Controlling the Content EvolutionBy Alan Joch
Oracle Universal Content Management consolidates and controls unstructured data.
The US$5.5 billion division of Emerson Electric uses Oracle Universal Content Management to administer technical information about its process control products as well as business and marketing documents and multimedia presentations. In all, it adds up to about a terabyte of information just for the North American operations alone.
One of the applications Emerson created logs repair requests sent to an Emerson Web site, generates a repair ticket, and then routes the ticket to the PC support group. When technicians fix a problem, they enter their solutions into the application, which manages a searchable and ever-growing knowledgebase of fixes that's always available to the support group. "We don't just capture the content," says Mark Heindselman, Emerson's manager of knowledge network and information services. "We move that content through a business process to solve problems."
Enterprise content management (ECM) lets companies capture, store, secure, establish version control, retrieve, distribute, and destroy documents and content, thus enabling workflow and business process management systems. "The good thing about having an enterprise content management suite is that you reduce the amount of integration that's required among the different components," says Ken Chin, Gartner research vice president.
The drive for improved business efficiency propels companies to content management solutions. Emerson is a good example. In the past, report reviews were hard to manage. "We would write a report, put it in a folder, and then send it around to everyone," Heindselman recalls. "It might take days, weeks, or months. Sometimes the reviews never got done."
That's all changed. The company's content management system spans eight divisions across North America, Europe, and Asia. Architecturally, the system is split into three server layers: one for standard types of business documents and Web content; one to handle large engineering reports created using mainframe and enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications; and one for a database of images, including serial cards, drawings, and multimedia content.
The workflow engine inside Oracle Universal Content Management is a key element in an Emerson content management application that ensures that the worldwide engineering staff reviews and approves lab reports before their general release throughout the company. Now, when an engineer completes a report, he or she submits the digital document to the content management system, which fires off an end-to-end workflow process that ensures that approvals happen as quickly as possible.
Land O'Lakes, the producer of dairy products and agricultural goods, has also realized new content-handling efficiencies. The company, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, runs about 80 feed plants and about 20 dairy foods manufacturing locations across the country.
Over the past decade, Land O'Lakes has become increasingly dependent on its intranet to distribute business information and news to help employees perform their jobs more effectively. "We realized this isn't just some nice-to-have information that's sitting off to the side somewhere. It's become critical, and we decided to build an industrial-strength platform for it," says Curt Doble, corporate IS business liaison at Land O'Lakes. "We needed an integrated platform that allowed us to combine content, brochureware, and application functionality in one system."
Land O'Lakes now has that capability with Oracle Universal Content Management. It gives staff members tools to create and publish information to the intranet, which relieved a burden for the IS department. The system also helps the Agricultural Services arm of the company speed the processing of transactions with vendors. The division handles about 200,000 payables receipts a month, a task that was becoming almost impossible as a paper-based process. "We were keeping a lot of paper documents around so that when we got inquiries from vendors we could pull out the documents and say, 'OK, here's the status, here's the payment amount,'" Doble says.
Land O'Lakes now creates digital images of each payable transaction and uses Oracle Imaging and Process Management to index the images for easy retrieval. "People can respond to inquiries by searching using a variety of criteria to find the right image," Doble says. "The images come up right at their desks, and we can provide answers quickly."
Imaging capabilities are now expanding to other areas in the company, including departments that handle fixed assets, credit, and HR. "Pretty much anywhere you look in the company, there are opportunities to use the imaging technology," Doble says. "It's all content management—it's just that images are a different kind of content. Bringing it all together onto one [Oracle] platform is a big advantage for us."
For almost 60 years, the prestigious Formula One World Championship has showcased the world's fastest cars, with 11 teams competing in the most recent event. Beginning in 2002, Renault invested £180 million to develop the ING Renault F1 team. The investment paid off: the group won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006.
Part of the success hinged on being able to connect racing teams, which travel to events throughout the world, to gigabytes worth of technical information, much of it held at the team's main factory in the U.K. Content ranges from weather reports and mechanical specifications to engine schematics and telemetric data collected from the vehicles during races.
At first, the Renault race teams didn't use a consolidated information management solution, opting instead to store and share data by e-mail or in databases on the internet, and use the local hard drives of laptops to synchronize data between the mobile teams and the factory. "It was a real headache to manage all this information and try to get it to teams in the field when they requested it," says Alex Rigal, IT project manager at Renault. "Some documents were getting lost; many were duplicates. With the level of competition we face, we need to make sure that all our documents are very accurate."
The company evaluated Oracle Universal Content Management, putting it into production in January 2007. Rigal gives the system high marks for how easy it is use. "The overall simplicity of the installation, customization, and configuration was very important to us," he says.
Now, information accuracy is ensured through the platform's check-in/check-out tools and version-control features. Just as important are the security capabilities in the Oracle Information Rights Management module for protecting the team's engineering innovations. Oracle Information Rights Management offers document sealing, the ability to control user access to individual pieces of information. "Once you seal a document, each attempt to access it needs to be validated by our internal server," Rigal says. "Someone may have had access on Monday, but we can remove it on Tuesday. So if someone leaves to go to another team, they can't take important documents from our engineering department with them." Even if someone is authorized to view a file, the system can prevent edits, copying, printing, or creating screen shots.
Proof that the system is both protective and usable comes from how quickly team members have accepted the application. "I was dreading what the reaction might be; I feared users would not want to change the old way of dealing with documents," Rigal recalls. "But people were very keen on moving forward because they gained many new features."
Alan Joch (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a technology writer based in New England who specializes in enterprise, Web, and high-performance-computing applications.