A Huge Toolset for Content Management and More

Documentum: A Huge Toolset for Content Management and More
An Evaluation of the Documentum ECM System:
A Huge Toolset for Content Management and More
Don Turnbull’s
Knowledge Management Systems
(INF 385Q)
Spring, 2005
Documentum is a brand name, more than a specific piece of software. The company
Documentum, Inc.1 was recently acquired by EMC Corporation2. The larger company
now hopes to become “the ultimate information lifecycle management company” and
bills itself as “the world leader in products, services, and solutions for information
storage and content management.3” Let us recognize at this point that these sound like
huge and nearly impossible goals, but we want to believe that they can be achieved.
Certainly, the company intends to serve those who would call themselves information
It is impossible within this paper, and perhaps within my lifetime, to explain the range of
products that EMC and Documentum offer, much less how they are supposed to work
together. I doubt that there is any organization in existence that is using the full suite of
EMC/Documentum products. This paper will analyze Documentum’s most fundamental
and “flagship” product offering: a content management system.
Note: Due to the fact that the Documentum product line is geared to large corporations, I was unable to
actually try out any of the software. The information in this paper is gathered from the company’s website,
marketing and training materials, and independent reviews or publications found on the Internet (listed in
References section). Any information without a cited source is based on my personal experience with IT
management in a variety of contexts for the past 10 years.
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The Basics: A Content Management System
The basic toolset that Documentum, Inc. offers—and the one that most people recognize
and understand—is a content management system. Essentially, a content management
system (CMS) is a sophisticated way to manage electronic files of many sorts, for many
users, in many places, with complex and detailed controls on who has what kind of
access to which files. The four fundamental components of a CMS are content, a content
repository, a user interface, and a database management system. Content is any kind of
file that someone can create on a computer, typically things like MS Office documents,
PDF files, and image files, but extending to sophisticated interrelated sets of files such as
parts of a website or XML filesets (more on this later). A content repository is basically a
file server, or servers, where all of these files are stored. A user interface is a windowlike environment through which a user can get to and do things with the files. A database
management system (DBMS) is a sophisticated “hidden” system that keeps track of large
sets of related information—in this case, it keeps track of the location of all the content
(files) and allows the users (through the user interface) to “find” and “see” specific files.
Terminology Note
Content management (CM) is a more recent term that encompasses activities and systems
that are—or used to be—more narrowly focused, including: document management
(DM), web content management (WCM), digital asset management (DAM), and records
management (RM). The differences and merging among these systems will be touched
upon later in this paper. At this point, note that the core Documentum CM package grew
out of—and might still be considered—a document management (DM) system4, but
Documentum, Inc. refers to their product suite as a content management system, so I will
do so as well.
The Documentum Content Management System
The Documentum CMS stores files in a content repository called a “Docbase.” The user
interface to the Docbase is either a desktop client application or a special passwordprotected website called a “webtop.” Either interface mimics a typical computer’s filemanager interface, with files appearing in cascading folders and “cabinets”, etc. An
important difference is that the particular file/folder organization (structure) seen by the
user does not necessarily reflect the actual arrangement of files on the server, but is rather
a highly-managed view of specific files, organized in a specific structure that can be
dynamic (customized) for each user. Thus, each user can only see and do things within a
structure that is ostensibly appropriate for that user, and other users may see a different
structure and a different subset of the same files, and may have different permissions
(rights) to do things to the files or folders (such as read, edit, create, delete, etc).
Meanwhile, the actual files themselves are stored in one place, so everyone who needs
access to a given file is definitely working with the latest and “live” version of that file.
This is a critical and basic function of a CMS, but it’s only the beginning…
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Actually, it’s the Documentum ECMS
In fact, Documentum prefers to call their CMS an enterprise content management system
(ECM system or ECMS). The enterprise part signifies that the system does much more
than the basic functionality described above, and is sophisticated enough to be used by a
large company for “mission-critical” work (see Figure 1 for example). An “enterprise”
label implies that the system should be:
 Reliable (should not have a lot of bugs; the system should never “go down”
because of a little glitch in one file or a simple mistake by an everyday user)
 Secure (access to everything is highly manageable and not easily “hacked”)
 Granular (many details can be controlled for specific situations, but “rules” can
also be applied to many users and many situations)
 Scalable (new users, large amounts of files, and new servers can be added as
needed and without too much trouble)
 Interoperable (can “talk to” and “work with” other popular software systems, such
as Microsoft Office, Photoshop, Lotus Notes, SAP, or Dreamweaver)
 Extensible (upgrades will not be a nightmare, new features can be added in the
future, and other software systems can be developed to work with this system)
 Usable (intuitive interfaces, well-documented, training and support is available)
I cannot fully evaluate whether Documentum’s system lives up to all these expectations,
but this paper will touch on some of these considerations.
Figure 1 Examples of “enterprise” content, to be managed by the Documentum ECMS.
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A Typical User Case: SampleCo, Inc.
In order to provide less abstract explanations, let’s imagine a simple company (named
SampleCo) with a CEO (named Ms. C), a manager (named Mr. M), and two workers
(named Joe W. and Jane W.). We will assume these folks have some work to do and
some content to work with. SampleCo’s basic reasons for needing a CMS include:
 Workers and managers have to pass files back and forth several times before the
files are “final.” Then the CEO has to approve them. Then the files may go
somewhere else outside the company, or may need to be stored as records.
 Workers sometimes work on different computers or work from home.
 In recent history, they have had trouble with losing files, overwriting each others’
work, failing to have back-up copies, and not having a standard organization of
files on their server.
 SampleCo wishes to keep its content secure from competitors and prevent illegal
copying of their content. It also needs to track and manage the use and re-use of
various pieces of content, such as images, for which copyright or ownership may
belong to other entities.
This paper will show how the Documentum ECMS helps address these needs.
The Documentum ECMS: Content Management Functions
Controlling and Organizing File Access
An early problem that any organization encounters when it starts storing electronic files
on a centralized file server is that of access (as in: who has access to which files). If an
organization does nothing to control access, it implicitly allows all users of the system to
do whatever the users wish with any of the files, including editing, moving, and deleting
files. Clearly, this becomes a problem if the users do not have a common understanding
and level of skill regarding the manipulation of the files. A simple and common level of
management of this issue is to control file access through directories (folders) on the
server, where each user is limited in access to specific directories, such as a “personal”
folder and a “workgroup” folder.
When controlled directory access is implemented on a traditional file server, the
issue then arises as to how to organize these directories such that everyone has access to
appropriate files. Often, the sensible directory structure seems to be one that mimics the
organization’s management structure. But even if a very sensible directory structure is
implemented, there is inevitably a need for files to be used or transferred in some way
that “crosses” an organizational grouping. A common response in these cases is for
individuals to send files to each other using email or “drop boxes” (folders on the
network with unrestricted access).
When individuals “work around” the typical server-based file-access system in
this way, network traffic is increased, multiple copies of the same file are stored, and
email systems are burdened with large file attachments. Even people who share access to
the same folder on the server may prefer to email attachments, because they are
accustomed to the email interface and also tend to keep “active” files on their personal
computer’s “desktop.” There are a variety of other ways that users may inadvertently or
deliberately circumvent the intentions of a basic file-server system.
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Separating File Storage Organization from File Access Organization
Documentum offers a robust solution to most of these issues. In the first place, the
Documentum ECMS separates the users’ ability to access files from actual organization
of files on the server. The Documentum content repository (Docbase) uses a relational
database management system (RDBMS) to keep track of files and manage access to files.
The RDBMS works alongside of the actual file-storage server (technically, there are a
few more layers of software functioning between the user and the actual files).
Immediately, this separation allows “rules” for file access to be made to match the work
that needs to be done, regardless of organizational structure. Also, it allows for different
“views” of the files to be made by or for each user.
Users view the files through the Documentum desktop client software, or through
a browser via the Documentum “webtop” interface (Figure 2). When a user connects to a
Docbase through the client interface, they see a familiar cabinet/folder/file organizational
structure, but each file may have different rules for each user, regardless of the file’s
apparent place in the folder organization. In other words, files may be organized logically
for the user (for example, according to task or project) without arbitrarily limiting (or
failing to limit) what the user can do with any particular file.
Example: SampleCo’s File Access Management
In our example of SampleCo, suppose several users in the company need to use a
document for a project. Mr. M creates the document in Microsoft Word and adds it to the
Docbase. For this project, he wants Jane W. to be able to edit the file, and he wants Joe
W. to be able to read the file, but not edit it. Even though Jane and Joe are “equal” in the
organization hierarchy, they are not equal participants in this project. On another,
concurrent project, their roles may be reversed.
The Documentum system allows Mr. M to control each user’s file access for each
project without having to create a new folder organization on the server. Instead. Mr. M
creates a “cabinet” for each project, to which he can “add” all files for the project
(although he is really just placing a link, or reference, to the file); then, for each file and
for each person involved in the project, he can allow or disallow actions such as “read” or
“edit,” without moving or copying the files. This is a very basic example.
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Figure 2 The Documentum desktop and “Webtop” client software interfaces to the
Documentum “Docbase” (content repository).
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A Deep Hierarchy of Rules for Access
The Documentum ECMS provides a more-detailed hierarchy of rules for file access than
most file-server systems do. The Documentum system has six file-access permission
levels (rules for what a given user may do with a given file), with the following
 None (the user may do nothing to the file, not even see that it exists)
 Browse (the user may only see that the file exists and see the properties of the
file—more on this later)
 Read (the user may open and read the file, but not change it)
 Relate (the user may read the file and “annotate” it with comments—more on
this later)
 Version (the user may only edit or save a new version of the file)
 Write (the user may edit and save the file, overwriting the previous version)
 Delete (the user may completely delete the file from the system)
I will elaborate upon the ramifications of these permissions shortly, but I should first
explain another important function of the Documentum system—check-in and check-out.
File Check-in and Check-out
Within the Documentum ECMS, any time a user wants to edit a file, they must “check
out” the file through the client interface. The system then “locks” the file so that other
users cannot try to edit it at the same time. When the user is done editing the file, the user
is prompted to “check in” the file. Clearly, this is a critical function of a CMS in that it
helps prevent users from trying to work on a file at the same time or proliferating
multiple copies and versions of a file. The system also keeps a record of all checkin/check-out actions, so that a future user can find out who last edited a file, among other
things. In fact, the system is capable of keeping track of most of the actions that can be
performed with files, from reading to deleting. This is where the system begins to be
More Details: More-Powerful Content Management
It is too much to explain the full range of powerful and detailed controls that are possible
within the Documentum ECMS, but a few are highlighted below.
An increasing number of software packages (such as Microsoft Office) include some kind
of “properties” embedded in the file-saving functions. Examples of such file properties
include: author, date created, date last saved, and keywords. The more general term for
such file properties is metadata, commonly defined as “information about the information
contained within.” A file’s metadata are stored with or associated with the file.
In the Documentum system, file metadata can be browsed—just as files are
browsed—by any user who has at least a “browse” permission level on the file. The
metadata can be very detailed, including elements such as long titles, categories,
keywords (for searching or indexing), multiple author names, or the dimensions of an
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image file. Custom metadata elements can be added. But more importantly, metadata can
be searched.
As anyone who uses the Internet knows, the ability to search effectively within a content
repository adds significant value to the content. The Documentum system offers two
levels of search utility: searching properties (metadata) and searching the full text content
of files. A user may only search among the properties of files to which the user has at
least the “browse” access level, and may search among the full text of files to which the
user has at least the “read” access level. The search utility is powered by the Verity®
search technology7 and allows complex search queries.
Granular Permissions
In the Documentum ECMS, much of the control relies in the permission level granted to
users. Without sensible planning and management of user permissions, however, the
system would become as dysfunctional as a traditional file server. Documentum helps
manage permissions through "permissions sets” and user “groups.” User groups can be
created that would logically need access to similar files, and a given user can be added to
and removed from a particular user group as needed (for example, when an employee is
assigned to a new project). Permission sets can be created for each file, folder, or cabinet
in a Docbase, defining which user groups should have which levels of access to each
item. A permission set typically includes a permission level for a “world” group (anyone
who has any kind of access to the Docbase.” Permissions are set and changed by the
“owner” of a file, who is typically the file’s creator, but could be a person to whom the
ownership has been assigned. Like permission levels, permissions sets have a hierarchical
structure. If a given user belongs to several groups that have differing permissions for a
given file, the user is granted the highest permission level among those groups.
Versions and Renditions
When files have to be passed among many users and adapted, reviewed, edited, or
updated many times, companies often wish to keep copies of the files at various stages in
the process. The reasons companies do this vary (sometimes it’s just a habit), but most
often it is in the interest of accountability (for quality or legal assurances). The
Documentum ECMS can be used to save, track, and archive versions of files in various
ways. For example, the “version” permission level allows a user to create a new version
of a file but not overwrite the existing file.
Whenever a new version of a file is created and saved to the system, the system
can automatically prompt users to sequentially number the newer file versions. Older
versions can remain on the system and can be browsed or searched among. However, the
system keeps track of the “family tree” of files as new versions are created, and enables
users to see the relationships among the versions of a file, so that the user can
(presumably) be sure that they are accessing the “right” version.
In reality, it seems the proliferation of versions could become just as confusing
and cumbersome as on any traditional file-server system, except that in the Documentum
ECMS, the existence and lineage of versions is more obvious. An organization would be
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wise to cultivate among its users he habit of limiting the proliferation of file versions
without clear forethought and justification.
The Documentum ECMS also facilitates the creation of “renditions” of files. A
“rendition” seems to mean a PDF (Adobe portable document format) version of a
proprietary-format file, such as a Microsoft Word document or Adobe Photoshop image.
Then, someone else can view the PDF rendition (using the free Adobe acrobat Reader)
without having to own or run a specialized or expensive software application such as
Photoshop. There are other aspects of using the PDF format related to annotation and
integration, as discussed below.
External Users
Presumably, one possible use of the Webtop interface is for a person to be able to access
a Docbase from outside of a company’s network. Although I was unable to determine
how this would work and how it might be included in the licensing cost of the
Documentum ECMS, it is suggested in several aspects of their sales and training
materials. For example, SampleCo might want to a contractor to be able to read and
perhaps comment upon a file. Presumably, the contractor could be established as a user
with “read” or “annotate” permissions to the file, and could access the file via the
Internet, through the Documentum “Webtop” interface. The advantages to SampleCo is
that the Documentum system controls what the contractor can do with the file and also
keeps a record of when and how the contractor accessed the file. Accountability is again
enhanced by this kind of functionality.
A company (such as SampleCo) or document owner (such as Mr. M) may wish to have a
“reviewer” read a document and be able to give feedback without allowing the reviewer
to directly edit the document. The reviewer may be internal or external to the
organization, and the act of reviewing the document may have an aspect of accountability
(again, often for contractual or regulatory reasons). Although Microsoft Office and other
software packages include a “track changes” feature, the feature is bug-ridden and not
robust enough for accountability purposes or high-volume work.
The Documentum ECMS facilitates such a review process by integrating with the
increasingly powerful tools included in Adobe’s Acrobat and Reader software systems. In
our example, the reviewer could be granted the “annotate” level of access to a document
in a Docbase. (Presumably, the document must be in PDF format, perhaps created as a
“rendition,” as described above.) Then, the reviewer would read the document with
Adobe Reader (formerly named Adobe Acrobat Reader). Recent versions of Adobe
Reader can allow users to add “comments” (also called “annotations”), which mimic
“sticky notes” on a computer screen. The comments become a separate part of the PDF
file that can be displayed and manipulated independently of the original file. There seems
to be a way that comments can actually be stored independently of the file (since it would
seem like a waste of server space to save many copes of the same PDF file just to
preserve the comments).
All of the annotation capabilities above seem to require an additional product
(either PDF Annotation Services or Adobe Comment Connector) to be integrated within
the Documentum ECMS. I was unable to determine whether or not these products are
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usually included in the Documentum ECMS package, and I was unable to find detailed
explanations of how the “integration” works.
Too Many Details
My difficulty in determining how the Adobe integration works is just one specific
example of the difficulties of evaluating large software systems with many modular
components. Such systems almost have to be marketed with grandiose, vague promises in
order to get the attention of those who are not yet aware that they need the systems. For a
potential buyer to fully investigating such products requires a significant investment of
time and resources by both the supplier and the buyer.
The Holy Grail: The Document Lifecycle and Ultimate Integration
In 2002, an article in the International Journal of Information Management reviewed
about 50 different “collaborative systems” and categorized them according to
functionalities. Documentum was classified as a “group file and document handling”
tool, and described as follows:
At the heart of Documentum 4i is the eContent Server [names of the main
Documentum suite and component at the time], which implements the Documentum
content repository as well as workflow, process automation services and lifecycle
automation services for controlling and managing content and processes throughout
and between distributed enterprises. eContent enables the managing and control of
the end-to-end lifecycle of content, from its creation and capture, to routing for
approval publishing in the preferred format.8
The ideas of workflow and lifecycle automation services go beyond simple document
handling and merit further explanation.
At a very simple level, the Documentum system helps with the routing of files among
users by having “in-boxes” within each user’s desktop or webtop client interface. An
inbox can receive a link to a file within the Docbase, along with “tasks” or instructions to
the recipient as to what action is needed on the file. At another level, the system
facilitates routing of files and tasks through “workflows.”
A “workflow” in the Documentum system is a defined series of “states” or stages
that a file is supposed to go through during the file’s “lifetime.” A workflow includes
specifications for which users (or groups) are supposed to do which actions with a file,
and in what order. A workflow is created through a special interface (Figure 3) that
mimics a flowchart. It is not clear whether the “workflow manager” is an add-on
component or a standard component of the basic Document ECMS.
The “automation” aspect of a workflow is that the Documentum system manages
most of the routing and tracking of the file, once the workflow is established. For
example, suppose that a workflow is established for a document; the document is
supposed to be edited by Joe W., reviewed by Jane W., and then sent to Ms. M for final
approval. After Joe edits the document and checks it back into the Docbase, the
Documentum system would send a task notification and link to the file to Jane’s
Documentum inbox. After Jane reviews it and Ms. M receives it, if Ms. M did not
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approve of it, it could be automatically routed back to Joe to try again. Again, this is a
simple example. Very detailed rules for workflows can be established, including default
behaviors if action is not taken within a certain time period. Also note that during this
entire process, the actual file or files remain stored or tracked in the Docbase, and only
links to and notifications about the file are routed through the workflow.
Figure 3 The Documentum “workflow manager” interface.
Ultimately, EMC/Documentum claims that their full suite of products can facilitate the
management of a document’s “lifecycle,” meaning it’s full term of existence, from
creation, through manipulation, and on to its final resting place, be it in a digital archive
or a digital afterlife. Presumably, full lifecycle management requires many components
of the ECM/Documentum product suite beyond the basic “Docbase” ECMS. It is too
much to explain this large and complex model, but some graphic representations of the
process are provided in Documentum, Inc.’s marketing materials, as shown below
(Figure 4 and Figure 5).
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Figure 4 A model of workflow, permissions, versioning, and other Documentum ECM functions
working together during a document’s “lifecycle”.
Figure 5 The Documentum model of “full lifecycle management” (requires many integrated software
components of the EMC/Documentum product suite).
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Integration, Integration, Integration
As already mentioned, the Documentum ECMS can co-operate with other software
packages in several ways, although it is hard to determine the details. At the simplest
level, a Documentum “plug-in” exists for popular desktop software such as Microsoft
Office. The plug-in modifies the “File” menu on the desktop software (Figure 6) so that
ECMS-interfacing functions (such as “Open from Docbase” or “Check in to Docbase”)
are displayed.
Figure 6 The Documentum-integrated (customized) file menu for Microsoft Word.
At a more valuable level, the ECMS integrates with email systems (Lotus Notes
or Microsoft Outlook) in a number of very useful ways. First, the ECMS lets all users
with access to the same Docbase to send “virtual attachments.” (Users send each other
links to files in the Docbase instead of sending actual files—and may not even notice the
difference!) Furthermore, notifications can be automatically sent through email when
documents change status in a workflow (so that a user may act upon the change), and
other aspects of a Documentum workflow can be integrated into Outlook’s or Notes’
personal-information-management (PIM) functions, such as a task list.
At higher levels, Documentum claims that their ECMS integrates with a long list
of systems, ranging from enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to web application
servers. I was unable, again, to determine how well Documentum lives up to these
grander claims. However, in just the past few years, Documentum has increased the
number of other applications that it claims to “integrate with.”
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The Merging of ‘M’s: DM, WCM, DAM, RM, etc.
In 2002, an industry whitepaper by the Giga Information Group predicted:
A new approach for managing unstructured content will materialize during
the next six months, as the discrete document management (DM), Web
content management (WCM) and digital asset management (DAM) markets
continue to merge into the more comprehensive enterprise content
management (ECM) market. Other capabilities that will provide
differentiation in the emerging ECM market will be records management
(RM), print-stream processing and the ability to integrate content into
applications… 13
This prediction was realized, for example, in the acquisition of Documentum (which
specialized in DM) by ECM (which specialized in storage) and the acquisition of several
other companies by Interwoven (which specialized in DM and is now a major a
competitor to Documentum).
The Giga report went on to say that “Documentum, Stellent and IBM have taken
an early leadership position in ECM,” and that:
Initially, ECM vendors will offer a range of unintegrated products for
managing different types of unstructured content, but during the next 18 to
24 months they will more closely integrate and/or consolidate different
repositories while offering a range of content services. Organizations
currently planning and implementing discrete WCM, DM and DAM systems
must recognize the significance of ECM, and begin immediately to
incorporate ECM architectures into future plans. 14
Clearly, EMC/Documentum expects to be part of those plans. And now, we see
EMC/Documentum envisioning itself at the center of “solutions across the value chain”
(Figure 7). Again, there is far more to this picture than I can explain here, but it is clear
that EMC/Documentum is thinking big.
Digital Info-Utopianism
The emerging vision is that ultimately, every “enterprise” will want—and be able to
buy—a comprehensive, unified system to manage as much information as possible, from
wherever the information comes, to wherever it needs to go. The final graphic below
(Figure 8, from the Giga Information Group report) illustrates such an encompassing and
complex representation of an ideal ECM system. The day this system is realized for all
organizations is the day we may begin to call ourselves the Borg. Good luck to us all.
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Figure 7 The Holy Grail?
Figure 8 The Giga Group’s Complex Model of Full ECM
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Documentum, Inc. (2005). (website home page). Retrieved Feb. 24, 2005 from
Documentum, Inc. (2003). EMC Corporation Acquires Documentum, Inc. Retrieved Feb. 25, 2005 from
Documentum, Inc. website, “About us” http://www.documentum.com/about_us/contentmanagement_company.html.
Frye, Colleen (1994). Two for document management road: Interleaf Inc and Documentum offer high-end
packages. Software Magazine. May 1994 v14 n5 p32(2)
Documentum, Inc. (2004). Information Lifecycle Management With Documentum and EMC.
(PDF file of PPT presentation) Retrieved Feb 26, 2005 from
Documentum, Inc. (2004) Fundamentals of Enterprise Document Management.
(PDF file of PPT presentation) Retrieved Feb 26, 2005 from
Bafoutsou, Georgia and Gregoris Metzas, “Review and functional classification of collaborative systems,”
International Journal of Information Management, Vol. 22, pp 281-305, 2002.
9 Documentum, Inc. (2004) Fundamentals of Enterprise Document Management.
Documentum, Inc. (2004) Fundamentals of Enterprise Document Management.
Documentum, Inc. (2004) Fundamentals of Enterprise Document Management.
Documentum, Inc. (2004) Fundamentals of Enterprise Document Management.
Moore, Connie and Robert Markham, Giga Information Group, Inc. (2002). Enterprise Content
Management: A Comprehensive Approach for Managing Unstructured Content. Retrieved Feb. 22, 2005
form http://www.litcosys.ca/pdf_files/CM_Report_GigaGroup.pdf.
Moore (2002).
Documentum, Inc. (2004) Fundamentals of Enterprise Document Management.
Moore (2002).
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