The Chaos of Content
Facing the Natural Boundaries of "Managing" vs. "Using"
Imagine my surprise when one of the interview subjects for this month’s focus on enterprise content management—and a vendor whose website includes that term fairly prominently—flatly stated: "enterprise content management is a myth."
It’s become voguish to deny the existence of ECM. And one can easily imagine why: With the expanding scope of what we call "content" (ranging everywhere from transactional records, up to email, through to social-network-type content and through to rich media assets), isn’t it more true than ever that there’s no such thing as "enterprise" content management anymore, i.e. all content managed under one system on a single platform?
Add to that the conflicting roles (what else is new?) of line-of-business owners and their IT "counterparts," although the term might better be "adversaries." It is generally held that these two groups should play better together, but the reality is far from it. It stands to reason: IT has imprinted into their DNA the primordial urge to "centralize," "simplify" and "manage" information. Business owners are equally prone to "leverage," "access" and "empower" themselves with any and all content they can get their mitts on.
When these two forces are allowed to continue unabated, there is no other word for it than "chaos." The Chaos of Content.
"Business and IT need to meet halfway," insists Nav Chakravarti, VP product marketing, for InQuira. "Business has responsibility for the processes; they can’t just say, ‘it’s IT’s problem.’" And Nav thinks in some cases there’s progress in the right direction. "In the high-tech industries, where a close nexus needs to happen between product development, engineering and support, it’s already well underway. But in financial services, for example, it is a newer realization. That’s an industry that has grown through merger and acquisition. So they still have a lot of housekeeping to do.
"There’s an IT temptation to try to centralize," adds Nav, "and the vendors encourage that, because you’re locked into their system. We’ll never get to the point where everything is one place. There’s a capability gap, for one thing; not all vendors offer all features. This is why we see a combination of search with the management of the most business- and time-critical assets that can impede information flow. Search has to be part of the overall solution, not bolted on as an afterthought."
Theresa Kollath, senior director of product management, content management at ASG Software Solutions, takes a pragmatic view. "Enterprise content management is still a valid term," she says. "It could have been called ‘organizational content management.’ But ‘enterprise’ sounded good to somebody at some point, so it stuck. If I had to bet why we had this moniker of ‘ECM,’ I’d say it harkens back to enterprise resource planning — ERP.
"As far as having all content managed on one platform, I think that’s a good goal...with the understanding that there’s this thing called ‘reality,’" she laughs. "It’s a good goal to strive for, though. The goal is to have everything available across the board, whether through a productized ECM system, or a combination of that and policies and procedures. In terms of a megalithic all-things-to-all-people solution...that’s something vendors are always going to be playing catch-up on."
Nav adds, "In some organizations there is an ‘enlightened IT’ which is responsible for driving, or enabling, particular business processes. There has to be a cross-business knowledge sharing group that takes care of the knowledge ecosystem...a new hybrid of IT and line-of-business. In an insurance company, there can be a home-owners group, and an auto group etc., who share the same problems. But they don’t talk to one another. There has to be a program management group that initiates the information sharing. Today, 90% of companies rely on IT (for that liaison role), but more and more business managers are developing into ‘knowledge managers,’ and talking with one another across various touchpoints."
If there’s one thing I know, that is "if everyone’s in charge, then no one’s in charge." So I asked about this dilemma, where fiercely independent departments with vastly conflicting goals are expected to play nice.
"There’s a shift happening right now," says Paige Mantel, VP of product marketing for Interwoven. "Content management used to be an IT-owned and managed initiative. Now, the business owners are demanding more ownership and control, and are getting budgets to help demonstrate that. But at the end of the day, it has to be a partnership." Acknowledging the tradition of conflict between business and IT, Paige quickly adds, "I know that’s difficult, and IT/business conflicts will always exist, but it’s got to be a partnership." So how do you do that? "We bring the groups together to talk about what they’re trying to accomplish and what their goals are, and help them align their goals."
She continues, "When you see the business side get more savvy about IT, it’s because the IT group isn’t meeting the businessperson’s needs, and not moving quickly enough. The business side recognizes that IT has a huge challenge, so they (the business owners) decide to go out and get it done on their own. They then bring in their own things, and that just creates more chaos. We know some of the most innovative and forward-thinking companies that still have to deal with rogue applications that aren’t approved by IT. So even though the two sides absolutely need to work together, it’s not happening as quickly as most of us would like it to."