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The Quest for the Right Self-service Model: Enterprise Content Management Suite or Integrated Best-of-breed?

Written By: Hans Mercx
Published On: December 12 2007

<Originally published - March 19, 2007

No organization can use its information to improve performance and productivity if most of its content is locked away in departmental silos that don't communicate with each other. Organizations should look to creating self-service models as delivery systems for the content within these different silos, for internal as well as external use.

From an internal perspective, an organization may want, for example, the human resources (HR) department to provide a self-service model so that its employees can access information on such matters as retirement benefits, health benefits, and the amount of vacation days they have left, or to obtain change-of-address forms. This information should be made available through a web portal or intranet so that employees can easily and cost-effectively find the information they need. Government organizations, as another example, can provide a self-service model to citizens through an Internet web site, providing information, downloadable forms, or even online requests to be processed. Organizations can choose from two different approaches to make its content readily available: an enterprise content management (ECM) suite, or a point solution.

The decision to shop in one place or to shop around for several point solutions is a major consideration for buyers of content management systems. ECM suite vendors offer all-in-one solutions, while Integrated Best-of-breed? (IBOB) vendors invest in point solutions and work with partner vendors to integrate complementary functionality similar to suite solutions. ECM suites and point solutions each have their pros and cons, which make clients think twice when deciding which to select.

The tremendous consolidation in the ECM market lately may cloud the decision process, as ECM vendors are either being acquired or are merging “left, right, and center” (meaning this is happening frequently). For example, OpenText acquired Hummingbird; IBM bought FileNet; and Oracle acquired Stellent. Amidst these consolidations, point vendors see an opportunity to collaborate with other vendors, integrate solutions, and provide clients with functionality similar to ECM suites. These smaller vendors are providing IBOB solutions to clients with a range of ECM tools, including document management (DM), records management (RM), digital asset management (DAM), or web content management (WCM). Their offerings encompass the breadth of IBOB solutions by combining these different products and providing the client a tailored solution. Through these combinations, IBOB vendors are competing with ECM suite vendors, and gaining more market share by providing alternatives for clients. Consequently, potential buyers should invest time exploring both segments to determine which offering will best fit their requirements.

The ECM Suites

Buyers, beware when shopping for ECM suites. Although ECM vendors market their products as all-in-one, integrated solutions, the reality is that not all ECM suites are properly integrated. The different modules ECM suites offer don't always work as well together as one might expect. Potential buyers should investigate whether ECM suite vendors have invested sufficient time and money to connect all the pieces together, and if they have ensured the integration works and supports all client needs, both in the front end as well as the back end. Additionally, some of the current acquisitions are too recent for the integration process to have been completed, or even started.

Not all ECM suites are built the same way. The market differentiates ECM suites into two segments: those developed internally (organic), and those built through acquisition (inorganic).

Organic ECM suites have solid integrations among modules because each module is built from scratch and is based on the existing modules and functionality, which should provide a more stable integration altogether. Vendors of organic ECM suites develop the different modules on the same platforms, strategies, and methodologies as the existing modules to provide a wide variety of ECM functionality. Consequently, organic ECM suites generally provide stability within the full range of modules, but don't guarantee a solid integration toward the legacy systems a client might have.

Vendors building suites through acquisitions typically don't try to “reinvent the wheel” (re-create what already exists). These vendors acquire point solutions to complement their own, and market them as one offering. For example, Documentum, a document management vendor, built its solution by acquiring other vendors to add functionality to it. It successfully integrated these vendors' solutions with its own solutions, and the company is currently one of the market leaders in the ECM market.

Acquisitions can and have worked in the past, but such a strategy will only work when the vendor invests in proper integration. IBM acquired 20 organizations to build its so-called Information on Demand solution and strategy, starting with Informix back in 2001 for database management functionality; Tarian Software in 2002 for e-records management; Venetia in 2004 for content integration capabilities; and last but not least, FileNet in 2006—thus expanding its functionality to support the market functionality request. FileNet already was a full ECM suite; it complements IBM's functionality and achieves effective compliance, archiving, and document retention. IBM's past success in gaining market share after successful integration shows that investing in the skills and time it takes to make these integrations work can pay off when performed and managed properly.

Roughly four out of five acquisitions fail to meet expectations within 12 months of the merger or acquisition. For an acquisition to be successful, vendors should have the resources they need attached to a firm plan of action. Depending on the complexity of the solutions, seamless integration can take up to two and a half years. Most vendors don't have the capability to perform the necessary level of integration.

A potential client should take into consideration how recent an acquisition is and the amount of time the vendor has spent on integrating the solutions. Too many acquisitions in a short period of time could do more harm than good, as this complicates the integration process because of all the different platforms, standards, and functionality. Vendors may lose focus, and this may cause the acquisition to be delayed or to ultimately fail. A user should validate the level of integration that has taken place in these situations to support its decision when choosing a vendor.

Content-driven organizations require scalable and robust software solutions. When looking for a content management solution, clients should consider solutions that can handle the amount of content it has, both from the creation side of content as well as the publication side. Large ECM suites are known for their robustness and their ability to handle large, scalable solutions. The downfall for users is that these ECM suites require more technical knowledge to implement the solutions.

Providers of IBOB solutions often promote their solutions' ease of use while being able to perform similar functionality to ECM suites. Unfortunately, IBOB solutions often don't offer the same robustness and scalability as large ECM suites, since IBOB solutions are meant for sites with less traffic and organizations with fewer content items. Users that require robust and scalable solutions because of an abundance of content and traffic should consider these attributes when evaluating ECM solutions, and should likely lean toward ECM suites.

Point Solutions and the Quest for IBOB Solutions

The latest ECM suite acquisitions have broadened the gap between ECM suites and point solutions. Point solutions partner with other point solutions, trying to offer an IBOB solution. Such offerings deliver competitive solutions through special industry requirements. The benefit of an IBOB solution is that it allows users to buy only the functionality that is required. IBOB solutions can tailor the functionality of the client's solution to reflect the business processes that align with the business strategy. This is achieved by combining the offerings of its partners to meet the client's requirements, resulting in a solution that provides the maximum benefits to the client.

Service-oriented architectures (SOAs) use similar approaches to IBOB solutions; they provide building blocks that clients may choose from to tailor the solution to their needs. These solution providers, such as CentricMinds, Alfresco, and Adobe, will have partners that they work with, complementing their own offerings to provide broader solutions for their clients, but making sure clients receive all the functionality required. As IBOB solutions can be tailored to client needs, many clients currently prefer to look at IBOB solutions instead of ECM suites, as IBOB solutions currently bridge the gap between ECM suites and point solutions.

Smaller players in the market may create a team of partners to offer a full suite of functionality. This way, the vendors tailor the solution to the clients' requirements. Tridion, a European market leader in WCM, expanded its offering to an IBOB solution by carefully selecting partners such as LI Icon for digital marketing, Autonomy for search, SDL for globalization services, and Ixiasoft for extensible markup language (XML) database capabilities, to offer clients full ECM functionality. Tridion's partner network complements its own solution, thus expanding its ECM functionality. As shown in this example, IBOB solutions may provide all the ECM functionality that is required by clients.

But even IBOB solutions have drawbacks. Not all IBOBs are homegrown solutions. Not only do full ECM vendors acquire other vendors, IBOB vendors also acquire other vendors. IBOB solutions often focus on the small to medium business (SMB) market space. Additionally, IBOB solutions focus on ease of use, but don't focus on scalability or on high-traffic sites. This limits IBOB solutions' capabilities for clients. A good example here is the acquisition by nStein Technologies Inc, a company specializing in text mining, of Eurocortex, a French provider of content management solutions for the publishing, media, and entertainment industries. Through this acquisition, nStein now provides a broader point solution. Nevertheless, the solution is still missing ECM functionality, such as e-mail management and records management. As this example illustrates, point solution vendors may have integration issues that are similar to those of ECM suite vendors.

User Recommendations

Deciding between an ECM suite and an IBOB solution essentially comes down to organizational fit. Selecting a solution requires choosing a vendor with the right fit in market viability, service and support, and cost. An integrated solution that offers 100 percent of the required functionality is rare. Hence, either customization or additional software has to be purchased to meet all of an organization's requirements. A content management system should meet an organization's current and future needs, as well as ensure its solution targets the client's industry and fits its architecture. No matter if the chosen solution is an ECM suite, an IBOB, or a point solution, as long as the solution supports the business strategy, it will be beneficial to the organization.

Content-heavy organizations should examine ECM suites. Large organizations that deal with vast amounts of content throughout their organizations benefit more from ECM suites, as these organizations will use most, if not all, aspects of this type of content management system. An ECM suite will provide an organization with a solid foundation to capture, manage, store, and deliver all of its content. Many ECM suites can effectively manage the requirements of content-heavy organizations because of the scalability and robustness of their solutions.

Non-enterprise or specialized functionality is likely best achieved with a point solution. Organizations that require content management solutions for departmental purposes or for limited functionality should evaluate IBOB solutions. An initial point solution will likely meet the majority of requirements and future expectations, and expansions of functionality are likely to be solved with partners and the integrated modules that these vendors offer.

The bottom line is this: Both IBOB solutions and ECM suites enable organizations to increase productivity and improve performance by providing access to content stored in silos, as well as the ability to share that content with internal employees or external clients and partners.

About the Author:

Hans Mercx has nine years of experience as an enterprise technology consultant, and has in-depth knowledge of enterprise content management (ECM) and business process management (BPM) applications. Mercx has worked as an analyst for Technology Evaluation Centers, Inc. (TEC), where he designed the firm's ECM and BPM knowledge bases. He has also held the position of consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting (PwCC) and IBM Business Consulting Services in the Netherlands. Mercx is currently the project manager for NSB Group. He holds a BA in business information technology from the University of Professional Education in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

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