Content Management

Content Management has been said to be “the art of making information accessible”. Like all application types, it has gone under several names, including Information Management and Document Management. In these Web-driven days it is concerned mostly with how information is presented to users of the Internet, either externally or internally to the corporation. The bottom line is, if you have document-based information (and there are few companies that do not), you need a strategy to deal with it and there may be applications that can help.

Content Management has hefty overlaps with Portals. These are best defined by example: Yahoo! is a portal, as is FT.com. Portals collate and present information and services in a suitable form for their user base – they can be generic, industry specific or focused on a particular topic. A particular form of portal is the Enterprise Portal – one which provides corporate employees with access to all the information and services that they need to get the job done.

What is Content Management?

Content Management owes its parentage to two converging technology areas, that is document management and the Web. The latter needs no introduction; as for document management, fair to say that it is a well-mined seam for those that know it, and a minefield for those that don’t. To document management we owe one principle, namely:

Everything is a document

This principle is central to understanding content management. Put it this way, everything form of data, from an email or a a spreadsheet to an audio file or a banking transaction, can be considered as a document. This principle becomes even more important when we take into account something else inherited from Document Management, namely XML which is the ideal packaging mechanism for all these so-called “documents”.

More on this later, but for now lets consider what content management is for. Over the past five years, many millions of Web sites have been evolving from from simple, text-and-graphics-based informational sites (“brochureware”) to complex resources linking many forms of information and enabling a far richer “end-user experience” (if you will). Against this backdrop, the “content” – that is, the text, graphics, audio, video and other data – needs to be managed. It needs to be created, verified, delivered, maintained and bumped off when it has reached its sell-by date.

Content Management is often linked to portals – which are no more than content farms, from an application perspective. Content Management does tie into other application types. For a start, as it is Web-based it needs to work with application servers, e-commerce engines and other paraphernalia of the Web. Linkage between content management and CRM are inevitable, in a drive to get that “experience” unique for each and every user – and, of course to log every key-click they might make.

The Business Need for Content Management

The evolution towards richness of content has caused increased costs due to the complexity of the information. It is far easier to manage a few pages of text to a multi-layered, multimedia “experience”. Even the simplest of sites have a tendency towards complexity, over time. Content management enables content to be stored, managed and maintained appropriately. It also permits the process of content development to be controlled. The litmus test for a content management application is simple – can you use it to recreate your web site as it was on an exact day six months ago? If you want to know why you would need such a facility, just wait six months.

Content management can be thought of as a springboard. It is not entirely necessary to manage content in a structured fashion, or to use tools to automate it. However, the successful use of content management facilities will enable organisations to do more with less, to manage more information and deliver it more reliably than otherwise. Enterprise-scale content management applications can be expensive, hence commitment is required from the top not only to cover the costs of the products, but also to implement the necessary processes to enable their benefits to be realised.

Deploying Content Management Applications

The deployment of a content management application should be considered as an integrated part of a company’s strategy for using the Web. Content management is as much about process as product. Not only is there the content development and delivery process to think about, but also the other processes (aka workflows) of the organisation will be impacted, in particular the customer-facing processes such as marketing, sales and support.

Issues with Content Management

Content management is a relatively mature, and hence stable, market and suffers less from teething problems than a number of other application areas. Issues with content management tend to come more from the way it is implemented – implementation of the wrong process, or failure to integrate with external systems and workflows can cause more problems than it solves.

One issue concerns the distribution of content. Content distribution networks relive the pressure on web sites by offering alternative locations for the content. This can solve difficulties of accessing content from specific geographies, not to mention easing the load on a company’s “core” web site.

The Future of Content Management

Content management may have the basic model correct, but it must adapt to fit with new technologies and new business models as they come on stream. It will undoubtedly be impacted by the arrival of broadband technologies as these enable new forms of content (such as streamed audio and video) to be delivered. Web services and hosted applications will also impact on content management, not so much in its principles but in the way it is implemented.

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