Vignette manages content

As a pioneer in the content management space, Vignette Corp. rose to prominence along with the rise of the Internet economy. Today content management has evolved well beyond a task that was formerly handled by Web masters, who are now an endangered species. Instead, managing content has been put back directly into the hands of users thanks to a new generation of content management systems.

In an interview with InfoWorld editor-in-chief Michael Vizard, Vignette CEO Greg Peters and senior vice-president and general manager for strategy and technology Bill Daniel talk about the strategic role content management plays in unifying data assets across the enterprise.

InfoWorld: How has content management evolved over the past two years?

Peters: What we’ve started to see over the last 12 to 18 months is a market that to some extent starts to bifurcate into two areas. One market is more focused on infrastructure requirements such as application server technologies and database technologies. And then a separate market is really focused more on providing content management solutions that enable companies to present the right information at the right time to the right person in a very cost-effective way, which is where Vignette is certainly focused. In this space as with really every other enterprise application space that exists, there’s an application layer and there’s an infrastructure layer, and both of those are dependent upon each other. That’s why we’ve driven very significant relationships with companies like IBM, Sun, and BEA to make sure that our product path is synergistic with what they’re delivering.

InfoWorld: What role will those companies play in content management?

Peters: Over time there will be very common infrastructure components within their architectures that are leveraged within content management applications and other applications that sit adjacent to what I would term the content management application market. Supply-chain management applications, CRM apps, or ERP apps are all examples of those applications.

InfoWorld: As part of that trend, do you expect other software vendors to embed your software inside their applications?

Peters: To some extent we have already started in that direction in terms of our relationship with Rational, where they’re actually using some of our technology in their Content Studio product. As we move forward, there probably certainly is an opportunity for us to continue to pursue that.

InfoWorld: A lot of companies today have multiple intranets with multiple content management systems. How did this come about and what do you expect will happen to unify these systems?

Peters: This is the result of many, if not most, content management decisions having been very tactical in nature. Certainly, this is now moving into more strategic-oriented thinking. Companies are no longer having separate staff that manage all these different Web products, internal or external, and no longer can have duplicate training, technology purchases, services, [and] expenditures to get these capabilities up, running, and maintained. Companies are looking for ways to pull that together. To some extent, that may mean deploying Vignette on a broader scale. But for every single Web site that exists in an enterprise, we certainly don’t have a vision that says it has to be run by our technology. We have very strong integration points, particularly with our new multisite content management product that allows us to manage Web sites as if they were content themselves.

InfoWorld: What does the evolution of Web services mean for a company like Vignette?

Daniel: Infrastructure can now essentially be exposed to us as a set of services in the worlds of J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] and Microsoft .Net. We’re focused on the applications of content management. We’re supporting both the J2EE and the Microsoft .Net technology stacks because we see them as the providers of infrastructure. Web services hold out the promise of standardization of the protocols and the communication and the exchange of information between components of an application inside the firewall and disparate applications or pieces of applications. That is coming, and it’s coming fast. It promises to make integration and a kind of aggregation of services quite easy. I think there’s also a set of content management-related issues, because what’s really flying around in a Web services world is content. We see that as a wonderful new opportunity for us and we’re certainly going after it.

InfoWorld: What challenge does XML bring to the table?

Daniel: Well, immediately you’d better be able to handle XML natively and you’d better have the ability to process and transform XML and understand XML built into your applications. Every day there’s a new standard for querying and another standard for interchange of documents between people in a certain industry. It’s almost like we’ve learned how to talk and now we’re creating every language known to man. Of course, it has some real advantages over HTML or other ways of storing information because XML has an actual structure to it and it’s self-describing. What our customers are telling us [is] that over time they want to use XML as kind of the backbone for content management solutions. They’re not necessarily saying that they want to throw everything away and convert it all to XML. They’re talking about more future [plans]. We’re really working with our infrastructure partners. From a repository point of view, we see the infrastructure providers coming on very strong there. We’re focused at the application services level, making sure that we can handle XML and manage XML, but we’re not focused on the storage and repositories because we think those issues are being solved very nicely by other vendors.

InfoWorld: What is the relationship between content management and business process management?

Daniel: If you were to go to a customer of Vignette’s that’s sophisticated about using our products in a Web site, what you might call a Web site is something they’re going to describe as an application. And an application has a set of business processes that have been automated by Vignette’s content management solutions, so by definition there is some business process management going on. There’s a whole set of processes around the creation of content and the deployment and publishing of that content. But there’s also a set of processes, workflows if you will, that have to be followed by the user and they’re built into the content management application. We see that all the time.

InfoWorld: What’s the relationship between content management systems and portals?

Daniel: We see portals as essentially the windows for application servers. There’s a set of services that are not at all unlike the set of services Windows offers to an application in order to manage context and to be able to pass information between Windows in an application. Portal providers are going to standardize those services, and we’re going to make sure that our content management solutions reside within those portals.

InfoWorld: From your perspective, what ultimately differentiates Vignette from other companies in this space?

Peters: I think there are a lot of predominately more repository-centric solutions in the marketplace. Put all of your content into, in some cases a proprietary repository, and then allow some management of content outside of that. Our view is that customers don’t want to create yet another storage vehicle for information data that they’ve already got stored in various databases all over their organization. It’s a much better opportunity to go take advantage of where that data sits and actually manage it from both types of locations. That’s a very different message and that’s a very different solution that we’re offering the marketplace vs. the other companies that we see in various segments. Companies are thinking about synchronizing their business and about pulling down the physical, functional walls that exist and that lock in data within various groups of their organization. That requires a separate solution orientation around content management … That is the business problem we’re aiming to solve.