Mediasurface's Secret Sauce:
Infrastructure-Ready Software

      (Note:Technology from Harrod's Creek.)


Content management seems destined to become more than a marketer's buzzword. In 1996, Ben Hayman, founder of Mediasurface, wanted to be the provider of a software tool that offered a one-stop solution for organizational content management.

Web masters have long needed tools to manage the crazy quilt of digital objects that make up the average Web site. Now managing directors require a content console to get a cohesive view of the information pulsing through their organization's digital stream.

The managing director of Allied Irish Banks is one example of a captain of industry who must admit that he has not navigated through information either wisely or well. The cost for questionable content management, in fact, is more than 500 million.

Content processes, authorization, access, security, and control bang on the doors of boardrooms worldwide. In those wood-paneled enclaves, content management promises to be a navigational aid to the captains of industry.

Central London is home to one of the specialist companies able to provide software that combines content management with business process software. An organization equipped with Mediasurface's tools can manage its business processes more effectively without replacing its existing technical infrastructure.

Ben Hayman, one of the founders of Mediasurface, said, "Content management has nothing to do with infrastructure. Content management is a business process or what some people call knowledge management. We wanted to combine content management with business process software. Our focus was in using information in a variety of ways, not just building a Web site."

Mr. Hayman's approach has made convinced 3i, Goldman Sachs Private Equity, GE Capital, Reuters Greenhouse Fund, Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, Elderstreet Investment, and Amadeus Capital Partners among others to invest in Mediasurface.

Mediasurface's managers know that the world of content management is a confused and difficult one. Consolidation and business pressures make content management an intensely competitive business. Mediasurface is determined to conduct its business with probity and pragmatism; for example, the company offers fixed-prices for its content management solution

And Mediasurface takes some extra steps to help ensure that its reputation and technology stay at a high level. In June 2001, Mediasurface audited a potential reseller to ensure that the organization met Mediasurface's technical and financial benchmarks. (See The Technology Channel, http://www.the-technology-channel.com/showni.cfm?ni=443 for more details.)

Mediasurface is competing in a business space where there are at least three different approaches content management. These approaches are Web site creation and management, and organizational information.

One branch of content management is configuration management. This discipline focuses on software code. The idea is that the code for a Web site (or any program for that matter) is kept in one location. When changes are required, an authorized user checks out a module of software, makes necessary changes, and then checks in the new version by going through a mandatory set of steps before the new software is put on a live server.

Configuration management is a comprehensive technical discipline with a trade association, directories of software experts, and a wide range of technical nooks and crannies. Leaders in configuration management such as Rational Software combine rigorous work flow tools with specialized functions to prevent a zealous programmer from overwriting the source code for a critical program. (See http://www.ational.com or explore the the Institute for Configuration Management's site for details about configuration management at http://www.icmhq.com)

A good place to begin one's exploration of configuration management is the Configuration Management directory located at http://www.cmtoday.com/yp/tracking.html The costs for configuration management software ranges from a few thousand pounds to the upper six figures.

A second category of content management software is tools that help a Web master keep a Web site updated. One of the most ubiquitous of these tools is Microsoft's Front Page. For many individuals and some organizations, such programs as Front Page, the lower cost products from Ektron, Net Objects Fusion (Web Site Pros) www.websitepros.com and similar firms provide basic, useful services. Documents can be created and updated. Changes can be made for dynamic pages and various types of interactive functions can be added to a Web site with modest or in some cases no programming. The costs for these Web-centric content management tools range from shareware with fees in the 25 range to more than 3,000 for an entry level Ektron package. As powerful as these tools are, most lack what are called "work flow".

These are business rules that make sure that each document moves through a specific process prior to its being published. In the last 18 months, content has become a part of many manager's job. organizations offer special versions of content for mobile devices and special customer groups. With the increasing interest in audio and video, Web masters must marry text, metadata, and video files in one cohesive block without errors. A mistake can be costly. With each passing days, management of rights and access become a more important part of the Web services approach to electronic information.

A third category of content management focuses on how work gets done. In small organizations, the proprietor does all the jobs. In large enterprises, dozens or hundreds of people can be involved in a single document's life cycle. The idea behind the enterprise content management system is to bring order to the usually untidy ways in which content. With order comes a tighter control over access and reuse of content objects.

Enterprise content management systems are poised to become a bright spot in a lack lustre market. Anyone who has worked to assemble a price quotation, a proposal, or a presentation knows first hand that content is tricky. Photographs, data, and key documents require the equivalent of a military task force to locate. When a document (or "content object" in the current parlance) is located, further forensic work must be done to determine if the document is indeed the most current version. Each project sets off another chain of expensive investigation.

Mediasurface's enterprise content management joins work flow, security, versioning, and functions. Enterprise content management supports the Web as well as other types of documents, dissemination and distribution.

Most of the content management companies are locked within specific technical limits. Developers offering comprehensive solutions may "glue" together two or more different programs, give the hybrid a fresh interface. Mediasurface is a unified program that has few if any boundaries.

The firm's software has attracted the interest of a number of global media companies, including Carlton Interactive and Reuters by emphasizing the software's ability to answer four questions:

  1. Who are the people who will manage the content?
  2. What are the types of content that the company cares about? Do they create their own or source it? Then create the rules.
  3. How will the content appear to the "who"?
  4. Where will it appear via distribution channels?

Mediasurface has approached content management as a business management task, not Web-page creation.

Mediasurface provides a suite of integrated software that can be implemented across an organization in as little as six weeks. Among the firm's customers are EMI music which uses Mediasurface to manage its entertainment sites. Enterprise resource planning companies use Mediasurface to manage their own Intranets and to deliver software products to their clients. The American World Wide Wrestling Federation delivers Web sites about steroid-enhanced luminaries such as The Rock.

Mediasurface is a generic software tool that weaves together keeping software, images, text, and objects within a business process environment. More importantly, Mediasurface's software can mesh with other firm's software.

Mr. Hayman said that Mediasurface is actively working with search-and-retrieval developers such as Autonomy, diversified technology firms such as IBM and its Web Sphere division, Web services vendors such as BEA Systems, and a number of other companies. "Mediasurface is a horizontal software," said Mr. Hayman. "Most content management companies come from a more narrow view of the job that content management software must perform. We don't."

Mediasurface's architecture sets it apart from such firm's as Vignette, Interwoven, and Documentum. Mediasurface, for example, is "infrastructure ready." According to Mr. Hayman, "The Mediasurface system uses dynamic systems so that a client does not have to export flat file databases, build Web pages or other content objects, and then deploy the content on dedicated application servers." Mediasurface uses the infrastructure their clients have, thus reducing complexity, cost, and deployment time. This contrasts sharply with the manual configuration of database tables required by some of Mediasurface's competitors.

What are the challenges that Mediasurface must overcome? Like the hundreds of firms that use the content management tag line, Mediasurface must generate revenue to sustain its development and marketing efforts. Mediasurface has attracted considerable interest and the firm is growing and performing well financially in a challenging market.

Mediasurface, however, may represent a juicy plum to an enterprise software provider struggling to integrated work flow, security, and repurposing tools.

One of Mediasurface's partners describes organizational content as existing in "chaos." If the recent business and financial headlines are bellwethers, Mediasurface may find itself thrust into a pivotal opportunity to tame information uncertainty.

 

Mediasurface
55 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3XG
United Kingdom

Web sites mentioned in this column:

Autonomy:www.autonomy.com
BEA Systems:www.bea.com
Content Management Today: www.cmtoday.com/yp/tracking.html
Documentum: www.documentum.com
Ektron:www.ektron.com
IBM:www-3.ibm.com/software/ (search for Web Sphere)
Interwoven:www.interwoven.com
Mediasurface: www.mediasurface.com
Microsoft Front Page:www.microsoft.com/frontpage/
Net Objects Fusions:www.websitepros.com
Rational Software:www.rational.com
Vignette:www.vignette.com

 

Stephen E. Arnold
President
Arnold Information Technologies
Postal Box 320
Harrod's Creek, Kentucky 40027
Voice: 502 228 1966
E mail: sa@arnoldit.com
Web site: http://www.arnoldit.com

Mr. Arnold is an independent consultant working from Harrod's Creek, Kentucky. He resides in the USA with two boxer dogs and 13 servers. His most recent book is "The New Trajectory of the Internet," published by Infonortics, Ltd., Tetbury, Glou. Mr. Arnold specializes in competitive intelligence and technology analysis.

 


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