Harvest Your Silos, Don't Smash Them: Information Agility with Open Standards

5 minute read
Cheryl McKinnon avatar

Vendor lock-in is no longer the biggest problem organizations face. Thanks to open standards, like CMIS, we can stop worrying about information silos and focus our attention on avoiding content lock-in.  

Information Management Agility: Content to the Right People at the Right Time

In the introductory essay to September's CMSWire theme, Barb Mosher offers a clear explanation of what 'Information Management Agility” represents to business: “...it's not simply a matter of managing our information effectively. It's also about how we use this information to quickly respond to the rapid changes taking place in market....manag[ing] our information and make it available to the right people at the right time to provide competitive advantage.”

Enterprises -- whether in the private or public sector -- are not suffering from information famine. We acknowledge that the problem is typically more of a glut of content. Even organizations that have invested in enterprise content management systems over the years still complain that there's too much.

This makes sense: we've been hoarding it for years, and incoming content and communication from the increasingly porous membrane of the web makes it tougher to filter and categorize information, even if its capture can be enforced or automated.

Content Lock-in: A Bigger Problem Than Vendor Lock-in

Corporate content naturally has as much horizontal flow as vertical. Documents and email don't only move up and down the formal org chart -- they move from peer to peer, across time zones, departments, even in and out of the enterprise as suppliers and customers join the discussion.

In large organizations, or those that have neglected the collaborative aspect of content management in favor of meeting minimal retention requirements in the name of 'compliance,'useful access to business content can remain out of reach for many knowledge workers. Separate, unconnected repositories (often from different vendors) workflow mappings out of synch with how things 'really get done', different tools used to communicate with different internal or external stakeholders: these are the barriers to effective agility in the information management world. This is the world of the information “silo.”

Becoming more agile with an information management strategy means better accessibility, find-ability and information distribution to the content users and creators across an enterprise and its extended supplier/customer sphere. What won't help achieve this is a bashing or gutting of the content repositories (the silos) that are in place already to protect and organize content.

What will help is a strategy to help achieve a common ground across key content management applications, a strategy that puts business content flow and accessibility ahead of proprietary repository quirks. ECM consultants, practitioners and vendors need to raise the level of discussion beyond silo-busting toward a perspective of meaningful harvest.

Why Open Standards Matter

“Standards” in the technology world often sound dull.Lowest denominator? Inhibitor of creativity? Barrier to innovation? This need not be true if standards are interpreted as building a common ground across diverse approaches to a technology market.

Learning Opportunities

In the world of content management, a recent bright light has been CMIS – the recently approved Content Management Interoperability Standard ratified under OASIS. A meeting of the minds, CMIS was developed by technology vendors representing a wide spectrum of old and new, open and closed, large and small.

Content management vendors know that basic document management services -- versioning, access controls, check-in/check-out, search and foldering -- are no longer unique selling points. All mainstream ECM products do these same things, only at different price points. As this first level of content management for enterprise documents becomes an expected commodity capability, vendors need to raise their game and deliver more than basic repository services. CMIS helps define what these basic repository capabilities are in order to establish a common ground for new and more meaningful application development.

For organizations with specific vertical industry content management requirements -- CMIS helps provide a level playing field so that applications can be designed without needing specific dependencies on one particular vendor over another. The value is in the management, distribution and accessibility of content beyond any individual product. This opens the door to agility; this is information management strategic thinking beyond a vendor silo.

Open standards help keep customers and solution providers focused. The true issues are the challenges that hinder businesses from being responsive in this age of information overload. CMIS is a first step towards interoperability, but the content management world is ripe with standards potential: PDF/A for long term electronic document preservation, Dublin Core as a common metadata description and discovery baseline, OpenSocial as a way to tie more collaborative and socially networked business applications into mainstream ECM.

Organizations that are serious about staying competitive and responsive in this modern digital content age need to think beyond any single repository. The age of the closed silo is dead, but long live the tools that harvest...

Follow our continuing coverage of Information Management Agility including: 

About the author

Cheryl McKinnon

Cheryl McKinnon is the founder of Candy Strategies Inc., a consulting and marketing services firm helping organizations make the jump to the digital workplace, and embrace open source and open standards as part of their information management strategy.She blogs at www.candystrategies.com and can be found on Twitter @CherylMcKinnon