document management | data warehousing | knowledge management| financial technology| e-government





In this month's Document Management Update:

Lotus unveils Raven Discovery Server. more>>
Deutsche Bank chooses IBM WebSphere Translation Server. more>>
Zurich deploys Autonomy in worldwide risk engineering extranet. more>>
Feature: The need for content management. more>>
eRooms launches eRooms 5.0 - Richard Croasdale finds out how the company plans to differentiate collaboration tool from Microsoft rival. more>>
Documentum launches 4i Portal content edition. more>>


Content management — helping create order out chaos

Knowledge management maybe an oxymoron — albeit a useful one — but there are certainly parts of our intellectual capital that we can manage much more effectively, writes Eric Woods



For thousands of years we have been systematically managing, cataloguing and retrieving recorded knowledge in libraries and in filing systems. In more recent times, electronic document management systems have allowed us to deal with the much greater volumes of documentation generated by computer systems. Document management software has also improved the control and auditing of documents in complex and critical areas such as drug submission processes in the pharmaceutical industry and design documentation in engineering and manufacturing.

However, the rise of Web technology presents us with new challenges in terms of the management of documents. This has in turn spurred the development of new products that can manage greater volumes of documentation in even more diverse forms. Content management is the term used to describe the range of challenges, technologies and solutions involved in managing this new diversity of content. Content management encompasses traditional document management issues as well as technologies developed explicitly to address e-business requirements. Ovum estimates that the total market for content management software and services will be worth over $13 billion by 2004 - a sign of the huge importance of this issue to companies around the world.

But content management remains a highly confusing issue for many organisations, not least of all because of the number of vendors jumping on the bandwagon with a wide variety of product offerings. The confusion over content management also stems from the fact that demand is being driven from two different directions.

From a knowledge management perspective, the main driver is the popularity of intranets as a means for the dissemination of information. This has led to new requirements for the management of content generated for internal use. The volume of documents to be managed, the large number of possible contributors, and the need to hide the technical requirements of web publishing from those contributors are all driving innovation in content management products.

The other set of drivers comes from organisations that have realised that the Web is their most important shop window, and that they need to manage the content of that window much more effectively. The speed of change in e-business and the instant and global visibility of errors on the Web mean that it is vital to provide a high-quality web site with a consistent service to customers. In order to achieve these essential goals, sophisticated content management is required.

Of course, the internal and external requirements for content management cannot be completely separated as the barriers between a company and its external stakeholders become increasingly fuzzy. Managing content on an extranet site, which might serve partners or key customers, raises issues common to both Internet and intranet publishing.

The vendors
Document management vendors have been managing content for many years, when it was (incorrectly) often thought of as ‘just documents’. Many of these vendors are well established and have mature products. They are now adding web interfaces to their software and modules that are more focused on the publication of content on the Web – taking them into the broader category of content management tools. Products from this group of vendors are typically more relevant for intranets and extranets than for Internet sites. Typical vendors in this group include FileNET, Documentum, Open Text and IntraNet Solutions.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from document management vendors are those who have focused on the needs of e-commerce sites. Typical vendors in this group are Vignette and BroadVision. Most of these vendors started in the early to mid-1990s and have a significant track record in this market. The content they manage is frequently very large volumes (often many millions) of separate components, with simple relationships between the components. Functions such as complex content personalisation are often important.

Some content management vendors have avoided focusing on either end of the spectrum. Typical vendors in this group are Mediasurface, Dynabase, Eprise and InfoOffice. Their products typically lack the complex content management features found in document management tools, nor do they offer the full range of functionality required for large-scale e-commerce sites. However, they can successfully manage most sites where the requirements fit into neither of these extremes.

Content management is also set to be another area of contention between the two heavyweights of the knowledge management market: Microsoft and IBM Content management will be a key part of Microsoft’s much vaunted Tahoe product due for release in 2001. However, the level of sophistication of Microsoft’s offering is yet to become clear. IBM Lotus already has a successful document management product in Domino.Doc, which it is enhancing to provide better support for web-oriented content management. IBM also has its IBM Content Manager offering which is an infrastructure solution that ties together web content management, document management and media asset management.

The basic rules for a successful content management
Amidst all the confusion and hype, organisations are struggling to understand what content management can really do for them and which are the right products for their specific needs. Your ability to develop a successful content management strategy, and select the right product to support it, will be improved if you follow some basic guidelines.

Be aware of what content management can and cannot do
A content management solution can:

  • manage the content creation and publication cycle, giving many people the ability to publish content on the Web without technical knowledge
  • provide version control and configuration management, so that you always know which item is the most up-to-date
  • ensure that all related items are correctly updated when you change a web site or its content
  • ensure that appropriate authorisation is given before any piece of content is placed on the web site
  • improve your web presence with a lively dynamic web site, as long as you have the lively dynamic designers behind it
  • ensure consistent presentation of content, regardless of the actual meaning of the content and regardless of the author.

But it cannot:

  • organise your content automatically
  • actively manage the meaning of your content. This means that ensuring quality and consistency will be manual tasks
  • tell you what is useful or meaningful (or meaningless)
  • remove the need for effective design and management of an Intranet – although it will help you manage your site, particularly when you want to redesign it.

Understand your content

One of the most important things to realise is that ‘content’ is not a simple concept. It can be a press release, product details for something sold over the Web, emails, discussion threads, a set of engineering drawings, an icon on a screen, audio tracks, video film clips or a warehouse of manuals for building a Boeing 777.

You would not treat a one-paragraph description of a book in the same way as the manuals for building a Boeing 777. The requirements for content management similarly differ dramatically according to the content type involved, and so do the facilities you need from software tools. You must understand the management demands of your principal types of content.

The change cycle for content also differs widely. Content on an Internet business-to-consumer site may be added weekly, for example with information about new products and offers. Content on a news site may be replaced hourly or even more frequently. In contrast, the design documents for aeroplanes evolve slowly over time, as small changes and improvements are made. Knowledge management ‘content’ tends to vary considerably in terms of the update cycle - from daily newsfeeds to relatively static documentation such as process manuals.

Choose your vendor carefully
Many vendors will not be able to meet the requirements for your particular content mix, so take care in drawing up your shortlist. You may not be able to find a single vendor that can do everything you need.

Make sure that when a vendor tells you it can handle your type of content in your type of environment, that you get a reference site that really does have the same characteristics as your site. Visit the reference site and ask difficult questions. Direct competitors to your own business will be unwilling to help you learn from their mistakes, but content management vendors should be able to find a non-competing equivalent business that is willing to help you.

Do not underestimate the effort involved
Many parts of your business will need to think carefully about how they implement content management. It is a strategic issue and significant cultural issues will have to be addressed. This will not be news to knowledge management professionals.
You will need to look closely at your organisation to understand how content is produced. You will probably need to change the processes of content creation and also to develop formal authorisation processes. Implementing workflow, an integral part of many content management solutions, will help.

Effective content management also demands that the content is well structured and organised before it is put into any software tools. Disorganised content that is automated simply gives you disorganised content faster. The biggest task in taking on content management software is ensuring that all the content is well organised and structured before it is put into any software tool. You need to understand the content, its variability, its creation and its archive cycles.

Identify all your tool requirements
A content management solution — even a very good one — cannot meet all your knowledge management software needs. You will already have — or will need to purchase — additional products such as portal software, search tools or collaboration technology. Integrating these different technologies is not a trivial task. Many vendors have formed major partnerships to extend their offerings into these areas but you need to check whether this will mean extra work for you or whether they can provide genuine out-of-the-box integration.
You may still find your requirements need application development and integration work. Check what programming interfaces are provided by the vendor and how effectively they work in practice.

Think carefully about process control
The Web is an effective channel for distributing information. It is also a very effective channel for distributing large volumes of useless content. Using content management tools to allow people to publish whatever they want onto an intranet is not an effective use of the technology. When there is too much information available, particularly if it is of dubious quality, the users of the intranet will quickly back away and declare it useless. This can have the effect of killing the communication channel, rather than simply changing the quality of the content that is presented.
The workflow processes within content management may remove this problem. If every piece of content has to be approved, then the authors may think twice about putting up vaguely interesting, but not really useful, content. However, managers may balk at the volume of content they are being asked to approve. It is then likely that those responsible for approving content will simply either approve everything or approve nothing – again destroying the value of content management.

Eric Woods is Topic Director for Knowledge Management and Business Intelligence at Ovum ( He can be reached at [email protected]. Ovum Evaluates: Content Management will be published in December, 2000. Check out the Ovum site here.



In this month's edition of Document Management Update:

Lotus unveils Raven Discovery Server. more>>
Deutsche Bank chooses IBM WebSphere Translation Server. more>>
Zurich deploys Autonomy in worldwide risk engineering extranet. more>>
Feature: The need for content management. more>>
eRooms launches eRooms 5.0 - Richard Croasdale finds out how the company plans to differentiate collaboration tool from Microsoft rival. more>>
Documentum launches 4i Portal content edition. more>>

Other knowledge management features:

Content management — helping create order out chaos. Knowledge management maybe an oxymoron — albeit a useful one — but there are certainly parts of our intellectual capital that we can manage much more effectively. more>>

UNLOCKING THE VALUE OF KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge management as a concept has received much attention of late, but that does not alter the fact that many businesses are not realising the benefits of exploiting the knowledge available to them. However, in the current turbulent business climate, few companies can afford to let this valuable resources remain untapped. more>>

Information overreach - With 2.8 million public websites and approximately 800 million web pages (and counting), the challenge of finding the right business information quickly and easily is difficult, at best. more>>
Putting Knowledge to Work. Knowledge management has spawned a lot of theoretical discussion, but how do you put it to work to achieve – and quantify – real benefits for businesses? Peter Turnbull, SER’s UK head of marketing, goes back to Shakespeare to bring to life working solutions for companies today. more>>
Knowledge is power, as the saying goes. Ernst & Young understands this better than most - the firm has one of the largest knowledge infrastructures in the world and is the only professional services firm to have been recognized as one of the world's top five "Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises" in each of the last two years. more>>
In favour of GM insurers. more>>
feature. more>>





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