It doesn't come as a surprise that three of the major Enterprise Content Management (ECM) providers-- EMC, IBM and Microsoft -- have been secretly developing a technical Enterprise CMS specification. Their super secret project is called the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) specification. A fancy new acronym it is, but beyond this is it really the beginning of a brave new world for content management interoperability?To get the scoop on this draft CMIS, and the background behind its development, CMSWire spoke with executives from the three companies.The entire process to move to a common enterprise content management specification started back in October 2006, when EMC, Microsoft and IBM began a joint plan to propose the first Web Services standards for exchanging content with and between Enterprise CMS systems. Version 0.1 of this specification was completed in July of 2007. Somewhere along the line, they were joined by a few more prominent Enterprise CMS providers including: Open Text, Alfresco (good to see at least one open source CMS vendor in there), Oracle and SAP. This past August, they held a CMIS Interoperability Workshop where they demonstrated prototypes that showed their solutions would work with the specification.Today, they pass the specification over to the OASIS open standards organization for public comment looking for final ratification of the spec by the end of 2009.

A Need for an Enterprise CMS Specifications?

To understand why anyone would want a specification like CMIS, you only need look how enterprises use content management systems today. The reality is that many typically have more than one content management solution in house serving any number of departments, teams, divisions, etc...The problem that arises is there is no centralized repository for content, so these enterprises have to look at ways to join this content together. Options that were identified are typical today and include:* Complete migration to a single CMS* Purchase and implementation of one or more off-the-shelf connectors* FederationWhat the group wanted to create was a standard for sharing information stored in existing multiple repositories from different vendors, "unlocking the content they [the enterprise] already have".

What was Wrong with the Old Standards?

There are a few standards around today such as Java standards like JSR 170 and WebDAV that could have been used to define an ECM technical standard. The problem is, not all ECM vendors support these standards. The group also didn't feel these standards sufficiently modeled the needs required for an Enterprise CMS standard. In addition, they wanted a standard that was platform and program language neutral. Which makes sense considering core players in the standard have a mixture of languages and technologies in their individual solution.

Isn't There Already A Plan for an Enterprise CMS Specification?

This is a technical specification -- unlike the planned best practice standard for ECM that is in progress between the Content Group and the British Standards Institute. The group felt the development of the best practices specification by The Content Group is complimentary to the work they are doing with the technical specification. EMC is even directly involved in the development of this best practices spec. It is strange though that the two specifications would be developed in isolation, completely separate from each other. Aren't we always encouraging and supporting the notion that you can't do one without the other? The CMIS specification is comprised of two components:* Common Domain Model for CM: Includes Data Model and Capabilities description* Bindings: SOAP for System to System, REST/Atom for System to ApplicationBasically we are looking at a standard set of APIs for existing capabilities of CM repositories that enable an enterprise to leverage existing content and new content without having to do anything tothe content that is already there. Keep in mind that they are not exposing all capabilities through the APIs but are following the 80/20 rule. There will still be some Enterprise CMS proprietary interfaces as required.The specification is designed to exploit web technologies such as Web 2.0, service orientation and resource orientation.The group was also quick to point out that the CMIS specification does not provide standards for design-time or administration operations. Which means that for now, it's a front-end, runtime specification. No word on when -- if ever -- the specification will grow to include the back-end.

Interoperability Decreases Costs and Improves Information Access

There are a number of benefits of interoperability according to the group, including:* Improved user access: Getting users the right information they need quickly* Cost Reduction: Reductions in development costs for in-house development and cost reduction for ISVs who currently create one or more connectors for each Enterprise CMS they want to integrate* Protection of Current Environments: The spec is designed to work with current repositories and doesn't require an enterprise to migrate or convert content

What Scenarios Does CMIS Support?

To clearly demonstrate what the CMIS Specification is designed to achieve, we were provided with several scenarios that will be supported. These include:* Content Collaboration/Aggregation: The ability to not just present views of content, but to actually pull the content together to support mashups and other Web 2.0 technologies* Content Centric Applications: The ability to develop applications that can read and write content to any repository to support business processes and multi-channel publishing* E-Discovery: Develop e-discovery applications that leverage ECM concepts like object types and metadata, relationships and versioning that match multiple repositories* Archival: Consistent archiving of information from business systems to compliant content repositories* Compound/Virtual Documents: Enable consistent modeling, discovery and persistence of compound document relationships

Get More Information on CMIS

The idea of an open standard technical specification for Enterprise CMS sounds ideal. The fact that it comes primarily from three of the biggest ECM Providers in the industry is good and bad. They are the top solutions used in enterprises today, so it does make sense that a standard should be built around them. But it also calls into question the potential for lock-in for their solutions because they have already tested the standard and know it works for them. Everyone else will have to play catch up. And what about all those ISVs who have spent untold amounts of money development connectors and other integration solutions? You can download a preview copy of the CMIS technical specification draft at the following locations:* EMC Corporation* IBM's WebSite * Microsoft's Interoperability Site