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CM: reaching the next level

In spite of the ongoing efforts of vendors and user organizations, the management of non-structured data (content) continues to be a problem, with significant impact. Yet evidence indicates that content management (CM) is being deployed more widely within vanguard organizations, with major benefits. And among the lessons to be learned from their experiences, focusing on the quality of metadata and content standards continues to be a leading success factor.

While some vital business information will be held in structured data, much of it today is likely to be held in non-structured data. Delivery of services and products depends on it. Proof of events depends on it.

Organizations must therefore be able to access and use the information in content in order to gain competitive edge through faster and better quality time to market, and better decision making. They must be able to access it after the event to prove their conduct. Finally, they must be able to protect information in content from inappropriate use.

The only way to do that is to manage content with CM technologies, which handle all forms of unstructured or semi-structured data, including paper, electronic documents, e-mails, Web content, scanned images and media files.

CM has come a long way

Significant developments in the CM technology landscape over the last five years means that today's organizations can solve more of their CM problems, more easily and cost effectively than ever. The increased realization of the enterprise content management (ECM) platform concept means that organizations can consolidate on one CM vendor to take care of the majority of their CM requirements.

The availability of enterprise content integration (ECI) technologies means that the pain of moving content into a new CM system is reduced, and that the tactical gains of an integrated view and treatment of information across the repository can be harnessed. ECI enables CM technology from one vendor to access and manipulate content in legacy repositories from other vendors that exist in the organization.

In spite of the strength of CM drivers out there, the improved technology available and the improved price points for CM, organizations still do not have full CM in place. Many are stuck with a range of disparate, unconnected systems, and many still leave a great deal of content unmanaged, neglecting its importance to the business.

The path forward

Fortunately, how to get the best from CM is now becoming clearer, with organizations making significant progress in the areas of technology standardization and information integration. Over time, we expect the joint pursuit of those paths to lead to the vision of organizations managing all their content, with a significantly reduced number of vendors providing capabilities.

In terms of technology standardization, many organizations are selecting one application to support the needs of all enterprise users, for the same content type--for example, for Web content or records. The benefits depend on the type of content being addressed. For Web content, the value is a vastly improved Web site, offering a consistent user experience through pan-organization brand and content standards. For records, the value is broader, faster access to the corporate memory across the organization, with benefits of improved decision making and improved transparency in relations with customers and regulators.

In terms of information integration, organizations are using CM and ECI technologies to deliver a single, integrated view of information on a certain topic, such as customer, transaction, service or product, drawing on a variety of content types and structured data. The value depends on the type of information being drawn together. In the case of customer information, customer service staff or even customers themselves can view all information relating to an account in one place, saving time and improving customer loyalty.

Content standards

Whatever your current project goals, the right implementation approach is critical. You need to be prepared for a gradual rollout across the organization, including understanding the requirements of each division or area in turn, setting expectations about which requirements can be met and which cannot be met and why. Finally, you must help users make changes to their working practices as necessary.

The quality of metadata and content standards is key. CM technologies are only as effective as the metadata that describes the content they store. If two items of content relate to the same customer, but one lacks a metadata field with the correct value for that customer, then CM technologies will not be able to present both to users looking for information about that customer.

Similarly, content standards ensure that information within content can be rapidly interpreted. For example, if two items of content are both customer contracts, with information within them structured in the same way, it is easier for users to find what they need. That is a particular concern if external users are viewing the content.

Achieving the right quality requires broad consultation. Unless users' requirements are understood and reflected in metadata and content standards, CM technology is of little use to them. For example, if an objective of your CM project is to enable audit teams to understand events relating to a specific transaction, their requirements must be embedded in metadata and content standards to ensure that information is both accessible and usable to them.

Sarah Kittmer is a senior analyst with Ovum's Technology Group, specializing in enterprise content management, e-mail sarah.kittmer@ovum.com.

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