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Enterprise Content Grows -- As Does the Need to Manage It

Data here, data there, data, data, everywhere. That phrase describes many companies' information systems. Information is housed in databases, documents, forms, images and Web content. Recently, the government instituted new laws that transformed information management and records retention into top executive concerns. These changes have been a good fit with enterprise content management (ECM) systems, which consolidate data collection and provide companies with tools, so they can manage information more effectively.

Because of the potential benefits, these products have garnered the interest of many of the industry's leading suppliers, such as EMC, HP, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle. "It may not seem like it, but there are a few dozen companies selling ECM systems," says Alan Pelz-Sharpe, a principal at CMS Watch. Open Text has made this market its focal point, and ECM suppliers such as Alfresco, Digitech Systems, Hyland Software, SpringCM, and Xythos Software are taking different approaches to grow their customer bases.

ECMs are popular because they can break down the barriers evident among various content types, so enterprises can manage their data with one product rather than several. The systems have the potential to reduce IT costs, ensure data consistency, speed up application development and enable companies to use corporate resources more efficiently.

Once information is stored in a central repository, corporations can develop new business processes that streamline information flow. That's because ECMs include workflow functions, so data can move in an efficient manner. If information, such a payroll form is entered, it can automatically be routed to the appropriate individuals for approval, so processes that took multiple steps and a lot of time to complete are finished more effectively.

While ECMs are gaining a lot of attention, they are not a panacea. Many of the products work with only specific types of information. Initially, these systems were designed to automate the collection and management of paper documents. Since then, many new data types have arisen. As a result, vendors have found that content management has been a moving target with numerous new requirements emerging. Email has been an area of growth, and companies also have to monitor other various collaboration vehicles, such as instant messaging and Voice over IP calls. Web content has been area of growth, so products need to work with items, such as Flash and video.

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