management helping create order out chaos
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 Microsofts much vaunted
Tahoe product due for release in 2001. However, the level of sophistication
of Microsofts 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
- ensure that appropriate
authorisation is given before any piece of content is placed on the
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
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 (www.ovum.com). He can be reached at [email protected].
Ovum Evaluates: Content Management will be published in December, 2000.
Check out the Ovum site here.