Bridging the content gap

META Trend: Through 2005, organizations will be forced to expand their definitions of what content requires formal management, due to increasing compliance and legal risk (e.g., e-mail and collaborative interactions). By 2007, most Global 2000 organizations will take a Web services-based infrastructure approach capable of addressing all forms of digital content through their life cycles. This will result in greater overlap with storage and relational database vendors for strategic G2000 deployments that will increasingly blur data and content management. G2000 tactical and small- and mid-market opportunities will remain dominated by solution-oriented vendors and their partners.

In most organizations, information or content typically has been managed in silos related to its originating source, appropriate physical or logical storage requirements, type, or even organizational owner. If we picture an average insurance company, document images and their attributes, for example, might “live” in (e.g., be captured by, managed by, stored with respect to, and distributed by) the imaging system used to create them. Customer correspondence (e.g., letters, contracts, and other documents created for customers) may be archived in the system that created them. Invoices might live somewhere else, and Web content or transactions related to service inquiries and new business might live in yet another place. Thus far, we have addressed only what is typically called unstructured data. Data related to customer transactions or analyses of customer claim patterns are under the auspices of other systems and organizations. This includes increasingly important unmanaged e-mail and collaboration systems.

However, the ultimate truth is that numerous people in the organization must be able to access and to view a cross-section of this information that might relate to particular customers, customer sets, or transaction types. This requirement is found in every vertical market and enunciates a major problem: Organizations have not typically architected systems to appropriately address the confluence of the information required to work effectively. Moreover, organizations have heretofore been able to achieve only a rudimentary integration of all this information to service needs adequately. By 2006, however, all major enterprise content management vendors, as well as database/infrastructure vendors, will provide content integration or EII (enterprise information integration) capabilities that address both content and metadata consistency and federation.

Recently, IBM announced it would acquire Venetica, a private company that, though quite small (approximately 70 people), had become pre-eminent in the increasingly strategic content integration space. As previously stated, the need for large organizations to reach across various content stores to find or to move unstructured information has increased dramatically (expanding to overall information, data, and content by the end of this decade). However, even as such organizations begin to standardize on fewer strategic vendors for ECM technology, they prefer not to convert their in-place data (mostly documents of varying sorts, in this case). Instead, they desire a means of either federating the ability to get to this information or, as necessary, moving data and related metadata to appropriate repositories in a managed, synchronized manner. This is where Venetica has made its mark.

Venetica has created numerous adapters within its VeniceBridge product, enabling it to integrate to a very large set of repositories or information sources. This work has won it significant partnerships across ECM, portal framework, ERP, and other spaces. In addition, its federation services, including metadata mapping, search, subscription/synchronization, and viewing (with conversion), enable it to be used in various internal and externally facing processes, particularly in organizations such as financial services and government, that typically possess numerous repositories. Although it does have competition, both from independent vendors (e.g., Context Media) and from the ECM world (e.g., Mobius’s Total Content Integrator, Open Text’s Doorways, EMC’s recently acquired AskOnce technology [more of a search federator than an integration facility, however], Comprendium, Vignette), Venetica established a strong foothold in the market, albeit with a relatively small client base of about 50 clients.

VeniceBridge adds to IBM’s ability to sell a consolidated set of content integration capability for its own (e.g., alongside the existing DB2 Information Integrator for Content) and for external sources. In addition, VeniceBridge was previously integrated with WebSphere integration facilities and WebSphere Portal, thus enabling it to round out a set of process and product data capabilities (the latter through IBM’s recent acquisition of Trigo). The above, as well as future pairings with IBM’s DB2 Information Integrator (its entry into the enterprise information integration space), will enable IBM to stretch its integration message across unstructured and structured data (e.g., virtual management of all of a client’s information throughout its life cycle). IBM and Venetica profess that they will maintain and perhaps extend existing partnership and OEM agreements (e.g., with FileNet and Interwoven, among others), though we caution clients of those vendors to revisit in-place solutions and ensure their stability.

This is becoming increasingly important to the market, as users evolve beyond higher-level information unification such as that currently obtainable through portal frameworks. Indeed, early inflection points are increasing — for example, data/document capture vendors partnering with data cleansing vendors, full-text search and text mining, metadata management partnerships that address both, database vendors extending to better address content needs, and the growing EII area. Indeed, at an increasing pace through this decade, organizations will seek to bridge the gaps between systems that handle data and content to deliver what users ultimately want — a single contextually relevant view of whatever information they require to complete a task.

For the integration world, aside from application and process integration (e.g., Tibco, webMethods, BEA) and data integration (emerging EII vendors, BEA again, Oracle, SAP), there has been little or no interest in bridging to address the world of unstructured information. This is a huge issue, considering:

1) the growing compliance-related requirements to obtain it;

2) the general lack of metadata for it; and

3) the sheer amounts and future growth of unstructured information within organizations.

Thus, we believe IBM has made a wise acquisition that will give its competition pause and force additional concentration on bringing these diverse worlds together.

This is doubly true when considering that increasing organizational risk is driving clients to seek a centralized means to manage content-related policies across their various globally disparate systems. Indeed, users require technology that can access information regardless of where it lives (e.g., network file shares, product life-cycle management systems, e-mail repositories, databases) and to apply policy back against these same systems. Content integration will play a critical roll in enabling this to happen. It will also enable organizations to protect the most costly part of deploying content management systems: integration with business applications. The ability to separate this integration with line-of-business applications from underlying content services will provide organizations highly desirable investment protection and agility.

Bottom Line: This is a very smart and timely acquisition for IBM, which will leverage ownership of Venetica across multiple content and integration spaces. Users will benefit not only from IBM-specific product integration, but also from the increasing attention paid to this need in the market.

Business Impact: Users must consider not only the ability to obtain relevant information of all types to satisfy compliance, business process, and knowledge management initiatives, but also the costs of doing so

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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