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The Summer of Our Content

Most workers are drowning in documents. But is ''content management'' the answer?

“Content is king,” or so went one of the most common clichés of the dot-com era. But as companies generated ever more “content,” all that Web-site verbiage, not to mention reams of internal reports and other documents, started to seem less kingly and more of a royal pain. Often it can be so difficult to locate and adapt a product brief or marketing report that you know exists somewhere in the corporation that it’s actually faster to create a new version.

Enter “content management,” a technology category that got its initial foothold in helping companies manage all the information they were posting to their Web sites, but that has now expanded to address everything from annual reports to spreadsheet templates. Content management, or enterprise content management (ECM), can be thought of as a grand index and repository of every piece of corporate information you might want to get your hands on and reuse.

As three-letter abbreviations go, ECM doesn’t have a fraction of the name recognition of its big-ticket brethren ERP or CRM, but it will get a boost later this summer when Microsoft releases its Office 2003 suites of desktop applications. The Professional Enterprise Edition, which is aimed at businesses, will offer a new application dubbed InfoPath (heretofore known informally as “XDocs”), an “electronic forms” application that will bring some aspects of ECM to the masses.

Meanwhile, Adobe Systems Inc. is addressing ECM and related document-management issues, having teamed with SAP last year to configure its Acrobat product to display in document form information that resides in SAP applications. And such longtime ECM specialists as Pleasanton, California-based Documentum Inc. hope the new visibility the space is about to enjoy will open companies’ eyes to the value of soup-to-nuts ECM suites.

Corporations will pony up more than half a billion dollars this year for software to manage Web content alone, according to Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm in San Jose, California. Jarad Carleton, an analyst there, says that while separate products now exist that address Web content, internal documents, digital rights, and other areas, there will be a push to integrate all these functions under the rubric ECM.

(Info)Path of Least Resistance

Microsoft’s InfoPath can’t do everything, but it can give users a taste of ECM. Anyone who has used the Wizard feature within Microsoft Word to create a résumé or fax cover sheet will understand the idea behind InfoPath, which extends that concept to facilitate the creation of a variety of templates that allow a worker to create invoices, expense forms, bills of lading, health-care forms, and a vast number of similar items.

Once specified, fields from a form can leverage rules allowing them to validate against a database to make sure that an order form, for example, doesn’t contradict company policy on minimum order size or pricing. InfoPath forms are XML documents that can be sent on to a variety of databases or posted on Web sites.

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