The incessant waves of corporate governance legislation, industry codes and various other rules and regulations that have been passed in recent years might have been bad news for many, but they have been a blessing for companies operating in the field of enterprise content management, or ECM.
ECM is the umbrella term for a series of technologies from records management to document imaging via collaboration, email archiving, portal and web content management. But its real attraction for many companies in the post-Enron business age has been the ability it offers firms to stay on the right side of the latest rules, and be able to answer probes in a timely and efficient manner. Some put it even more bluntly: this is soft-ware to find the smoking gun of evidence or to "keep the CEO out of jail".
One company that typifies the rise of content management from arcane back-office task to essential weapon is Open Text, the Canadian veteran of the sector that is managed by Yorkshire-born CEO John Shackleton, who makes no bones about what remains the big driver of the sector.
"Most people come to us for compliance," he says. "They've been sued, or they've seen somebody else sued. That's about 70 per cent of our new business and the surprise they get is that they don't realise how expensive it is to clear this stuff up."
Shackleton says that the average regulatory probe costs US firms half a million dollars and that large companies typically receive four such requests per year.
The value of ECM here is that by tagging, time-stamping and keeping an audit trail of documents and messages, organisations can provide useful evidence to investigators and thus avoid penalties for late delivery, missing or incomplete information.
Seek and find
What is perhaps surprising is that even after Enron and other cases, many of even the most sophisticated organisations cannot fulfill basic requests for information. For example, Intel was embarrassed by its inability to discover key emails as part of the antitrust suit brought by rival microprocessor maker AMD.
From roots in records management and document imaging, enterprise content management has grown to become a far-reaching software category with fingers in many pies, including web content -management, portals, collaborative -software, meta-tagging, email archiving and search.
The sales boom that ECM has -experienced over the past 10 years has also driven considerable consolidation through mergers and acquisitions. This has included large deals, such as EMC--Documentum and IBM-FileNet, as well as sizeable -combinations, such as Oracle-Stellent, Open Text-Hummingbird and Vignette-Tower.
Giants such as EMC, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle believe that ECM suits being part of a software stack alongside database, -enterprise applications, middleware and storage management. However, companies such as Open Text, Vignette and Interwoven have stood apart from the action, while SAP, despite rumours of a move, still has no direct participation in ECM.
Alan Pelz-Sharpe, senior analyst at CMS Watch, says: "Open Text has more chance than Interwoven or Vignette of riding this out and remaining both profitable and -independent. It is much larger than either of these. In fact, either could -potentially be bought by Open Text itself; hence, Open Text could be a consolidator rather than simply part of the consolidation."
ECM's mushrooming growth is unlikely to stop where it is. Areas such as multimedia search and even business -intelligence are likely to be bolted on to ECM to make the sector morph further into other domains.
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