The Truth about Content
Managing Information

On the Management of Content

With content defined in the previous post (see The Truth about Content), the question now turns to how do we manage this complex, multi-faceted resource? What do we really mean when we speak of content management? And if, as I have suggested (see The Trials and Tribulations of Content Management), the content management industry has consistently under-performed over the last 20 years, where does the fault lie and, with perhaps a more complete concept of content at our disposal, what can be done about it?

Duke Humfrey's Library

In essence, content management should provide lifecycle support for all artifacts that comprise content. By lifecycle support, we are referring to the core services that provide for the administrative control over these content assets and their efficient deployment so as to enable effective information transactions. The challenge underlying all this is the fact that, to be effective, this lifecycle support must accommodate and indeed facilitate the change processes that affect all aspects of the content as well as its management environment. This in itself sketches out a challenging task and especially when it is recalled just how complex content really is, even in the simplest of circumstances.

If, as is increasingly the case, we consider the situation where an organization has adopted open markup standards for preparing their textual content resources, then we get a sense for the variety of artifacts that must be managed:

  • Text components
  • Media assets
  • Data sources
  • Assembly maps
  • Metadata properties
  • Relationship links
  • Governing models
  • Processing rules
  • Formatting stylesheets

By saying that these artifacts will be managed, we mean that they will be subject to:

  • Control functions that govern access, storage, retrieval, security, and preservation.
  • Change facilitation processes that govern how changes are made, validated, and placed into operation.
  • Deployment services that marshal content assets into the publishing process and that ensure the resulting information products are delivered to the right people, at the right time, and in the form that they require.

What complicates this picture so much is the fact that the more articulated the content assets are, and the more discretely modular and sophisticated they become, the more complex the inter-relationships become between all these assets. Managing change, in particular, quickly becomes a daunting task when every potential action gives rise to potential impacts across a wide range of assets.

One possible strategy that surfaces in the face of this growing complexity is, understandably, to retreat to the comforting simplicity that some associate with the traditional production of large, monolithic publications. In truth, the idealization of these older publishing techniques is nothing more than a myth and it must be acknowledged that managing content has always been complex and challenging, and usually even more so when content assets are awkwardly managed as part of large publication structures. The emergence of newer approaches to content creation, management and publishing, and specifically those using open markup standards, can be traced directly to the abject failure of these older publication-oriented approaches when it comes to handling the innate complexity of modern documentation content.


Another strategy, and the one that has been gaining steady momentum, is to embrace the newer approaches to content modularization using open standards and to deploy content management systems that facilitate the transition to, and exploitation of, fundamentally more intelligent content assets. This is where content management currently stands although it must be said that this is also where content management is currently struggling.

The Achilles heel of content management turns out to be the one area where strength is needed in the brave new world of intelligent content. This Achilles heel is centered on what I call content processing, where automation is deployed to enrich content assets to increasingly elevated levels of informativeness and hence intelligence, to navigate the at-times bewildering lattice work of inter-relationships amongst content assets, and to apply a cascading hierarchy of control filters and formatting instructions in order to publish information products that often look more like online applications than recognizable documents.

The good news is that the Achilles heel of content management is receiving an increasing amount of attention as more and more organizations venture further and further into the forests of intelligent content. While there are a variety of ways in which an organization, or a content management technology provider, can bolster the content processing services available to facilitate the content lifecycle, a number of criteria are discernible for these processing services. Specifically, content processing services should exhibit the following attributes:

  • Performance
  • Robustness
  • Precision
  • Modularity
  • Maintainability
  • Extensibility

The situation that most, if not all, content management systems find themselves is not too surprising because, for quite some time, few client organizations were investing heavily in intelligent content assets and processes. Consequently, the content processing services incorporated into the content management systems were those that were freely available and explicitly designed for lightweight applications. These content processing approaches basically fail when measured against any of the above criteria. More recently, newer tools are becoming available which hold out significant promise for specific applications although their primary weakness lies in the fact that assume, and therefore depend upon, the availability of pristinely structured content assets where all of the requisite content intelligence is uniformly present. In practice, most content processes need to be architected so as to handle situations that are a little more realistic. Nevertheless, the trend in the marketplace is to make increasingly effective content processing services available within content management environments.

Throughout it must be kept at the forefront of everyone’s mind that the purpose of content management is to facilitate the conversion of latent content assets into tangible business results by delivering high-quality information products that directly improve the performance of people, products and processes. It is this defining objective that should be used to direct each and every investment in content management and to drive the development of the critically-important content processing services that actually deliver the information that people need.

Obama Blackberry


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