E-Commentary -- Content Management Grows Up

ECM spreads a Web-focused concept to the entire enterprise.

Just what the heck is ECM, and should manufacturers care, anyway?

When the Internet first landed on these shores and proceeded to conquer all of Corporate America, every manufacturer hurried to get a home page up. Content management was born.

This concept simply meant riding herd over all the stuff that companies made available on their Web sites. Now, you might ask just how hard can it be to put a bunch of records -- forms and product data and the like -- in what's called HTML format and make them available through a Web site?

After all, there used to be people called programmers who, for a couple of months' worth of late-night deliveries from Domino's Pizza and an unlimited Starbucks gift card, could whip this stuff together in no time. Is a million-dollar software package really needed?

Apparently so. According to one estimate from the research firm Frost & Sullivan, San Jose, Calif., corporations are expected to invest more than $500 million in 2003 on software to manage their Web content. That's great, but what manufacturers now need to keep up with the Corporate Joneses is something called enterprise content management (ECM).

Embracing the Web but not limited to it, ECM takes into account every possible kind of data or information in any format -- video clips, CDs, music, you name it -- stores it, marks it for retrieval and Web-enables it. ECM even handles the workflow aspect of sending forms around from office to office for online approvals.

ECM in Action

One company that is getting results from ECM is Bechtel Corp., the giant $11.6 billion construction firm headquartered in San Francisco that has built many manufacturing plants worldwide.

Bechtel, which has been using Documentum software as a core repository for content since 1995, is beginning to roll out to some 5,000 employees the latest Documentum 5, which contains a number of project collaboration and other nifty ECM features not offered by plain vanilla document management systems.

"We define content as any information necessary to do our business," says Darrell Delahoussaye, Bechtel's engineering procurement construction manager.

This includes plant manuals, contracts, data sheets for construction components and designs. These can be documents in Microsoft Word format, PDF files, CAD drawings or Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

"The format is immaterial," Delahoussaye says. "The important thing is to deliver that content to the appropriate audience in a timely fashion." The ECM also is important to Bechtel because it provides an information and audit trail, which is critical for liability purposes.

"We know exactly when something was done and who did it," Delahoussaye says.

But for manufacturers that don't want to spring for an expensive full-blown ECM, there may be an economical alternative. Manufacturers that are already big customers of Microsoft Corp. may want to check out the software giant's 2003 version of its Office suite of desktop applications (due out this quarter), Professional Enterprise Edition for companies.

This edition of Office 2003 will come loaded with an all-new product called InfoPath, which offers some, but not all, aspects of ECM. What InfoPath does best is enable users to retrieve basically any form or document in the company. It also allows users to create all manner of documents and forms from scratch, using any of a number of preset templates as a starting point. What's more, for those manufacturers that are already using Microsoft enterprise package for the desktop, InfoPath won't break the bank.

Doug Bartholomew is a former IndustryWeek Senior Technology Editor. He is based in San Francisco.

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