As the amount of information cluttering up computer systems in organisations multiplies, there is an increasing need for tools to manage it. Such clutter can include documents, pictures, images and employee records, web pages and email.
Where is it and who can access it? Welcome to the world of content management.
Content is increasingly accessed from web browsers, either via the public internet or a private intranet. Content management vendors that were traditionally good at storing, managing and searching content, have had to adapt their products to publish content to the web.
This brought them into conflict with new vendors that had released products specifically for web content management in the late 1990s.
Today all of these vendors can be considered on a scale between pure content management and pure content publishing.
It is not that unusual for an end-user organisation to have products from each end of this spectrum working together, although such maintenance overheads are increasingly unnecessary as vendors extend the capabilities of their products.
(IBM, Ixos and Interwoven have all made recent acquisitions to this end, but the future benefits of these are not reflected in this article.) A vendor in the middle of this scale has a product that does both jobs pretty well.
In its early days web development was Java-dominated, and this is reflected in the platforms supported. Increasingly, vendors have been adapting their products to support Microsoft platforms, although there is still limited support for products running directly on .Net.
Some vendors write directly to the operating system and are limited by this. Others write for an application server giving them more portability. The index rates vendors on their adoption of Windows and .Net relative to more open platforms.
Of course, any vendor whose product runs on Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) can run on Windows, if the chosen J2EE application server is ported to Windows.
So you know your requirement and platform. It must be easy enough now to just select your product and get going. However, most vendors target the corporate sector and have products that require a considerable amount of services and support.
Their products and services are not well suited to SMEs and departmental deployments. Whether it is for a corporate or SME, the extent to which the vendors support the channel varies.
There are a few anomalies. Ixos gets a lot of business via one channel partner, SAP, with which it has a strong relationship. Microsoft is yet to bring out a version of its content management server priced for SMEs.
IBM does not cater for the smallest of businesses and its channel strategy is geared more to hardware than software. Most of these vendors are well represented in the UK, although only one, Media Surface, is UK-based.
No vendor claims not to support corporates, and many of them focus exclusively on this market. Their products can be complex to implement and require a hefty services element. Most have relationships with the big system integrators that will be happy to provide you with their expensive services.
Those scoring low on support for corporates all have implementations in such organisations, but their products tend to be less service-intensive and are often used at the departmental level.
The vendors that best support SMEs have well-priced and easy-to-implement products and good channel support. Many are packaging 'light' versions of their products, which is good for SMEs. Ensure they have addressed the complexities of implementation and channel support before engaging with them.
For the channel, whether targeting corporates or SMEs, an integrated product and services approach to content management can provide you with a differentiation.
Select the right vendors to work with and you will generate new sales opportunities, working with your customers to ease headaches they thought they were stuck with.
Help them to recognise that the increasing amount of content they have is an ongoing reality, and introduce them to content management as the solution.
Bob Tarzey is service director at analyst Quocirca.
(01753) 855 794
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