Oracle acquired Stellent's content management system in a US$ 440 million deal that closed in December of 2006. Since then Oracle has integrated the Stellent assets into the Oracle Fusion Middleware line of products. Here's a look at what is now known as Oracle Universal Content Management (UCM).

Can a Database Company Make it into the CMS Elite?

This overview presents you with a master-level insight on what Oracle UCM really is and what it can do for you, your organization and your career. You'll see insider information and the little known facts about the history, pricing, UCM core business focus and the key product features.

Product Description

Vendor Name: Oracle Corporation
Product Name: Oracle Universal Content Management (UCM)
Product Category: Enterprise CMS Stack - Web CMS, Document Management, Records Management, Business Process Automation and Imaging.

Typical Deployment Scenarios

These are the typical business cases Oracle UCM addresses:

  • An organization that has unstructured and decentralized document storage, like shared drives and email, possibly in multiple office locations, will achieve massive savings via the speed of information retrieval, will be able to find documents once thought lost, progress to audit trails and revision history and enrich their content with custom metadata.
  • Existing or new UCM clients can publish their content to the Web -- without the need to convert (and maintain) every single document as HTML.
  • Realization of full DoD 5015.2 -- compliant Records Management -- for a company that needs to control retention and disposition of their electronic or physical records.
  • Streamlining and automation of business processes.
  • Image acquisition, management and conversion.
  • Encrypting and securing sensitive content when it’s not in repository -- inside and outside the firewall.
  • Analyst firm The Real Story Group in their Web CMS Report says that Oracle UCM should be considered when document management functionalities are a top priority for your solution.

Company & Product History

Oracle UCM, like many of today's top CMS products, came to Oracle via an acquisition. In Nov 2006 Oracle bought Minnesota-based Stellent Inc. At the time of acquisition Stellent was a 10+ year old company.

Back then, the latest UCM version was at v.7.5. Shortly after the acquisition, a new release of the software came out, labeled as Oracle 10g R3. The next release -- expected in 2010 --  will be 11g.

Market & Pricing

Not all products deserve your attention when you're in the process of selecting a CMS. Here are a few high-level facts about Oracle UCM.

Oracle UCM Market

Oracle UCM is positioned in the enterprise content management space. That is to say is offers a range of content services spanning both structured and unstructured content types. Here's how an executive from Oracle has described the types of problems that it helps to address:

"The amount of electronic content, unstructured data, and documents is growing very rapidly and organizations are seeking advanced and automated content and process management solutions to manage this information to meet regulatory requirements," said Oracle Senior Vice President, Thomas Kurian. "Stellent's enterprise content management solutions enable a variety of people within an organization to create, capture, store, manage, publish, view, search and archive all types of documents across their entire life-cycle."

Oracle UCM 10gR3 is one of the complex enterprise products covered in The Real Story Group's Web CMS Report (download a free sample here). In that report the analysts describe UCM as being a very good fit for enterprise intranets and as being a relatively developer friendly product -- sporting strong documentation and ample sample code for reference. On the downside they point to a high learning curve and a fairly expensive price tag.

Oracle UCM Pricing

The pricing model is conventional and two-fold -- you can pay by named user or you can license by the server CPU.

Named user license ranges from US$ 1,200 to US$ 2,300. If you go with the CPU model, the list pricing is anywhere from US$ 57,500 to US$ 115,000 per CPU (Based on Oracle Technology Global Price List, Jan 14, 2010). The support and maintenance agreement is extra. A typical deal price is in the neighborhood of US$ 250,000.

Oracle UCM has over 5,000 customers worldwide -- including Procter & Gamble, Merrill Lynch, Los Angeles County, The Home Depot, British Red Cross, ING, Vodafone, Georgia Pacific, Bayer Corp. and Genzyme Corp.

Sales and professional services are delivered by the Oracle Sales team, Oracle Consulting and Oracle Partner network companies.

Product History & Original Business Problem

The origin of a product has a tremendous impact on the root architecture and thus the scenarios in which the product thrives. It's important to identify what the root/historical use cases are.

In the case of Stellent, the original business problem was document management. The company was founded in 1995 as IntraNet Solutions, and subsequently changed its name to Stellent, Inc. in 2001. This history of document- and intranet-centricity has long influenced the product, and to-date means that its strength is not on the web content management side.

The core of the Oracle UCM software is the Content Server. This is a compact and efficient content database. Yes, it can scale to millions of records, but at the same time, you can run Oracle Content Server on your grandma's laptop with 256 MB of RAM.

The actual content is stored in the file system and its metadata in a database of your choice. The storage is optimized for very fast retrieval. Content Server doesn't need to access the database when a content item is requested.

Since the beginning, Content Server offered strong metadata support. It's easy to define new fields, rules and relationships and reflect them on the user interface.

The last bit of the UCM foundation is its historic and continued services-oriented architecture. Every feature of Oracle UCM has a service call behind it. And importantly these APIs are easy to automate, integrate and customize.

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Oracle's Vision for Universal Content Management

Key Features & CMSWire Ratings

Product Core Technology

Stellent/UCM is built in Java and that makes it a cross-platform solution, and a more natural fit in the merging-as-we-speak Oracle and Sun organizations. The software is supported on a variety of platforms and can use a variety of databases. The most popular choices are:

  • Oracle Enterprise Linux/Apache and Oracle DB
  • Windows and SQL Server
  • Solaris and DB/2

Rating: 5 out of 5

Content Entities

The root concept of the content in the system is a content item. That can be a document, script or template or a web page. Every item has a number of metadata fields associated. There are some standard ones and you can extend the content item definition via any number of user-defined custom fields.

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Oracle UCM -- Configuration Manager

It’s a matter of several clicks to add a field, define relationships or define whether or not (and how) to show it on a check- in form. The check-in form itself may change based on a user-defined rule, such as a type of content you check in.

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Oracle UCM -- Check in Profiles

It's just as easy to define and update content types:

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Oracle UCM -- Managing Content Types

If needed, content can be reused in a flash. For instance, if you have a Word document that you'd like to post on a website, you don't need to have your web designer lay it out as HTML page and have two versions of the same content that you need to maintain and update separately.

Instead, just refer to your document from your website and see it become HTML right before your eyes. I've actually made some screenshots from the public site of one of the Ontario Ministries. Here's a word document:

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Oracle UCM -- Sample Word Document

And here's how Stellent Dynamic Converter makes it look on the web:

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Oracle UCM -- Word Document Displayed as a Web Page

Rating: 5 out of 5

Taxonomy Features

Does it support tags? It does if you put them in metadata fields. Remember, it's easy to add custom fields when you need them. Yes, you can use custom metadata fields to implement multiple tag vocabularies (e.g., one for blog posts, one for product directory). You can even display them as a tag cloud -- but there's a small caveat: you'll need to script the actual tag cloud page fragment.

That said, it's not as hard as it sounds. Stellent comes with a complete integrated development environment, a Basic-like scripting language (iDoc script) and a full featured IDE.

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Oracle UCM -- Site Studio Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

It doesn't come with an out of the box taxonomy support.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Content Versioning

There's no limit on the number of versions of any given document. And it's just a click to revert back to a previous version of a content item.

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Oracle UCM -- Content Versioning Interface

It's also easy to preview what the document used to look like, but there's not always an easy way to compare versions side by side.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Workflow

This is where Content Server really shines. You can easily create any number of workflows. Any of them can have an unlimited number of steps and is fully customizable. You can add custom event handlers and scripting. You can really do anything you want from within the workflow.

Here's how the Workflow Admin application looks:

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Oracle UCM -- Content and Document Workflow

Rating: 5 out of 5

Multi-lingual Support

Yes, Stellent supports multi-lingual content. Even though there are no localized versions of the administration interface itself, it's easy to customize as the administrative interface itself is nothing but a set of templates and corresponding service calls.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Editorial Features

Once in contribution mode, the user gets seamless access to Web CMS features. For instance, editable regions are marked with these type of icons:

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Oracle UCM -- Web Content Management (WCM)

You can either get a standard Content Info page and access to all of the Content Server features or simply click on the icon for Check Out And Open feature.

If a native document was placed behind this editable region, that document will open in its native application (i.e. MS Word will pop up). Otherwise, Oracle UCM's built-in content editor is used to update it:

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Oracle UCM -- Site Studio Contributor

You can also restrict certain content to only text, image or a WYSIWYG element. You can even build a query and have its result display in a list. It's easy to use and it's user-friendly.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Web 2.0 Tools/Integration

What about Web 2.0? We touched on it briefly when we discussed the tag support. Stellent does have blogs, wikis and RSS feeds, but those are not its strongest points.

Remember, Oracle UCM is a content management platform much more than it is a social media or online collaboration platform. The public facing and presentation features are not UCM's strengths. If you need a best-in-class online collaboration tool that (IMHO) leaves SharePoint in the dust -- use Oracle Web Center. It's also free with some of the UCM license options.

Oracle Web Center has full support for team workspaces, online calendaring, personal web sites, pluggable portlets and many more. And it can interact with content stored in Oracle UCM nearly out of the box.

Rating: 5 out of 5 (with Web Center), 2 out of 5 (without Web Center)

Customizability/Integration

Oracle UCM is built on a services-oriented architecture (SOA). The services are well documented and you don't have to be a developer to call them. For instance, a site administrator may call the services to create hierarchies, retention schedules or automate content migration.

Available APIs include a full range of SOAP Web Services, Java API, JSP, ASP, COM and .NET and iDoc Script, the built-in Basic-like scripting language -- all well documented. Content Server itself includes plenty of code samples -- in many programming languages -- from .NET to Java to C++.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Content Delivery Architecture

Here is another very important review point -- Content Delivery and Publishing Performance. I still remember the pain-rich experience of explaining to business users of a large financial institution why they had to wait for up to 6 hours for the content cache to get flushed and their updates finally show up on the website.

Oracle Content Server has both a fully dynamic and static HTML publishing model. And even if you chose the dynamic one, content delivery is almost static-html-fast. Remember, all content is stored in a file system and Content Server doesn't need to access the database (not even to check permissions).

Web content may need to be assembled from a template and a number of fragments, but the performance is still very good.

The static publishing model brings the delivery speed another notch up -- to an absolute maximum. It also eliminates security treats.

That said, the penalty is a slight delay in publishing (up to 10 min for very large sites), for the conversion of incremental changes to static HTML.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Templating & Theming

With Oracle UCM Web Content Management, every page has a template associated with it. You can use the same template for all of the pages on the site -- and this is exactly what most web sites do -- or you can define a variety of templates.

Any reusable blocks of content can be saved into the Fragment Gallery and used in any number of templates.

A template can have one or more regions where the actual page content resides. You can be very specific in defining what type of content users can place there -- like plain text, image, rich text, list of query results and others. You can even specify what controls in the WYSIWYG editor will be hidden.

You can also place a native document, such as MS Word, Excel or PDF and have Content Server Dynamic Converter deliver an HTML rendition for you. Or you can have the UCM convert your AutoCAD drawing or a Visio Diagram to PDF and deliver as a downloadable file.

Another popular feature is the ability to build pages right in the query string -- by specifying the template and the Content ID of the document that goes into its content area.

Templates themselves can be authored in JSP, ASP and built in iDoc script. iDoc templates are JSP-like HTML documents sprinkled with blocks of script.

Oracle also provides a fully-functional IDE for authoring web content (see Site Studio Designer screenshots above) and its light, web-based version for remote authoring and administration. Creating a web page in Site Studio is not any harder then doing so in FrontPage, Dream Weaver or any other leading HTML Editor. All you need is just a 10 minute introduction to its basic constructs -- the templates, fragments and document regions.

All of the above is very well documented and fully supported by Oracle. The only thing that Stellent Web Content Management doesn't offer is theming. But you can easily change the look and feel of your website by modifying the template(s) that it's built on.

All pages will instantly reflect the changes.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Similar Products

If all you need is to add revision history to your non-managed documents, sprinkle some online collaboration and web publishing, SharePoint would be an excellent alternative.

You can also check out other systems like Open Text, Documentum, Nuxeo and Alfresco. But when it comes to having a complete stack encompassing document management, web content management, records management, online collaboration and imaging -- it's hard to find another one stop shop, and another reputable and established vendor like Oracle.

[Editor's Note: For additional product ideas see our recent article SharePoint Portal Alternatives - A Credible List.]

In Summary

While slightly "behind times" on tags and taxonomy support (even though you can add your own with just a few days of scripting), Oracle UCM offers a killer set of features and serves a formidable spectrum of needs. Its document and web content management features are excellent and the Web Center -- its often freely included companion product -- delivers an audit-proof-complete list of the latest online collaboration features.

In my opinion Oracle UCM is a must-see for any organization looking to invest in a new enterprise content management platform. So don't stop here. Scan a few articles on Oracle UCM. Get a feel for it. Form your own opinion. Even if your current organization doesn't use it now -- it's a worthy platform and you'll be all the wiser for understand the offering.