Content, the Once and Future King, Andy Moore

Enterprise Content Management emerges as the key factor in employee empowerment

In his opening comments at a Web-marketing conference last year, Jesse Kornbluth—editorial director for America Online and thus arguably the most-read content guy in the wired world—leaned into the microphone and said quietly: “I propose that we find whoever coined the term content and kick the living **** out of them.”

Funny line. The 500-or-so Web exec-types in the room roared with laughter, and approval.

But I’m not sure why. There are lots of trite business terms that are far more regularly abused and misunderstood (if you don’t believe me, take the term “knowledge” out for a spin sometime).

It’s relatively easy: Content is the digital stuff we use everyday in our work lives to sell and service, help and maintain our customers, our partners and ourselves. Content is the evidence of what we do. Carl Sagan said about life on Earth, “We are star-stuff.” In our business lives, we are content-stuff.

So it stands to reason that “content”—the documents, messages, collaborations and results—should emerge at the top of management’s to-do list. Because, as David Weinberger likes to point out, that’s what we do: We Manage Things. “If it moves, manage it” is the bumper sticker for the age.

But just exactly how should we manage our most precious items of corporate property. And more importantly ... just exactly why?

“Sure, the Web has been a great catalyst, but I don’t think it has fundamentally changed the nature of the beast,” insists Martyn Christian, Senior Vice President, Applications and Corporate Marketing for FileNET Corporation. “Whether content comes over the Web or the U.S. mail is irrelevant; content IS the feeder mechanism for all business processes. And always has been.”

The E-business evolution Content may be the once and future king, but it hasn’t always been recognized as such. Just as row-and-column database systems defined the nature of business automation in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it can be said that the automation of the creation, storage and delivery of a more random (call it heterogeneous, if you must) mix of data types has only penetrated business-asset management activities over the past decade or less.

“Early in the evolution of e-business, the idea of integrated information sources was foreign,” explains Teresa Whittle, Worldwide Segment Executive for Content Management, IBM. “The realization that there are these incredible information sources, mostly in non-traditional forms, at our disposal if we could just get at them ... that realization really changed the role of content.”

Whittle continues, “You can draw a complete parallel analogy to database systems. At first we had desktop file systems scattered all over. And this person couldn’t use my file, and I couldn’t get to another person’s data. We solved that problem with universally accessible, centralized systems. I see the exact same thing happening now with all our other digital assets, and view content management as an extension of database management.”

Whittle goes on to list the things we’ve learned from the history of database management: “One, islands of data should be avoided; two, the need to support multiple platforms and multiple operating systems when we’re planning infrastructure; and three, making those various platforms and file types seamless to the web interface is key.”

Sounds familiar. But however much déjà vu one may sense in this latest evolutionary stage, there is something that sets content management apart from previous information management initiatives: Content, the king, serves many masters.

An example is “zero latency,” a term familiar to hardware geeks as a measurement related to computer hard drives but re-defined by Compaq as a term of enterprise efficiency. Instant access to all of an enterprise’s many sources of business intelligence allows it to respond proactively to any stimuli sensed from any of the enterprise’s points of awareness. Call it applied business intelligence.

“Take customer relationship management (CRM) as an example,” explains Adrian Kasbergen, Director, Messaging & Collaborative Solutions, Enterprise & Mid-Market Solutions, Compaq Computer Corporation. “In the traditional sense, it just means having the ability to get to customer information and use it to your benefit.” But why stop there? What if you could direct the decision-making and action-taking process based on a change or reversal in the expected course of a customer relationship? “The simple example is a customer who suddenly stops or drastically reduces ordering the usual amount of product. This information should be, first, identified as important and then delivered to the sales force,” says Kasbergen. “CRM is then no longer a single-employee-to-single-customer application.”

Nope. It’s much more significant; it’s a complete business solution that is self-aware, that directs decision-making and forces action. Something database-, document-, image-, bla bla- management never was and could never be. And there, my friends, is the difference. (There’s actually another huge difference between content as we now understand it and good ole fashioned data: New Web authoring and metadata technologies allow content to be created in such a way that it can be pre-disposed to cross-departmental use. It can be made for versatility with planning aforethought, not as an after-the-fact kludge. With that kind of long-view applied to the creation, capture and maintenance of enterprise content, the future for its application is exciting indeed.)

Employees and Empowerment Allow your minds to continue expanding for a moment, while we talk a little about decision-making. I say you could make the exactly correct decision every time, every day, provided you had ... what? The correct information? Yep. The experience of smart people to advise you? Uh-huh. And all the time in the world to think about it? Bingo. But you don’t.

“Every day, employees are tasked with making decisions, little and big. Do I call this customer? Should I offer this discount? Etc., etc.,” Randall Eckel, President and CEO of InfoImage explains. “At the same time, managers have been trying to push decision-making down to the workers, for all the right efficiency reasons. But the IT tools are aimed at the top of the organization, and the folks who have to make the decisions don’t have them.”

Eckel says, “The people who have the facts don’t have the tools. The people who have the tools (which tend to address transactional and logistical business functions because, hey, that’s where the money is) don’t have the facts ... or at least a different set of facts.

“So how do we solve this problem?” asks Eckel, rhetorically, since his team decision management products are designed to do just that.

Take a wider view, that’s how. Business intelligence, and even so-called knowledge management, tools tend to be individually focused. I can produce reports ... for me. I can do decision analysis ... for me.

“The problem is that decisions are gated by time. I have 30 seconds, a minute, maybe an hour to make a decision,” says Eckel. And if we’ve learned anything about winning, when we’re in knowledge-based enterprises, bedeviled with geographically dispersed teams, challenged with stupidly fast Internet time, well ... let’s just say the immunity idol is probably not going home with our tribe tonight.

Now what? So what advice can we get? There’s a lot, actually. And the news is pretty hopeful for a change.

“It’s a promising time,” declares Anoop Garg, Director, Enterprise Ready Microsoft Practice Group, Compaq Global Services. “Yes, it depends on perseverance and finding some successes, but I think those days will come. The next level of competitive advantage will come from making employees more effective. People will see that.”

IBM’s Teresa Whittle sees it as an “enabling” evolution ... you have to do one thing before you do the next, but at least the path is clear: “Knowledge management has become a front-burner issue. And the greatest challenge to KM is the content management piece.

“At the base is a view of a fundamental content repository that manages all different forms of content,” says Whittle. “Digital documents, audio, video ... having that single repository is critical to any portal or KM infrastructure...

“...BUT,” she continues (there’s always a “but”), “realistically, when there are acquisitions and departmental solutions get deployed, there are bound to be separate sources and repositories. And the problem for decision makers is ‘where do I get the information I need?’ Well, that ‘where to go’ question brings up search technology and how critical that is.”

Which leads us to portals. Attempts to institute specialized and efficient views into vast corporate and external information sources through portals is worthy of another white paper, which (surprise, surprise) is already under way. For now, we’ll remain satisfied with a most intriguing view of portals that is held by Compaq’s Adrian Kasbergen: “Portals are not a full solution, but they’re better than nothing. Think of portals as a ‘leading indicator:’ if your employees are demanding a customized desktop view into information in order to do their jobs better, that should tell you and your IT management where and how to invest your next round of technology dollars.”

Just what you needed...someone telling you—again—where to spend money. But the inescapable truth is: you need to. There are opposing schools of thought on this. You can choose to attack departmental, single-function business problems, but you risk creating yet another impenetrable information silo. Or you can perform drastic, open-heart surgery on your entire process...but you better have the stomach for it. Best advice? Take a good, long cold-eyed look at your business problems and opportunities. Think about how you would finish this sentence: “Everything in my business would be great if we could only ...”

In other words, figure out what, exactly, it is you’re trying to solve. Then call in the cavalry.

Advice, and consent How important strategic assistance is to those who are about to deploy content management technologies cannot be overstressed. Of the dozen or so people I interviewed and whose work I researched for this paper, all agreed: we are in early adopter times. “It’s a logical step to accomplish B2B interactivity through Web content management, but is anyone doing it?” asks FileNET’s Martyn Christian. “Not that much. Supply chain is a mature idea to the manufacturing space, but for banks and financial services institutions ... it’s very foreign so far.”

Off-the-shelf solutions do not exist, to much of a practical extent, and the engagement of a trusted advisor is inevitable. And that’s not a bad thing.

“Most customers are focused on specific point solutions (such as CRM, which hands-down is the favorite function in which to apply content management technologies today), even though that’s a slow and evolutionary process,” says Compaq’s Anoop Garg. “We try, through our professional services group, to bring a broader view, and show the overall architecture necessary for total employee empowerment. Because that’s what it’s all about.”

And that’s what this paper is all about. The articles here range from the rather exotic (multilingual translation on the fly, a global must-have) to the wisely cautious (preventing the financial damage caused by corporate and Wall Street rumors) to the just plain helpful (what do I do now?!?!). It is with pride and hope that we present this collection of deliberate and powerful essays. Pride, in our association with the authors and their colleagues; and hope, that the words you read can accomplish our goal of helping you create a world-class business organization.

Andy Moore is chair of this White Paper series and former editor of KMWorld Magazine. With 20 years in senior editorial positions in the technical, trade and business automation press, Moore has covered technology advancements in networking, telecom, business productivity and process improvement from just about every angle. He can be contacted at andy_moore@verizon.net and welcomes feedback and conversation.

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