Oracle bids for your unstructured data

Content management specialists are being challenged by the database giant

Oracle has made a bid to manage the unstructured data in which companies are drowning — and one of the leading specialists in the field has jumped on board.

New tools from Oracle — Oracle Content Database and Oracle Records — can manage data held in unstructured forms, such as Office files, PDFs and graphics. These represent 80 percent of most company's data, but are awkward compared with relational database records.

Managing this data is increasingly important, as users scramble to meet regulatory requirements such as the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Till now, unstructured data has been the province of specialist companies, and one of these, Open Text, has acknowledged the arrival of the database giant by announcing plans to implement its application on top of the new Oracle products.

Oracle Content Database and Oracle Records provide "base content management for the masses", said Oracle president Charles Phillips, who also claimed the products are "the first end-to-end solution for capturing, classifying, retaining and retiring content based on policies." Most unstructured data is completely unmanaged, he said.

Enterprise content management software has been complex and expensive, as provided by specialists such as Documentum (owned by EMC), FileNet, Interwoven and Open Text, but the new corporate governance regulations in the US and Europe have made a more accessible approach necessary, said Phillips.

Oracle's tool will cost one-sixth as much as the alternatives, according to the first announced user, Allstate Insurance, and Oracle itself reckons it can save $8m (£4.3m) a year using it internally.

The tools both use the standard Oracle 10g database as a repository, instead of the proprietary formats used by ECM specialists, and the company claims they are as easy to use as Windows File Manager. The output from the new tools can be integrated with other applications such as Oracle's e-business suite, and will be linked into partners such as Peoplesoft and Siebel.

The arrival of Oracle means writing is on the wall for ECM vendors, and one has already jumped on board, claiming it's what they always wanted. Open Text chief strategy officer Tom Jenkins. said that his company has been waiting for someone like Oracle to provide the base level functions and let them focus on higher features.

Open Text, which already had a partnership with Oracle, will put its content management solutions on the Oracle Content Database, including specialised content-enabled applications such as accounts payable and loan origination. The company will also use planed links to bring in content from Siebel and Peoplesoft.

"The decision by Open Text to utilise Oracle Content Database marks a watershed event in the evolution of content management," said Connie Moore, research director at Forrester.

"This announcement is a realization of our long-held belief that basic, enterprise-wide content management capabilities would become the domain of infrastructure providers, while more complex, industry-specific content management would be delivered by ECM vendors," Moore added.