Content Management Standards Can (Really!) Make It Easier to Manage Data


Though enterprises profess to dislike silos of any kind, they sure seem to have trouble eliminating them. Sometimes the disease is worse than the cure, with efforts to eliminate silos simply resulting in new ones.


For instance, in an effort to access data contained in unstructured sources like spreadsheets and Word docs, companies invest in enterprise content management (ECM) systems. Yet (silo alert!) they often end up buying and using systems from multiple vendors. If they want these systems to be able to communicate with each other, they have to throw lots of time and money at data integration projects.


Help is on the way, however, with a set of standards created with the aim of making content management systems interoperable. Among the industry heavyweights backing the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) specification are Microsoft, IBM and EMC.


The standards, which must be approved by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), will employ Web services and Web 2.0 interfaces to link heterogeneous systems. Because the standards will allow companies to manage content separately from the repositories in which it is contained, they will no longer require a separate management policy for each repository. The use of Web services will also make it easier for third-party vendors to create specialized applications that can run on top of different ECM systems.


A prototype already exists, reports internetnews.com, with OpenText and SAP partnering to use CMIS to manage content from SAP applications with Open Text's ECM software, Enterprise Library Services. CMIS will reportedly be applied to Microsoft Sharepoint Server 2007, though a Microsoft spokesperson stopped short of saying so in the internetnews.com article.


CMIS also creates the interesting option of letting companies use content as a service within a service-oriented architecture. Says Richard Anstey, Open Text's vice president of technology and product strategy for ECM Suite:

We believe records management should be a service that works with other applications that don't necessarily have to manage the records themselves. You want a single place for the policy for how long you keep your records and, if you can expose the records and archives and functionality as a service to be consumed by multiple applications within the enterprise, you're doing yourself a great service.

Another clue to how this all could work is contained in a 2005 IT Business Edge interview with CMS Watch publisher Tony Byrne. Noting that ECM systems have traditionally been good at producing Web services but not at consuming them, he says:

... So, for example, you'll have a content management vendor who will say, "You can extend our workflow engine and use it for your other systems." But what they don't natively supply is [situations where a customer] wants to swap somebody else's workflow system into their package. I may have decided across the enterprise I want to use this one workflow tool everywhere I've got workflow going on. And the problem with all these systems is that they're highly integrated from the top of the stack to the bottom, so it's hard to use somebody else's workflow on top of their repository.

CMIS will also come in handy if more content management moves into the cloud, as Gartner analyst Mark Gilbert believes it will. Gilbert calls CMIS "one of the most interesting things I've seen in my 15 years as an analyst."