Avoiding the content silo trap

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In last week's Editor's Corner, I looked at the reasons I believed we were moving away from the umbrella term 'enterprise content management' and returning to the idea of different types of content management for different jobs. To that end, I defined three main categories: Document management, web content management and business content management. While, I think it's essential to define the different types of content management clearly for customers, and to avoid ambiguity and confusion, the last thing I want you to do is to take those categories and see them as hard and fast. The categories give us some structure to better understand the different types, but content is rarely fixed in one place. It actually flows across these categories depending on the circumstances.

For instance, you may want to make a PowerPoint sales presentation available for others to use a template for similar customers. It could also be web content you want to display on the company website (either publicly or just for partners and internal audiences). Similarly, a contract becomes a record once it is executed, but should also be a business document for others who are writing similar contracts. In an ideal world, content gets reused and re-categorized many times.

Why we created an umbrella term

The idea of 'enterprise content management' developed because we wanted to define a term that illustrated that content didn't and shouldn't stay in one place. It needed to move across the enterprise. By defining a single term to encompass all content management, we solved one problem, but we created another. The trouble was that there were too many types of content management under that term and it might have confused people.

Theory versus reality

No doubt content management vendors were happy to take that umbrella term and run with it, hoping to be a one-stop shop for customers looking for a range of content management solutions, but customers rarely if ever work that way. Content management solutions more often than not, get installed over time in different parts of any large organization using different vendors for a variety of purposes. The system broke down because customers installed point solutions, regardless of the terms that were getting bandied about.

Content silos and CMIS

As companies developed a fragmented content management strategy, there were unintended consequences. The content got locked inside each vendor's solutions and came to a hard stop. When an organization wanted to share that content, it needed to develop expensive customized solutions to move content from one vendor's silo to another. Vendors heard this complaint loud and clear and began looking for ways to move content across different vendor repositories. Enter CMIS, which should become an OASIS standard later this year, and should help alleviate this problem, at least to some degree.

There is little doubt that we need to simplify how we describe content management solutions, while avoiding the content silo trap. Companies need to share content to help employees reuse instead of reinventing the wheel, and to help them find information and knowledge locked inside different vendor solutions across an enterprise. While we may look for ways to simplify the lingo, we must always leave the content free to flow wherever workers need it. That should always be the ultimate goal of any content management solution, regardless of the terms we use to describe it. - Ron