For a number of reasons, I have been thinking recently about the state of the Content Management industry. These ruminations took me back to one of my posts from the summer of 2009 called The Trials and Tribulations of Content Management. In this post, I declared that historically the content management industry, as a whole, has under-performed. I continued with the supposition that one contributing factor to this under-performance was the apparent absence of any shared understanding of what indeed we were trying to manage. We did not, I felt, have a common definition for what we meant by the term “content”. No wonder then that the various players in the industry only occasionally, and in all likelihood accidentally, coordinate their activities and investments in a way that makes a positive difference for business stakeholders, aka the customers.
I promptly set about writing a series of posts that sought to lay down some definitions and to summarize some of the trends that are discernable in the last 20 years in the life of the content management industry. While I am reasonably pleased with the conceptual integrity of the definitions being sketched out, I am also quite certain that these efforts have made no appreciable impact on practitioners and players in the industry.
Undeterred I am returning to the topic and this time I will approach it from a more practical, and hopefully more accessible, angle. This time I will focus on a different shortcoming in the content management industry: the generally poor state of the shared resources available to assist content management practitioners, product vendors and customer organizations in demonstrating meaningful content processes (i.e., that run from "end-to-end" in a value chain) that will make concrete sense to business stakeholders. Such demonstrations, in addition to communicating the benefits of content management, also provide real-world scenarios that can be used to facilitate improved interoperability across products boundaries.
At a number of recent industry events, I have made a point of reviewing the demonstrations that various vendors use to illustrate the capabilities, and presumably the value, of their respective product offerings. In almost all cases, the content being used, and the business scenarios being demonstrated, are almost ludicrously simplistic. Without a word of exaggeration, most demos consist of one or two short documents, with obviously bogus content, being modified, stored, retrieved and rendered so as to showcase one or two product features. How, it should be asked, would this help a business stakeholder, who is confronted with very serious content challenges and even more serious business problems, understand the potential value of any one of these content management tools? The answer is simple – they don’t help at all.
I would submit that without shared demonstrations that illustrate how a number of content management tools can interoperate to address real business problems, there can be no genuine improvement in how the industry as a whole performs. Quite simply the business requirements that need addressing exist at a higher level than any one content management tool. Demonstrating the features of any one tool does not actually demonstrate any value to the prospective business customer.
Indeed I have an even more deep-seated concern. I worry that in the absence of any shared demonstrations, the chances are that the product teams for the many individual content management tools are in fact working towards partial, or worse invalid, requirements. Product plans for any given tool that do not take into account the larger business needs will be intrinsically flawed. When I see the laughable state of most product demos I can’t help but wonder what will happen when these tools run into real requirements embedded within real business processes. What happens when these individual tools actually need to interoperate with other tools to support people doing real work? From bitter experience we probably all know the answer to this question. As implementers we have to hack and patch the various products together so as to realize a working solution.
It is my belief that the content management industry exists for a very good reason and that businesses around the world in fact desperately need help in managing and leveraging their increasingly valuable content assets. It is also my considered opinion that as an industry we have fallen short in our efforts at collaborating together to provide these customers with more tangible examples of how content management tools can interoperate to deliver value. More to the point, I believe we have collectively fallen short in evolving shared resources, what I will hereafter call “content scenarios”, that can be used to facilitate the evolution of better content management tools and improved integrated behaviour across these tools.
There are standards bodies that were in fact formed in large part to do just this very thing – to facilitate cross-industry coordination, in particular between vendors and customers – and it must be said that these standards bodies have not performed this service particularly well at all. There are several reasons for this but they deserve separate treatment.
The fact remains that without such coordination the content management industry will remain trapped in a state of perpetual under-performance. This is bad news for all members of this community. It is even worse news for the many organizations who need better content management support than they are getting and who will continue to get by with the working solutions they manage to assemble from the piece-parts available from vendor shelves. The good news, as a little light at the end of the tunnel, is that the industry is more than capable of making improvements in this area and thereby heading down a better path. In fact, there are signs that this has already begun…