Microsoft, IBM, others team up on enterprise content management standard

A group including Microsoft and IBM has developed an enterprise content management standard that could simplify the sharing of unstructured content.

It's not often that Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and SAP all work together, but now is one of those times.

The four competitors are part of an industry group that has developed a new standard that allows users to share and access unstructured content from multiple enterprise content management systems regardless of which application they're using.

The Web services-based standard, called Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS), is built on a common domain model to simplify communication and content sharing among the vendors' competing ECM systems, including Microsoft Office SharePoint Server and IBM FileNet, the companies said.

The vendor group, which also includes EMC, Alfresco and OpenText, was formed in October 2006, and the current proposed standard was completed in July of this year. The vendors gathered in August to test CMIS against one another's ECM systems, then submitted the proposed standard to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) for approval on Wednesday. Approval is likely to take anywhere from several months to a year or more.

Many companies use ECM systems from multiple vendors, often silo'ed within departments or divisions, making content sharing within applications difficult. Until now, companies had to build or purchase custom application connectors, migrate content from one system to another, or use existing but limited content sharing standards, like Java Content Repository, to share content.

CMIS aims to let companies easily connect ECM systems to existing and future applications. It provides several bindings using the common domain model, including Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Representational State Transfer (REST), and allows users to create mash-up style applications drawing on content from multiple ECM systems.

"We have had lots of customers spending a lot of time and energy on content integration," said IBM's Ken Bisconti, vice president of product marketing strategy for ECM. "It has been a long-standing issue for our customers, especially in a market where they have repositories with hundreds of millions or billions of items that are not going to be migrated from one vendor to another any time soon."

While the standard, once approved, should prove beneficial to users, the vendors also stand to gain. Each hopes that creating interoperability among competing systems will jump-start the ECM market and their own respective ECM businesses.

"For this market to propel, we need a standard that provides integration and interoperability of content management systems and applications, which is what CMIS is designed for," said Razmik Abnous, vice president and CTO of EMC's CMA division.

Ethan Gur-esh, program manager for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, said: "Any time we go into an organization that wants to support repository 'X' for some reason but already has repository 'Y' in place, that creates a lot of friction. To be able to now simplify that process is a win for customers and a win for us."

Experts estimate that 80% of organizations' content is unstructured. Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. predicted last year that the market for ECM systems, in which unstructured content is created and managed, will reach $4.2 billion by 2010, up from $2.6 billion in 2006.

Melissa Webster, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said CMIS could do for unstructured content what standards like SQL have done for structured data.

"Customers need an interoperability standard that's going to address their existing investments and also that's going to be Web services-based and give them a language- and platform-independent standard for processing all of that content," Webster said. "That's what this standard's all about."

CIMS has built-in credibility, she said, thanks to its well-known developers. "This isn't just one more standards effort. It's the biggest vendors, the dominant content management vendors, all getting together and agreeing [on a common standard]," she said.

The standard will also make life easier for independent software vendors, which build applications for customers with multiple ECM systems, Webster said.

The proposed standard does not address ECM systems administration, a capability the vendors hope to add in a future version of the standard. The vendors also say that they plan to release the standard to developers before approval by OASIS so that they can test various use cases.

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