I Column Like I CM:
A Missing Puzzle Piece?

Feb 01, 2005


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AIIM, the Enterprise Content Management Association, has an exciting new marketing tool called the ECM Puzzle. But it's not clear that the puzzle pieces fit together, or that AIIM included all the necessary content management elements. Let's take a look.

If content management really is a jigsaw puzzle, how many fundamental pieces are there and how do they fit together? AIIM describes these five: Capture, Manage, Store, Deliver, and Preserve. But other industry experts have expressed their own take on the CM puzzle and have arrived at different conclusions, with different sets of puzzle pieces.

The Experts Weigh In
Erik Hartman, newly elected vice president of CM Professionals, writes from Europe to say that AIIM in the UK publishes an "ECM Roadmap," with the same five pieces arranged in an information highway design. He prefers the look of still another AIIM International poster design called "ECM 101." But however it is arranged visually, the question is do AIIM's five "chunks" identify the important constituents of content management in a balanced way?

Tony Byrne in the well-regarded CMS Report identifies only two main "phases" of CM, Production and Delivery.

Bob Boiko's Content Management Bible (p. 81) emphasizes three "major parts" of a CMS: Collect (creation and editing is much more than simply capture), Manage (workflows, approvals, etc.), and then Publish. The three-pronged approach is echoed in the work CM Pros has done to define a markup language for describing a CMS (CMSML at www.cmsml.org).

Gerry McGovern (p. 222 of Content Critical) also sees three "processes," but designates them Creation, Editing, and Publishing.

JoAnn Hackos (p. 60 of Content Management for Dynamic Web Delivery) argues for four "components" - Authoring, Repository, Assembly/Linking, and Publishing.

Ann Rockley (the new president of CM Professionals) stresses in her five-column diagram (p.312 of Managing Enterprise Content) that Authoring must save its content elements with metadata for appropriate reuse, but she too prefers Authoring, Repository, Assembly, and Delivery. Rockley also adds Archives to allow access to previous versions and track changes over time, so her categorizations map well onto the AIIM diagram.

AIIM-ing to Organize
While they differ on naming conventions and specifics, all of these CM authors include the central management tools of access control, version control, editing, workflow, staging, personalization, and localization--and AIIM does too. But it seems that there are some big things missing in AIIM's picture of the CM process, such as content modeling, developing the metadata, information architecture, creating taxonomies, and navigation design--not to mention usability, user research, and the user experience. We might collect all of these under a new puzzle piece called Organize.

We might also include the design of search and retrieval strategies that will be strongly influenced by content organization for all but simple full-text search only. AIIM includes search and retrieval as functions of the Store puzzle piece, as if the problem is solvable by technology.

All of the CM textbook authors above devote a great deal of attention to Organization, without which there is no structuring the content for reuse. On the AIIM poster however, the Capture piece simply mentions humans creating office documents, forms, and rich media. To be sure, that's most of what a major enterprise has for content. But surely content management has to begin with Organization. Content creation and editing, as well as acquisition and aggregation, especially XML content, should take place in a structured environment.

In its downloadable PDF version of the puzzle poster, AIIM says ECM will "allow the management of an organization's unstructured information, wherever that information exists." But surely emphasis should be on the complex work needed to add that structure or discover structure in the content. Without structure, reuse and multichannel publishing seem intractable, as do categorizing and chunking the content for navigation design. Shouldn't AIIM correct their poster to say "allow the structuring of an organization's unstructured information?"

You could argue that structuring the content is almost synonymous with organizing it. I can agree when AIIM says "As with any technology, the most important thing isn't how you define it or categorize it, but successfully applying the technology to your particular business processes…ECM is not easy and it's not limited to the technology."

Maybe the missing puzzle piece of Organize is not in the AIIM poster because there is little technology and few vendor tools that can perform this mission-critical component of content management. There are some terrific taxonomy tools that can help keep track of controlled vocabularies, but they can't really start without a content expert design. Organization is provided by humans, not machines or software tools, so it seems humans are an integral part of this jigsaw puzzle as well. For while the pieces may be there, it takes an individual to put them together and make sense of the big picture.