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Oracle buys Stellent. Can we close the gap now?

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Comment In the film The Blues Brothers, Jake and Elwood go into a bar. “What kind of music do you play?” one of them asks. “We got both kinds,” says the lady behind the bar, “Country and Western.”

While this might be quite a limited perspective on music, information technologists have often been even more myopic. There are two kinds of information, apparently—structured and unstructured—and each requires very different handling. The structured world has its own terminologies and constructs, as does the unstructured world, and never have the twain met—or if they have, its been an uncomfortable liaison, like divorcees forced together at a family gathering. Its not just the technology vendors—DBAs care little for taxonomies, and content management types think “normalised database” is a contradiction in terms.

OK, I generalise—DBAs and others do actually look over the tops of their cubes from time to time—but the fact remains that there are two sides, from the IT perspective. Business people, those trying to actually use the information, would be right in wondering what all the fuss is about: each technology has evolved over the years, with little attention to the other, and the result is a divergent set of tools requiring complex interfaces or third party products to bridge betwen them.

Last week, Oracle announced it was buying Stellent. The fact it has taken until 2006 for this to happen (and the same can be said for IBM, with Filenet), is indication enough that even the largest companies have only just "got" that organisations need a single source of information, whatever its structure.

While this may not be Oracle's first foray into unstructured data management, it is the company's first recognition that a content management system may offer additional facilities other than what can be supported from within the RDBMS. The issue has been brought into stark relief with the rapidly growing importance of email: today a purchase order may exist as a Word attachment to an email, or it may be a set of fields filled on a database form, but this is a purely technological distinction. To the sales operative, there should not be a distinguishable difference.

That's not to say that there aren't strengths to be had from both sides. The structured world has brought lots of good things such as highly scalable transaction management and analytics, just as the unstructured world has brought us workflow and search capabilities. But the bottom line is, it's about time that the gap was closed and we started to consider information management in the round, rather than from the too-limited perspective of provenance.

Copyright © 2006 Macehiter Ward-Dutton

This article was originally published at IT-Analysis.com.

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