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A new sales recipe for the enterprise:
Governance, semantics and a dash of open source sauce

This article appears in the issue November/December 2011, [Vol 20, Issue 10]
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In a meeting with some entrepreneurs, I jotted down a statement one of them made: "The large enterprise software companies are making up problems as they go along. Even worse, these companies are ungovernable. Their internal information is unmanageable."

I thought about that observation on the taxi ride back to my hotel. At first I thought it was just grousing by a business executive. After some additional thought, I decided that in certain technology initiatives, the comment was quite accurate.

Enterprise software vendors are describing broad, somewhat disconcerting problems related to information. A legal matter evokes concern that a company and possibly one or more executives will be found guilty of some action. E-discovery solutions, enriched metatagging and secure digital archives offer a possible solution. Masses of digital content flowing through the organization's internal network can be channeled like the Danube and managed so that information floods will not ruin a product launch or a business deal.

Pesky to manage

The phrase "open source" is used to spotlight software that is transparent. When the open source sauce surrounds the marketing pitch, customers are meant to overlook that the cook is Cisco Systems, IBM or Oracle. Cisco uses some open source search technology, as does IBM. Oracle and open source seem to be a matter requiring clarification by legal processes.

The first half of 2011 makes a strong claim that corporations are in need of governance. Google dutifully reported no fewer than 125 million Web pages about the term. What I find interesting is that the term "governance" embraces enterprise information, a connotation that is only loosely related to "decisions that define expectations, grant power or verify performance," which is part of Wikipedia's lengthy entry on governance found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/governance.

Digital information is now perceived as essential but difficult to manage. Existing enterprise systems do not manage digital information as well as they expose the spinning gears and moving conveyor lines that were once hidden. Content management, text analytics and other "value-adding" information processes reveal the management flaws in essential processes.

Digital content in an enterprise is no leftover. Information is the force that through the staff drives the organization. Findability and on-point business information often spell the difference between a good decision and a bad one, a signed contract and a lost opportunity and, in some cases, profit and loss.

Defining governance

Governance when applied to digital information means management of it. Specifically the key checkpoints are ensuring that content is produced for a website or other "output" when it is needed. The information is vetted, usually through a process of having approvals prior to the publication of the information. Subordinate functions embrace versions of the document, transformation functions so a Web article can be "repurposed" for a PowerPoint presentation and, of course, finding a particular document.

In short, governance means putting in place software, systems and procedures to prevent the digital system from losing control of information. The popularity of Facebook, the immense reach of a Twitter "tweet" and the marketing opportunities presented by social media make governance increasingly important.

In September 2011, I learned about TEMIS and its tie-up with Alfresco. (The integration enabled the deployment of TEMIS' flagship content enrichment platform Luxid to Alfresco's open source content management solutions.) TEMIS is one of the many European companies pushing into semantic content enrichment. When I first learned about TEMIS in 2000, the system seemed promising and of particular usefulness to those wanting to extract insights from medical and pharmaceutical-related content. Now 11 years later, TEMIS has expanded its core content enrichment solution that automatically associates value-added metadata to content. The technologies include semantics, sophisticated numerical recipes and some vertical solutions.

An "open platform" for social content management with nearly 2,000 customers in 55 countries, Alfresco asserts that it is the world's most trusted open platform for highly scalable, enterprise-class content management. The company has "open" goodness plus a lineup of more than 250 partners.

Both TEMIS and Alfresco offer high-value solutions. Both have an impressive lineup of customers. Both have a partner network. Both embrace the notion "open source" for technical and marketing reasons. But the interesting facet of the relationship is that a solution to some thorny information management challenges will be available to prospects and customers.

According to a news release on Sept. 8, 2011, (prnewswire.com/news-releases/temis-and-alfresco-unveil-joint-integration-129445908.html): "The benefits of this Luxid and Alfresco integration can be felt enterprisewide, and most notably by making user access to relevant content both faster and more effective, bringing productivity and insight to all decision-making and innovation processes, alleviating the need for time-consuming manual metadata contribution, helping content management and information management teams optimize their content management, archival and distribution decisions and deal with the growing mass of available content."

That language evokes assertions made by other companies engaged in adding value to content processed by a system.

The broader issue

Facile assertions about natural language processing, semantic methods and next-generation analytics deliver highly magnetic marketing messages. Many organizations assert smart software that delivers automated indexing and one-click access to business information about a client or supplier.

The key is not so much technology as "management." Effective management is elusive and difficult to do. Information management is proving to be particularly problematic. E-mail can ruin careers. An unfindable document can cost a company a major sale. Instead of solving an "information problem," vendors have created some baffling phrases, such as knowledge management, information management, data management and content management, among others.

Content management

Let me highlight content management-often abbreviated as CMS-because it is at the core of the ubiquitous Microsoft SharePoint system and the business focus of hundreds of developers, solution providers and consultants. My working definition of content management is non-technical. I think of CMS as systems and methods that are sold as solutions to get the content ponies into the stable.

The track record for CMS vendors has paralleled the trajectory of enterprise search: That is, search is now commoditized. Content management is in the same pickle. A number of CMS vendors have been purchased by companies looking for new customers and sources of revenue. The logic of the deals perches on an assumption that buying customers of one software system will set the stage for selling that company an unrelated product.

As the high-profile CMS vendors have been absorbed into other companies, CMS has spawned a number of open source solutions. Among those open source vendors are Drupal, Joomla and a mind-boggling number of variants. Wikipedia offers a list of content management systems at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_content_management_systems. It provides a useful aerial view of a complicated range of product offerings. Alfresco is listed in the open source category. However, there are listings that may cross boundaries. In terms of sheer product numbers, CMS is as diverse and fractionalized as search and retrieval. Even Microsoft, owner of SharePoint and the Fast Search & Transfer technology, officially endorses WordPress, a quasi-open content management system that can support blogs and Web sites.

Three things to ask

Three questions come to mind:

First, with both proprietary solutions like the ubiquitous Microsoft SharePoint and the quite popular WordPress CMS, is there sufficient market appetite for the more than 50 different systems listed, recycled, repackaged and shaped by a menagerie of vendors? My view is that attrition is likely to accelerate.

Second, with the Web going on 20 years in age, why is content still such a problem to warrant the large number of vendors whose systems seem, at least on the surface, to perform similar tasks? My view is that CMS vendors are grasping at any reasonable straw to generate revenue, ignoring, for the most part, the cause of the content crisis in organizations.

Third, is the crisis in governance, which I define as editorial policy, caused by the introduction of a CMS? My view is that a content management system exposes problems that were previously invisible.

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