One of those, and one of those…

Canadian government agencies have pegged content management as a top IT priority this year. Fair enough – bearing in mind that research makes clear that one size definitely doesn’t fit all.

Marketers position the many guises of content management as an indispensable housecleaning mechanism, a means to sort scattered, unstructured information and sweep up the clutter of unwanted paperwork. But governments, and other public sector agencies, for the most part have trouble seeing the forest for the trees.

Vendors try to differentiate their products on the back of targeted branding, finely tuned tweaks and niche repackaging. They label technology as a solution to every concept, however plausible, of information and knowledge management. “Innovative” products promise to get a handle on everything from Web content, e-forms, cases, contracts, digital assets and other documents, to records and retention, risk, compliance and regulation.

Customers, meanwhile, want to enhance business efficiency, drive employee productivity and improve service delivery – and, particularly in the public sector, keep costs down. Technology can provide the tools. But the content management market remains sorely lacking and is struggling to keep pace with customer demand, suggests a survey headed by Kyle McNabb, senior analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

“Today’s reality is that many content management suite offerings cannot effectively address the divergent needs of IT and lines of business,” says McNabb.

“No single vendor can address the full spectrum of transactional, business and persuasive content that ranges from supporting back-office processes to selling products and services via the Internet.”

Lost in the forest

By way of example, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Agri-Can) relies on the federal government’s records, document and information management system (RDIMS) from Toronto-based Hummingbird Ltd. Ten years on, the department is still plugging in “point solutions” – developing customized functionality with additional application layers and running pilot projects of supplemental software.

That approach is not without success; Agri-Can was honoured with a silver award of excellence by the Canadian Information Productivity Awards last year, for its development of an “executive correspondence” management system. RDIMS, however, hadn’t proved capable of tracking e-mail and other correspondence, and Agri-Can’s existing “correspondence tracking and briefing system,” a separate product, didn’t integrate well with RDIMS.

Agri-Can had to call in a systems integrator, Montreal-based CGI Group Inc., to write a new application layer on top of RDIMS to meet its content management requirements. “RDIMS comes with generic metadata for document management; we then added to it for the specific business process,” explains Jeff Lamirande, Agri-Can’s assistant director of information management utilities.

Recently Agri-Can also has been trying out a product from Interwoven Inc., based in Sunnyvale, Calif. Lamirande says Hummingbird’s RDIMS gave him the tools to create a good foundation for internal records and document management, but Web content management presented new challenges.

“It’s a matter of timing for where you want to start,” says Lamirande. “We wanted to start with managing the basics and the Hummingbird suite, with its document and records management, workflow and reporting component, was the place to start.

“By getting a good grasp on our content internally and primarily by managing versions, access, distribution and research, it gave us the proper foundation.”

But when it comes to Web content management, with its publishing and portal challenges, the issue becomes business-context sensitive, he adds. “RDIMS came first, and that evolved with increased functionality from Interwoven.”

Lamirande says Interwoven started with Web content management and later added the document management basics. Conversely, Hummingbird’s strength lies in records management, but it now also sells the publishing and collaboration side.

“It’s a freaky world right now,” Lamirande says. “Everybody does pretty much the same stuff in different ways and you’ve got to decide as a client. That’s what we’re facing right now: Interwoven and Hummingbird can do the same things.”

Lamirande says that, depending on what the government decides to do, he may have to look at different scenarios, for example using one product suite for some functions and another suite for others.

Barking up the wrong tree

If content management purports to help organizations create a taxonomy, or hierarchical classification structure, for sorting and managing information and knowledge, perhaps information lifecycle management (ILM) should also be given a part in the play.

ILM is typically the territory of storage vendors like EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Network Appliance (NetApp) and StorageTek. But both content management and ILM claim to address issues such as information policies, management processes, governance and change management. In both cases, policies are determined by business objectives.

NetApp, for example, defines ILM as “a strategy that allows you to make intelligent decisions about how you manage your information.”

Records and document management is about moving information around an organization, tracking version control and allowing the software to make logical decisions that have already been set as business rules, according to Dan Larocque, industry manager for Hummingbird’s government sector.

And Dan Ryan, COO of Stellent Inc., a content management vendor with headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minn., says records and retention management maintains metadata about content in various document repositories performs legal holds and disposes of and deletes content.

Content management becomes a storage issue and should form a part of ILM, says Christine C