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Web services and content management

In this first part of a two-part column about Web services and content management, we'll look at the promises that Web services hold out for the technology.

The Web Services Advisor
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In today's business world, enterprise content is a corporation's secret weapon -- and Achilles heel. Corporate records and information, including e-mail are being seen as assets that need to be managed and mined for information.

But there's a downside to all that enterprise content as well. Increasing regulatory requirements for financial reporting, managing health care records, keeping e-mail and more places big burdens on corporations.

To solve the problem, enterprises turn to content management systems from vendors such as Documentum. Increasingly, vendors are turning to Web services as the glue that holds content management systems together and that ties them into the rest of the enterprise. In this first part of a two-part column about Web services and content management, we'll look at the promises that Web services hold out for the technology. In the next part, we'll take a closer look at the leading vendors in the field.

XML and content management
Web services are ideally suited for being incorporated into content management systems, says Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink.

"XML is a document format," he notes and is ideally suited for represented semi-structured documents, which means documents that include both regularly structured information like forms, as well as unstructured information inside the forms and between the forms.

Because XML is at the heart of Web services as well, there is a natural affinity between content management systems and Web services. Because of this, "major content management companies use XML to represent content in their systems," he says.

But there are more important reasons that Web services are being used increasingly in content management systems, he contends. Because content is now being seen not just as static data, but an important part of an enterprise's infrastructure, "there's a whole other side to the picture. Can we actually take the content itself and treat it like a service, like any other service, such as a database or an application server?"

So, for example, someone should be able to request all records of orders placed in the last five weeks, without having to know where the content is actually stored, and the system should be able to automatically gather the content from several different systems, using Web services.

Integrating content with other enterprise applications
Perhaps most important is that companies are looking for ways to integrate content management with the rest of the enterprise and particularly with other enterprise applications. So the information in a content system should be integrated with enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and others, so that information can flow back and forth between them.

Web services modules to connect all the systems, some believe, are the wave of the future, and Schmelzer notes, "I think that increasingly companies will demand that the content management systems they buy have Web services interfaces." This is important today, but in the future, will be especially important, says David Folk, product manager with content management vendor Documentum.

"I talk to a lot of developers and they want to be able to access Documentum functionality from an environment where they're not running Documentum-specific code," he says. An excellent way of doing this is using Web services. In the future, he expects that demand to accelerate, because Microsoft's next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, will include Web services as part of the basic operating system plumbing.

"I see integration with PeopleSoft, SAP and other enterprise applications coming and Web services technology will play a key role in doing that," he says.

Documentum includes libraries of application logic that can be re-used so that developers can easily plug into enterprise applications to allow users of those applications to access content from the Documentum system.

Documentum isn't the only content management company that sees Web services as being key to the future. Other vendors have seen the light as well. For example, FileNet's recently released Version 3.0 of its P8 content management platform includes Web services support and business process management capabilities.

Looking to the future
IBM recently announced that it's getting into the act as well, with some potentially new innovative technology. The company's Project Cinnamon uses XML technology to make it easier to store and retrieve documents, and within six months it will be built into IBM's DB2 Content Manager software. Project Cinnamon includes an automated mapping function that makes it easier to export content between content management systems, using XML. The goal is to be able to retrieve documents no matter where those documents are located.

Schmelzer says that as companies turn to Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs), they will increasingly abstract information wherever it is found in the enterprise, allowing Web services to be used with content management systems. So the two technologies, he believes, will inevitably be used together.

Documentum's Folk agrees, and says that he is already seeing an increasing number of Documentum customers use Web services in concert with content management systems.

"It's common already," he contends. "And it's coming up more frequently in conversations that I have with consultants and customers. Expect it to become prevalent in the next twelve months."

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About the Author

Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. He can be reached at preston@gralla.com.

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