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For Documentum, Web services start with portals

Documentum wants to be the repository for unstructured data, says CEO Dave De Walt.

An estimated 80% of a company's data is in the form of Word, Excel, PDF or similar documents, or plain old pieces of paper. Thus, there is an opportunity here for software to gather all these documents together into a central repository, so they can be queried and managed just like structured data in a relational database. Documentum wants to be that repository for unstructured data, says CEO Dave De Walt. While this is not a new concept for the company, it is a different person saying it.

De Walt has been with the company since 1999, but has only been CEO since July 19, when he took over from Jeffrey Miller, who moved upstairs to the chairman position after nine years at the helm.

Having morphed from pure document management into a tool that some companies use to manage their entire websites, Documentum is now looking to move ahead of rivals such as Interwoven and IntraNet Solutions by embracing the idea of Web services, reworking its software into components usable in conjunction with other software. It will start with portals and then move on to other types of application as Web services begin to mature next year.

This move, the company says, represents a significant change from its current integration with portals from Plumtree and Epicentric, which involved a lot of coding to its APIs on the part of the portal vendors.

Over the coming months, Documentum's expanded group of portal partners will announce their support for the integration of Documentum's content management tools, leading to the general availability on October 1 of what the company calls eContent services for portals. And Documentum has coined a marketing term to describe this setup that we will mention only once and then move on: 'content ecotecture.'

One of the four modules in Documentum's existing 4i system is called an 'enterprise information portal,' which was the company's attempt at an enterprise portal and included a Web development kit to build the portlets. The difference now, says De Walt, is that Documentum has built the portlets itself and moved the emphasis away from providing them through an interface -- Documentum was never going to win the enterprise portal race -- and more toward providing them as a service. The company claims to have done about 80% of the coding itself, leaving only a minimal amount of work for the portal companies to do.

The other vendors supporting this move are SAP Portals, Tibco, Citrix, Oracle, ATG, iPlanet, Bowstreet, BEA and CoreChange. Not all of those are portal vendors, but De Walt says this points to the future integration of the eContent services into other applications and application servers. Portlets are just the first type of eContent service.

Documentum has produced portlets for seven of the most common content management functions, some of which, such as what it calls 'My Favorites,' are composites of other functions. Other portlets include search, an in-box for notifications about workflow and 'My Documents.'

De Walt says Documentum had already wrapped its components in Java wrappers with the current 4.2 version. The 4.3 cut, which is the one that ships in October enables those Java-wrapped components to be called by J2EE containers, i.e. applications, which is crucial for its new portlet concept to succeed.

But obviously some portal vendors are not that Java-friendly, so Documentum is also part of Microsoft's .NET beta program, and by the end of the year -- with a 4.5 version -- it will have completed the work to wrap the components up as Windows application server pages, which will enable them to be called by applications running within a .NET framework. De Walt, like everybody else outside Microsoft, is not quite sure what that means at the moment, but he says the company will be ready, thanks to its close cooperation with Microsoft. Later on, it will include SOAP and UDDI in the wrapper to make them available as true Web services.

De Walt says none of the company's competitors, most notably Interwoven and IntraNet, can do anything like this, although the former would no doubt point to its PortalReady program, which contains a list of the same portal vendors.
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