It's not always practical or affordable for large enterprises to consolidate their disparate systems that store unstructured content such as documents, Web material, and digital media. Yet maintaining these siloed applications introduces different costs and risks, including lack of security and records management.
ECM (enterprise content management) systems address these shortcomings while leaving your existing file servers and other repositories in place. Although ECMs typically require yet another database, users continue accessing their existing desktop files and processes, while the content manager provides centralised storage, indexing, versioning, workflow, retention, and other services.
It's not always practical or affordable for large enterprises to consolidate their disparate systems that store unstructured content such as documents, Web material, and digital media. Yet maintaining these siloed applications introduces different costs and risks, including lack of security and records management. ECM (enterprise content management) systems address these shortcomings while leaving your existing file servers and other repositories in place. Although ECMs typically require yet another database, users continue accessing their existing desktop files and processes, while the content manager provides centralised storage, indexing, versioning, workflow, retention, and other services.
One of the better ECM products was Stellent Universal Content Management, which Oracle acquired when purchasing Stellent in late 2006. As you might expect, the renamed and updated Oracle UCM (Universal Content Management) Release 10g R3 is now better integrated with Oracle's other products. For example, UCM has an out-of-the-box provider for Oracle Database (making it easier to configure the database and to perform backups). Plus, as part of Oracle Fusion Middleware, UCM is "hot pluggable" into existing Oracle servers and can take advantage of the company's grid infrastructure, such as application clusters.
UCM Version 10g R3 is also more open than previous incarnations. An included Web Part lets users work with content from within Microsoft SharePoint. Additionally, there's new Outlook e-mail integration, smoother operation with Windows Explorer, and an automated WSDL generator that makes it easier to integrate UCM with other applications that consume Web services.
Content in, content out
I've been hammering away at Oracle UCM -- which includes Oracle Content Server, document management modules, and the universal content management pieces (Web content management, digital assets management, and records management) -- for a few weeks on a Windows Server 2003 machine. Oracle Database 10g XE was my database engine. My overall impression is that better usability, integration, and filing (more than 400 file formats are automatically converted using Web services) make UCM an excellent offering.
Contributing content to the repository required no extra steps as I dragged and dropped Microsoft Word and other document types from my desktop to a UCM folder that appeared within Windows Explorer. Oracle automatically applied metadata, while adding options to pop-up menus for document management functions such as Check Out. Similarly, Oracle-managed folders within Microsoft Outlook let me submit e-mails and attachments as records; I then managed this content directly from Outlook (such as searching and taking it offline for editing).
When I placed high-resolution images into a managed folder, UCM automatically created variations at different sizes and resolutions, such as ones appropriate for the Web.
The Web interface to UCM, a personalised portal for each user, now includes a leaner look and context-specific menus. Search enhancements, however, make up the bulk of changes. The new query builder helped me create advanced queries without writing any complex Boolean logic. Moreover, it was easy to narrow searches using metadata that was associated with documents. UCM takes this a step further by employing metadata depending on circumstances or a person's role. For example, you can search for only items containing a product name that is in your workflow.
One popular search feature that UCM implements is Tag Clouds: Readers can browse keywords and see which are the most popular. Optionally, you can rate content to boost or lower its position in search results. Further, UCM generates an RSS feed for custom searches; these results are then saved in a personal search area of the portal.
It goes without saying in these Web 2.0 times that UCM doesn't limit RSS to Saved Queries. I easily set up feeds to show my Workflow Inbox and Checked Out Items. Another important feature let me create feeds containing usage analytics; this could, for example, enhance a help desk application where the RSS feed shows the most popular knowledge base articles. I also liked the rich formatting of feeds, which may automatically contain thumbnail images, text abstracts, and selected metadata.
I encountered Content Conversion Server, which is now a service-oriented architecture, throughout testing. For example, when browsing search results, UCM called this service to convert Microsoft Word documents into PDF and display them in a preview pane.
The new Oracle Web Parts for SharePoint worked without any catches. After logging into my test SharePoint server running the Oracle UCM Web Part, I uploaded documents to the UCM repository and also used UCM search. This useful integration allows users to store files in UCM, collaborate and manage these assets using SharePoint features, yet reuse this same content in Web sites or the company intranet through Oracle.
Easy Web CM
Managing Web sites is straightforward for several reasons. First, since they're being served from Content Server, you can take advantage of existing personalisation and security. Second, a Contributor mode makes adding and editing content a breeze.
Workflows, both simple and complex, are developed with a similar visual process. For my Web site test, I routed paged edits through a legal department; requests appeared in a lawyer’s Workflow Inbox in Content Server, and the person also received e-mail notifications.
Oracle Universal Content Management is a deep product, and I've only touched on the main new features. When I step back and examine the overall architecture, it too makes a lot of sense for large enterprises. For instance, UCM records management and rights management can be applied to your other systems, such as file servers and e-mail archives. In itself, this could simplify information administration throughout an organisation and reduce costs.
Although implementing a full UCM system would be a large undertaking, Oracle has turned Universal Content Management into a better, more open product that's certainly competitive with the other main ECM vendors: EMC Documentum, IBM FileNet, Interwoven, and OpenText. Of the open source CMS products, Alfresco comes closest to Oracle UCM, though I believe UCM is superior in most areas, especially usability and security.