Oracle has just released its latest (11g) version of its enterprise content management (ECM) suite. Oracle entered the ECM business mainly through the acquisition of Stellent more than three years ago. Historically, document/content management has achieved greatest penetration in paperwork heavy or highly regulated businesses such as financial services, pharmaceuticals and government as well as in specific functions such as handling web content, especially in high-volume applications. However, I expect that it will get increased attention in more general enterprise uses, especially in the finance department, as vendors begin tapping into latent demand for better management of collaborative, repetitive processes that involve documents and documentation.
From a technology standpoint, this latest release continues the transition from what originally started as a web content management (WCM) company (Intranet Solutions) stressing ease of use to a enterprise content management (ECM) offering competitive with the industry’s traditional heavyweights, IBM (a combination of Lotus and FileNet) and EMC’s Documentum. Oracle is stressing the scalability of its offering and improved manageability as well as its embrace of the Oracle “stack,” which, especially for Oracle shops, can provide lower total cost of ownership, easier development, administration and maintenance of ECM applications, as well as the benefits of having a unified content repository supported by Oracle’s database and applications grid.
I think all of these will support that part of Oracle’s ECM strategy that falls into what I would call the “me too” category: going after established ECM verticals and established user types, which is where the vast majority of the buyers are located. I think this is still an attractive market. While there are some highly penetrated parts, there are other, long-established ones that still have great potential. For example, our benchmark research finds that only about half of all companies with 1,000 or more employees use image capture as part of their payables/receivables processes. Especially for companies with substantial Oracle applications, middleware and database investments, these latest enhancements will offer important differentiation.
However, I believe longer term the biggest opportunity for Oracle’s ECM software is in document enabling processes handled by its business applications such as PeopleSoft, Siebel and Hyperion. It’s already is at the heart of Hyperion’s Financial Close Management, an application for managing the assembly and publication of external financial reports such as SEC filings. Creating these documents are challenging in that they require assembly of precisely formatted text and data from multiple data repositories created by at least several (if not many) people requiring many layers of reviews under tight deadlines. An error in producing these filings can be a disaster. In the past, companies simply have thrown bodies at the problem but the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) “interactive data” mandate, which is now being phased in, will make it too hard for companies to handle this manually and meet the filing deadlines. So for many companies, automating their close-to-report process is the only good option. One that not only helps address the SEC mandate, but will also provide considerable time savings over their existing process.
There are numerous processes in every function inside a corporation that require document capture and/or creation. In almost all cases companies are handling them manually or using word processing files and spreadsheets riding on emails. Many of these processes can be handled better with more formal, controlled management of the documentation. However, in almost all cases, traditional document/content management approaches have been too expensive and too much work to be worthwhile. I think Oracle’s approach to making documents just another piece of “middleware” that can be easily embedded in an application’s process is a great start. Unfortunately, it will require a great deal more outreach by Oracle to develop a compelling set of use cases that demonstrate the value of document-enabled finance and business processes before companies will adopt it in large enough numbers to make it mainstream. Unfortunately, I’ve found that when it comes to finance and line-of-business users adopting new and valuable technology (even if it’s thrown in for free), “build-it-and-they-will-ignore-it” is more the norm.
Robert D. Kugel CFA, SVP of Research