First the Earth Cooled – Then I Met Documentum

You can tell you are getting old when you feel compelled to point out to the kids what used to be where the Wal-Mart is now. They really don’t care but the sense of history is comforting as everything around us changes. Pie sent me on a trip down memory lane when he posted the tale of how he got his start in ECM.  Seems like it was ages ago when I started – because it was.

I’ve written before that no one ever wakes up one morning and says – I think I’ll learn  content management today.  They get called into the bosses office and told about the new assignment. That’s right – we were all drafted. So it was with me. I was a happy self-trained VB programmer writing my SQL Server stored procedures and fighting with field services.

One morning in February, 1996 I was trying to prove that my app didn’t cause the blue screen of death for Lenny down in engineering. I was later proven to be right – it was a bad network cable but that’s another story.  Charlie Beckam called me into his office at Delta Technical Operations and said he wanted to put me on a new project to automate the process around Engineering Authorizations. We would be using things I had never heard of like Documentum and ArborText and …. engineering authorizations. Actually I did know what EA’s were but had no idea where they came from.  

The project was called EARTH  which stood for Engineering Authorization Recording Tracking & Handling. Arguably one of the world’s worst acronyms.  I learned we already had a contract management app in finance and an SOP publishing solution for Tech Ops in Documentum. This project however began what would become a long term initiative leading to all Delta’s airframe maintenance documentation being managed by Documentum. We didn’t know to call it ECM.

 I spent the next four or five months flying between Atlanta and Denver to work with a team at IBM in Boulder.  As these things go we ended up working with some ex-IBM’ers who started their own company. Delta was customer #2 for Creative Concepts Corporation – the remnants of which live on as a division on Jouve Data Management in InfoTrustGroup.

I could go on forever about the technology – Server 3.0, Adept 5.4, Omnimark, docbasic, Workspace – those were the days. The best part about that experience though was working with some extremely smart people.  That was where I worked with Mike Trafton who later founded BlueFish.  I still have his library of docbasic routines and his Christmas Mix  CD from 1996 around here somewhere. A host of other mentors like Bill Wheat, Glenn Pearson, Bob Aidun and Adwyn Lim guided me along the way in those early days.  I won’t pretend that the project was flawless but the experience was priceless.  While it bears little resemblance to where we started the docbase is still in production 13 years later.

When you take off in Atlanta – look at the big hangar on the left side of the FLY DELTA JETS sign. That’s TOC3. I don’t know what’s up there now on the 3rd floor but I hear they are thinking about putting in a Wal-Mart. Time marches on.

4 thoughts on “First the Earth Cooled – Then I Met Documentum

  1. I agree about falling into an ECM career by accident. I’d like to know how the idea came to the founders and creators. That’d be interesting.

    I met you on the EARTH project. I was just beginning to learn Documentum. I came from working with Bill Wheat on Delta’s Tech Ops Publishing System – it was in full production by the time I joined his team. Before that it was managing the I.T. deployment team for Electronic Tech Manuals. Jouve Data Management converted paper and microfiche to digitized aircraft manuals on CD. We saw some major changes in technology and business process. The kids may not appreciate the history, but we were having fun… sort of, definitely learning a lot, and perhaps making things better.

    I think ECM has attained a Wal-Mart kind of feel: Costs driven down and many of the products simplified to where even the most humble enterprise can implement it.

    By the way, I asked one of my Delta friends and he said that the third floor TOC3, where we were located, is used mostly for storage. I think that is kind of fitting.

  2. Thanks for sharing Lee. That is close to ho I got assigned. I started on my project as the database guy. I was also the new guy so I got picked for the DOCS Open training. It was as simple as that.


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