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An Enterprise Content Breakthrough?

Enterprises have been struggling for years to leverage all the information on business processes they have stored away in order to conduct business better. The problem is much of this information is created in unstructured documents, such as spreadsheets and word processing documents, rather than in a database, making it difficult to control and manage.

Several vendors offer enterprise content management (ECM) solutions to deal with unstructured documents, but different vendors' solutions do not talk to each other. Businesses store their unstructured documents in multiple repositories from different vendors, so they have to spend a great deal of time and money to integrate these repositories so they can communicate with one another.

A potential solution, the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) specification, was announced today by tech heavyweights Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), IBM (NYSE: IBM) and EMC (NYSE: EMC).

"When companies operate in silos, with information scattered throughout the enterprise, it becomes extremely difficult for customers to realize [the information's] full value," Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of Microsoft's office business platform in the vendor's Office SharePoint Server Group said. "By working together, we believe we can enable customers to maximize the use of critical business assets."

CMIS will use Web services and Web 2.0 interfaces to let applications in an enterprise work with multiple ECM repositories from different vendors without as much integration work as is now needed. Currently, every link between systems need a connector, and Microsoft's ECM team blog says this is a problem because each link requires a different connection and connections tend to be specialized.

The specification will also promises to help businesses as they struggle with compliance.

"If you have any form of legal discovery need, or want to implement a policy across your organization that says all contracts must be kept for, say, exactly five years, then having a single archive to store content for longer than the application that created it is quite useful," Richard Anstey, vice president, technology and product strategy for ECM Suite at content management vendor Open Text, (NASDAQ: OTEX) told InternetNews.com.

Going through the standards process

CMIS was submitted today to OASIS for acceptance as a standard. OASIS, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, is a not-for-profit consortium driving the development, convergence and adoption of open standards for the global information society. The standards process will take some time, Anstey said.

The vendors "intend to form a new OASIS Technical Committee and contribute the CMIS specification," OASIS director of communications Carol Geyer said in an e-mailed response to a query. "We look forward to that happening and we applaud their goal of bringing CMIS into the open standards process."

IBM, Microsoft and EMC have been working on CMIS since 2006, and were joined by other vendors, including Alfresco Software, Open Text, Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) and SAP (NYSE: SAP). All seven worked to ensure CMIS made their solutions interoperable.

"There's what's elegantly named a plug fest, where all the vendors get together and see if all their solutions work with each other," Anstey said, adding that this "has been going on for a year."

CMIS will let enterprises manage their content separately from the repositories instead of having a management policy for each repository as they do now, because it decouples Web services and content from the content management repository. Better yet, it lets enterprises serve up content as a service in a service-oriented architecture (SOA) so applications can call on any information anywhere as needed.

"We believe records management should be a service that works with other applications that don't necessarily have to manage the records themselves," Open Text's Anstey explained. "You want a single place for the policy for how long you keep your records and, if you can expose the records and archives and functionality as a service to be consumed by multiple applications within the enterprise, you're doing yourself a great service."

CMIS will let independent software vendors create specialized applications that can run over various ECM systems. It provides common Web services and Web 2.0 interfaces to simplify application development. Anstey said CMIS will be REST-based and have a SOAP-based Web services application programming interface (API).

Next Page: Prototype using CMIS debuts