COMMENT: Analyst's Corner

Managing Information Overload
By David Baum

Enterprise content management improves compliance efforts and the bottom line.

Jim Murphy, a research director at AMR Research covering content management, portals, collaboration, and search-and-retrieval technology, talked to Oracle Magazine about managing structured and unstructured information cohesively.

Oracle Magazine: Content management is a perennial problem. What's changed lately to make it so much more challenging?

Murphy: Critical information can now take many forms. Structured information in relational tables is easy to identify and track, but most organizations must also deal with unstructured information in spreadsheets, PDF files, e-mail systems, and so forth. The situation has become even more extreme with the haphazard nature of e-mail and instant messaging. Plus you need to be able to attach hard-copy documents, like invoices and purchase orders, to the data in ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems. These are all important aspects of a vast landscape of information that must be consistently managed and controlled.

Oracle Magazine: How do enterprise content management systems simplify compliance issues?

Murphy: Compliance has always been an issue, but with Sarbanes-Oxley it has reached the C level in a big way. As executives pay closer attention to record management, record retention, and document management, companies need a more pervasive strategy for managing information over time and across different channels. Content management systems add structure and integrity to information-intensive processes so key documents can be easily identified and manipulated. For example, financial documents must be checked in and checked out of a repository, so that when someone makes a change, it is auditable after the fact.

Many companies are still trying to figure out how to institute document management practices that satisfy the demands of lawyers and compliance officers. Developing consistent retention policies is the starting point. A content management system helps you enforce these policies across the business in a consistent way.

Oracle Magazine: Where does the ROI [return on investment] come from in today's enterprise content management initiatives?

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Murphy: Software vendors commonly claim that an enterprise content management system will improve productivity. In many cases that's true, but how do you measure it? One good way is by making tangible improvements to a particular business process. For example, today's content management systems allow you to create an image of an invoice, so it can be saved electronically, and apply optical character recognition technology, so you can find and extract specific information. This is especially critical as we depend more heavily on automated processes within our ERP systems. For example, sometimes a purchase order doesn't match an invoice because there's been a change in pricing. Some ERP systems will kick out these exceptions for manual scrutiny, and that can cause a big backlog. Some customers tell us that as much as 30 percent of their purchasing process can be delayed because of this issue. Fixing these problems is highly manual—typically, you need to print copies of both documents and send them to a purchasing manager for approval. A content management system can help you handle these exceptions as part of a standard workflow: identify the problem, find the pertinent info, then automatically escalate the issue and e-mail it to the purchasing manager, who can resolve discrepancies with only a couple of clicks.

Many similar tactical issues can be addressed by a content management system, and that's where you can really measure the savings. In marketing, it means you get press releases out in a timely manner, with more-consistent branding. In product development, it means supplying more-complete documentation to customers. In accounting, it means providing accurate information to regulatory bodies.

Oracle Magazine: What's unique about Oracle's approach?

Murphy: Oracle has figured out how to manage all types of documents within the database, without pointers to an external document repository. Of course, content management entails more than just storage, retention, and central management of information. It must also accommodate the authoring, publishing, capture, and syndication processes, and so on. Oracle is looking to partners for a lot of these specialized capabilities. That's a workable strategy and a good way to approach a multifaceted problem.

David Baum ( ) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.

Founded in 1986, AMR Research focuses on supply chain, enterprise applications, and next-generation infrastructure.

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