trade promotions management, marketing resource management, financial applications, CRM applications, solutions dealing with product design, and even sourcing and procurement. None of these can be dealt with successfully without knowing what and from whom one is buying. However, without PCM functionality delivered in unison with PLM solutions, changes to product information outside of the catalog do not automatically update the catalog, since PLM should control product content throughout its life cycle, ensuring that all product content is current and accurate wherever it exists within the organization and its supply chain.

As said earlier on, one of the reasons why e-commerce was slow in taking off was that companies did not have the product content and the publishing tools to make it useful on an ongoing basis (i.e., through the ability to continually change offerings, modify offerings, accommodate alterations to different markets). Collecting content is difficult, and expensive, given that not only do enterprises need a process for collecting content, but they also need the tools in which to place and structure the content properly. Poorly structured content cannot be published to paper, and cannot be web-enabled either. That has been A2i's focus—creating a system that allows users to structure content in a way that it can be used repeatedly. Further, since it is such an expensive process, users need to be able to leverage that investment across multiple media and to be able to publish to the web in a fast, rich, and searchable way—in terms of not just transactional data, but also parametric information that makes it possible to search by product relationship.

User Recommendations

Users that have not already invested in PIM, ECM, GDS, portals, and like technologies should at least start considering them, while those that have already made investments should evaluate their success in terms of return on investment (ROI) and the level of risk. The entrance of mainstream players like IBM, Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle is a mixed blessing. Namely, on one hand, the content management software prices will likely fall, but many smaller specialist vendors that do not find a defendable niche will likely disappear, one way or another. While users should not ditch successful tactical or line of business (LOB) implementations where the vertical expertise or other special capability of smaller vendors has been proven, many users should consider rationalizing their diverse components and at least ensure conformance to standards and openness, as to be able to add new functionality as needed.

Further on a general note, retailers and CPG manufacturers with an ever changing set of products and accompanied information scattered throughout the supply chain, should see PIM or GDS as a sensible investment to manage the aggregation, organization, syndication, and publication of data. Firms considering PIM solutions should use evaluation criteria that cover vendor viability, product functionality, and other product-related criteria like pricing, openness, extensibility, and security. The complex enterprises with large numbers of items and GTINs should consider the likes of SAP and IBM that are soon to have more than adequate PIM or GDS capabilities. Also, the finished goods' information (attributes and specifications) should be included in the new product development and introduction (NPDI) process and treated in a same manner like other PLM information during its typical steps of create, edit, collaborate or share, release, retire, and archive. Only by doing so will the PIM info be accurate, current, secure, and supportive of collaborative processes, which is not the case with current practices of managing the PIM info separately in isolated repositories of spreadsheets.

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