Choosing content management software is mostly a function of where you have the biggest challenges.

At its most basic, unstructured information can be handled by systems that simply manage the way you catalogue and store documents. At the other end of the complexity scale, content management systems can automate the workflow processes required to develop, store and disseminate information from start to finish. But if you're just beginning to look at the software that's available, prepare to be overwhelmed: At least 150 companies offer such applications. "There are still too many vendors in this space for them all to succeed in their ambitions," says Nick Patience, an analyst at the451. He separates unstructured data-related software into four categories:

Document, content and knowledge management. These systems work like conveyor belts for unstructured data, automating the process of piling documents and other files together. Think of linking the numerous components of complicated insurance claims. Some systems also speed the steps required to create the data in the first place, like building product catalogs or publishing this magazine.

Search and retrieval. Even with all that unstructured data sitting in the same system, workers will still need an easy way to find that one specific document that will make their task at hand easier.

Taxonomy generation and data visualization. Since search by itself often isn't enough, some companies like to add their own labels, or metadata, to describe individual chunks of information as they're pulling documents together. The categories used for those labels, known as a taxonomy, vary significantly: Compare the categories needed to label the data in medical records to those required for an auto-parts catalog. But it isn't enough to categorize unstructured data: It also has to be visualized, using tools that can organize unstructured information into a useful picture, such as building a three-dimensional view of the resumes of job candidates that shows the strongest candidates located closest to you.

XML databases and tools. Increasingly, companies want to label previously unstructured data in industry-standard ways, ideally keeping descriptions in the same files as the data itself. That's how XML (Extensible Markup Language) works. "The Web has made people realize that information can be more cheaply distributed—if only we knew where to find it," says Philippe Gélinas, CEO of Ixiasoft, a vendor of XML content management software. Placing documents and Web pages into an XML database can help make unstructured data that much easier to locate. Remember, though, that XML standards for specific industries are constantly changing, so automatically exchanging documents with customers and partners isn't a given.

Analysts say the lines between the four categories above are blurring, and that the larger content management companies are beginning to make the process of integrating their software easier.

Will you be content with your content management software? Users and analysts say it's possible, with tightly focused efforts designed to support continual changes in workflow processes. Says Diane Brassea, manager of client reporting for AdvancePCS Inc., which processes pharmacy claims: "We've been improving business processes and reducing customer-response times. You'd be crazy not to do it." Just don't think that the content management arena is going to settle down any time soon. "Some people think it's a mature market," says IDC analyst Susan Funke, "but it's not."

Ask Your CTO:

In which of the four major content management areas do we need the most help?

Ask Your Data-Modeling Team:

Which data taxonomies are we using today, and are they sufficiently flexible to support our needs tomorrow?

Ask Your Vendors:

Can you help us get started by meeting the needs of a specific department while assuring me that you'll be flexible enough to help us expand later on?

This article was originally published on 05-01-2003
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