Weaving a tighter web

Content management tools let you decentralize document creation while standardizing Web design and compliance

HTML pages and Adobe Portable Document Format files aren't just the highly visible face of federal agencies anymore. Increasingly, they are the currency of internal and intra-agency communication, much of it driven by mandates for common enterprise architectures.

Web portals are the new conference rooms. The file formats and communication standards of the Web'the above document formats, not to mention IP'have infiltrated even stodgy legacy systems. And the interplay goes both ways: Desktop mainstays such as Microsoft Office long ago gained the ability to output in Web format.

Maintaining control

As a result, every user is now a publisher, at least in theory. But therein lies a control problem: How do you maintain the integrity of Web content without violating rules and regulations, all while keeping a consistent brand identity and user experience?

Web content management software was created to solve this problem. It lets you democratize content creation while enforcing consistency where it matters.

Content management products suffer from category blur. At the top are large enterprise content management systems from vendors such as Documentum, FileNet Corp. and Interwoven Inc., which treat Web content as a subset of a broad universe that also includes internal records, printed materials and scanned images.

Such products focus on building huge document repositories of material available for publication in print and electronic channels. They also help meet new record-keeping and archiving regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Other Web content management products focus on multisite content needs for maintaining hyperlink integrity and compliance with accessibility regulations. Among the leaders are FatWire Corp., Percussion Software Inc., RedDot Solutions Corp., Stellent Inc. and Vignette Corp.

What the two types of software have in common is design-enforcement mechanisms. They use standard page templates (typically built by webmasters and other IT types) and workflow tools for passing content along an editorial chain of command defined by access rights in Active Directory or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol.

Many vendors sell a handful of server add-ons to augment the base content management software with digital rights management, image processing and file conversion.

In their latest versions, vendors have added support for technologies and standards that make it easier to share information across applications and to comply with government regulations prescribing document creation and storage.

Some, for example, have added support for Java Specification Request 168, a standard for turning applications and content into 'portlets' that can be plugged into any compatible portal platform, such as IBM WebSphere. Compliance with Section 508 requirements for accessibility by disabled people is also de rigueur. More recently, support is being added for DOD 5015.2, the Defense Department directive on information lifecycle management.

Such tight, standardized and widespread links to other enterprise applications'especially portals, team collaboration tools and document management'are all hastening the day when content will just be content, regardless of the delivery platform.

Vision

Large enterprise content management vendors have invested in this vision by acquiring Web content management companies and more tightly integrating the merged product lines. Meanwhile, a few Web content management pioneers such as Vignette have added document management. Industry analysts now tout the broader enterprise content vision.

'We stopped publishing a Web content management Magic Quadrant in 2002 because these people were getting snapped up by enterprise content management vendors,' said Lou Latham, principal analyst at Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn.

The accompanying chart focuses on Web content management software. It covers only products you can buy separately for that purpose, or those that can only be purchased as part of a broader enterprise content management offering.

Also listed are vendors that sell complementary software, such as a document repository or file-conversion server.

David Essex is a freelance technology writer based in Antrim, N.H.

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