Me and Content Management

Pie seems to prompt a number of my blog posts on here, actually good that someone can initiate activity and spur me on to provide comment! Anyway, his latest prod has been on how we got involved in Content Management.

I actually started my IT career developing a set of workflow components based on Oracle technology, both Forms and some server side procedures. One of the implementations of this ‘product’ was in a pharmaceutical company within the manufacturing division. We implemented an application for tracking incidents in the plant to ensure they were fully investigated and any corrective action taken. As part of this various parties in the process would produce reports in the Document Management system they used, Saros Document Manager. I was very loosely involved in tha area of the system as I concentrated on the process design and implementation, nevertheless it was a start. (N.B. for those that don’t know FileNET acquired Saros).

I then worked on an eCommerce project for an online music store, well before Amazon! Whilst not Document Management this taught me the need for some of the basic Web Content Management services such as staging, approvals and content expiry…in effect we were building this functionality into the eCommerce application.

Anyway a change in career left me joining a company who specialised in Document Management implementations, amongst other things. To integrate me into the company I was sent to Sweden for 6 months where I learned an awful lot under the tutelage of some very knowledgeable, and patient, experts. The product they used the most was Documentum, and welcome to the world of RightSite…oh how life has moved on.

Interestingly I was asked to look at a new concept, this was in 2000/2001, Microsoft had released a product named Tahoe and I was asked to look at a new offering for the company called ‘Webben som Arbeitsplan’, or Web as a Workplace. We even built some integration between Tahoe and Documentum which we achieved through Web Services and the, at the time, emerging SOAP standards. Funny that 8 years later I’m still speaking to customers about the best way to achieve that!

Future of ECM

The current trend in the ECM blogosphere is to discuss where we are heading, what is the future vision of Content Management. Pie has discussed a vision which he labels Omnipresent Content Management, and backs this up with an interesting example Use Case. Big Men on Content discuss the trends to what could be termed microcontent, we live in a world where communication is shorter yet more frequent; they also discuss the move to more digital content.

One thing which Pie’s post challenges is the very label of Enterprise Content Management. Whilst the need for organisations to manage the content within their Enterprise will not disappear the approach which has been suggested is that the boundaries between content within the Enterprise and that outside is much less obvious. Basically there’s a big bucket of content which uses metadata and access permissions to distinguish between content within the Enterprise and that outside. Such a move would remove the E from ECM, as Pie suggests.

However if we ponder this nirvana a little longer we can see some problems with the approach, mainly I do not envisage a world with a single content bucket. There will continue to be different content stores, backed by different software products, with slightly different features, and in different physical locations.

I particularly like Chuck Hollis’ recent post on the future ‘lack’ of a filesystem. Many CM products, users, and I expect practitioners, still think with a mindset of where does the content need to go? This is generally how we work when accessing content. I take time to stress to people that the folder within which the content is located is just another piece of metadata about the content but the overriding perception is that this is THE most important piece of information about the content, most users will believe that if they know where the content is then they will know how to find it (well that is kind of obvious!). But this simply does not make sense as we move to a world where the content is supporting the primary business processes of an organisation. I don’t need to know where an Invoice is if I know the PO Number of the Account Number, similarly I do not need to know where a Witness Statement is if I know the Crime Identifier.

Chuck points out that the content repositories which exist can readily handle this more object view of the world but it is people who demand a view which they are comfortable view, and as practitioners we implement it!

So where does this fit in with the future of ECM. Bringing the two points above together, I think there will continue to be multiple repositories both within and external to the enterprise and that the behaviour and storage of this content will become more and more driven by its metadata. Consider a scenario where a biotech organisation is working on a new drug development, they are in the early stages of the development and the content they produce is their asset. This is vitally important to them and will be managed to internally. However during the life of the drug development they agree to a deal with a larger pharmaceutical organisation. At this stage the content needs to be shared, and worked on together. Policies within the internal repository can facilitate the movement of content to another repository which can be shared with the other organisation easily. However to the end user there must be no confusion as to where the content is stored, it is simple content associated with the drug development process to which they have access to.

Of course the future of Content Management will see many more developments than the one above, more formats will emerge, the growth in microcontent will continue, legislation will change, etc….. However if the above can be implemented, and implemented right!, then this will improve organisations’ ability to work across boundaries.