Top 5 enterprise technologies being tested

The technologies being assessed now at companies both large and small could well turn out to be the ones to watch in 2007, with early adopters hard at work blazing the trail for others to follow. According to Computerworld’sVital Signs survey of 252 IT executives, server virtualization topped the list of technologies being tested, followed by document management, content security, asset management and business process management.

Here’s a look inside five companies that have taken these technologies for a test-drive — and are getting early payback.

1. Server Virtualization

Capital One Financial Corp. is midway through a three-year project to transition from 18 operating systems to five strategic platforms. Server virtualization is a central part of that strategy and will enable the company to drop from 1,600 servers to 1,100.

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“Our initial testing shows we are able to move from 30% CPU utilization to 85% utilization with virtualization technology,” says Lee Congdon, Capital One’s managing vice president for corporate technology. “In addition to lowering costs, we also found that as we consolidate on a [smaller] number of larger, more capable servers, we get better response times on an individual application, even though it is operating with other applications.”

Virtualization and standardization have also reduced the time needed to provision a server from six to eight weeks down to two weeks. This has particularly helped with the implementation of agile software development, since the developers aren’t delayed by not having a server available when they need it, says Congdon.

The company is using different types of virtualization depending on the platform. It uses VMware for Windows and Linux on Intel servers. Its AIX and HP-UX Unix servers and IBM zSeries mainframes all use proprietary vendor software for creating logical partitions. Congdon says VMware has worked well so far, but Capital One might consider software from other vendors in the future.

The virtualization project is scheduled for completion by 2008. In the meantime, he says, the IT department will move toward offering differentiated service levels to different business applications. Since virtualization makes it easy to shift resources, capacity will be reassigned to address peaks in demand, taking resources away from lower-priority services when they’re needed by higher-priority ones.

Words of Wisdom: When virtualizing a data center, Congdon says, it’s essential to have a transparent and agreed-upon chargeback model so no department feels it’s paying for the services provided to another. He also advises piloting it in several areas before launching a full-blown transition.

“That way, you get some learning upfront before you commit to that project plan,” he says. “You need to understand how it is going to apply in your own environment, since each organization is different.”

2. Document Management

Jan Berend Wolters founded his publishing firm in 1836, nine years after Beethoven’s death. Amsterdam-based Wolters Kluwer NV is now a $4 billion international publishing giant with 18,400 employees. Its Conshohocken, Pa.-based Wolters Kluwer Health (WKH) division printed its first textbook in 1879 and now publishes more than 33,000 articles annually in 200 medical journals and publications. But just as music has changed since Beethoven’s day, so has publishing.

“We were very heavily in the paper world — everything came in on paper, everything went out on paper,” says Patti Ward, director of product management in the publishing solutions group at WKH. “Around 2000, we saw a huge surge in the amount of content we received electronically and a huge surge in the number of customers requesting an online presence.”

Initially, the company scrambled to establish ad hoc processes to deal with all the different electronic formats, but that approach soon fell apart.

“By 2003, we had gotten ourselves into a firestorm,” Ward says. “We needed a strategy that would let us move forward with the same level of stability we had before the Internet revolution.”

Allstate Canada’s CMS experience

This large insurance company implemented more than a year ago.

The company looked at several commercial vendors and also considered developing a system in-house before settling on an enterprise content management (ECM) system from Documentum, which is now part of EMC Corp. A key factor in the decision was the size of Documentum’s research and development budget. After a year of work by WKH’s development staff and systems integrator Flatiron Solutions Inc., the initial version of the ECM system went online in March 2005 with 100 magazine titles. After nine months, WKH had achieved a six-figure return because the system had cut the costs of printing and delivering paper materials.

By the end of 2006, all of WKH’s publications were in the system. Now, the company can accept content — both text and graphics — in a variety of formats, manage the workflow of the articles as they are reviewed, edited and published, and output the content in the format that customers need.

“Some journals go out to as many as 35 different aggregators,” says Ward. “The system picks the right content and ships it out to the right aggregator at the right moment.”

The ECM system’s Microsoft SQL Server database now contains about 1.9 million documents, and that number will grow this year as WKH’s books and databases are added.

It is also being used for internal processes. “We are using it for contract management, which is a huge area for us,” says Ward. “We are looking at extending it to marketing and business development materials in 2007.”

Words of Wisdom: Ward cites two key elements that have contributed to the project’s continuing success. First is the evaluation and restructuring of the workflow processes so the right actions could be systematized. The other is having good communication with the end users.

“The No. 1 thing that made us successful was strong communication with the users and letting them take ownership of the process,” she says. “By the time we launched, they were an army of owners.”

3. Content Security/Control

Although very few companies operate without at least antivirus software and a firewall these days, companies around the country are testing an emerging set of products that lock down crucial information, including antispyware, encryption and Web site blocking tools, as well as e-mail scrutinizers.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. A financial services firm, for example, needs to police outgoing e-mail content to make sure that stockbrokers don’t release insider information. Hospitals are concerned about access to patient records. For Able Body Labor, a temporary help agency in Clearwater, Fla., the challenge was determining how to set up a security system that would be easily replicable in its rapidly expanding number of branch offices — now up to 130 in 15