Here we go again. Last Thursday, serial shopperEMC (NYSE:EMC) once again opened its wallet. This time it was to get $275 million in cash to buy out Captiva (NASDAQ:CPTV), a small-cap player in the content management market.

Captiva's principal business, according to EMC, is bringing paper-based information into the digital world. Of course, you can do that with a scanner, too. But Captiva brings a level of intelligence to the process that allows critical information to be pulled out of documents and stored in digital filing systems without human intervention. In other words: It's cool technology, if you're geeky enough to be into that kind of stuff. Turns out I am. But even a tech geek like me is still not convinced this deal means squat. Allow me to explain.

Content management is interesting in that it takes data that doesn't fit easily into a database and structures it so that systems can find it and draw from it for business use. Contracts, documented processes, and the like are all good candidates for inclusion in a content management system. Thus, there's a case to be made that the technology is critical for managing data-driven projects like Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

Except that complying with SOX, as it's sometimes known, isn't exactly easy and can't be done without some degree of human intervention. The argument made in the release -- that this deal helps "unify" archiving and, thereby, simplifies compliance and the like -- is no doubt true, but only to an extent. And probably a pretty small extent at that.

I've no doubt that Captiva is likely to add value to the core business over time. But EMC has done so many successful deals recently that it's tempting to see every new acquisition as another potential blockbuster. This deal isn't one, and you shouldn't treat it as such.

More likely to me is that the deal was done to help smooth out a very bumpy revenue picture for the content management group. And to be fair, I'm not altogether sure it will do that either. It's never a sure bet that license revenue will come though in the content management space. Indeed, it's often dependent on such oddities as budgetary voodoo, whims of execs, and business investment cycles. The good thing is they're growing, but we'd still be hard-pressed to guess they'll get any more reliable. Have a look at the recent numbers:

Bus. unit

Q1 Lic. Rev*

YoY Grow.

Q2 Lic. Rev*

YoY Grow.

Q3 Lic. Rev*

YoY Grow.

Res. mgmt.














Cont. mgmt.







* Numbers in millions. Data provided by EMC.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers probably could use a content management system. Seriously, you should see his office. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.