Last week, we looked at how the new functionality that came with SharePoint 2010 was enabling better use of SharePoint for enterprise content management. But it’s not just the applications that are changing -- enterprise needs are changing, too. With the Nuxeo annual conference opening in Paris, we decided to take a look at its take on how those needs are evolving.

And it hasn’t been too difficult to pin down. In a paper entitled Content Management Platforms: the next generation of Enterprise Content Management (requires registration), which was published in recent months, Nuxeo points out that the answer as to how enterprise needs are changing, has a profound effect on how enterprise content management systems are conceived and built.

What Is Enterprise Content Management?

The starting point in trying to asses changing roles for enterprise CMSs is to understand what exactly they are are. Every year, AIIM produces a State of the Industry report and that definition has served well.

According to AIIM, the enterprise CMS is aimed at managing the lifecycle of information from its creation to archival and disposal. It is:

…the strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organization's structured and unstructured information, wherever that information exists.”

According to Nuxeo, though, it also includes any operational or strategic processes that rely on content in addition to the technology and content. Traditionally capabilities include:

  • search
  • collaboration
  • business rules management
  • workflow management
  • document capture and scanning
  • version management
  • metadata enhancement

all of which make access, delivery and management of information more controlled, efficient and less costly.

But if enterprise content management offers organizations ways to control their content, then as content changes, that list of capabilities must change too, with greater emphasis on integration and long-term flexibility.

Nuxeo: Traditional enterprise CMS functions

Nuxeo: Traditional enterprise CMS functions

However, this list of features is evolving as the enterprise CMS evolves -- constantly adding new requirements and growing more demanding, with a greater emphasis on integration and long-term flexibility.

What Is Enterprise Content?

This raises the question, then, of evolving content and what exactly it is. While the above definition provides a description of what it means to manage content, it does apply itself to exactly what that content is.

By now, it is no longer just digitized versions of scanned documents, but includes anything used in the daily processes used in carrying out business. This is now as diverse as:

  • Structured content in relational databases
  • XML documents
  • Enterprise applications such as customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Supply chain management (SCM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools
  • Unstructured content such as text, emails, word processing and spreadsheets

And then there is the most commonly used forms such as images, video, voice mail, streaming media and newer forms of information such as geodata. Social media, Nuxeo says, may also be expanding its impact on enterprise content.

In sum, enterprise content is at the heart of information systems. An important part of the processes and models of the business, it is no longer a static entity that exists beside business logic -- it co-exists with business logic.

The result is that platforms must now be able to support content types and metadata that are capable of representing the complex relationships and transactions that happen in business every day.

Enterprise CMS vs. File Sharing

Why an enterprise content management system and not just file sharing? There are a number of these that have emerged in recent times, including DropBox, shared file systems and Google Docs.

And, yes, they do support sharing, collaboration and limited security features, but they are not enterprise content management systems. Enterprise CMS platforms should include capabilities such as:

  • Version tracking
  • Relationships between documents
  • Support for document metadata and/or semantic details
  • Configurable document workflow and lifecycle management
  • Check-in/check-out
  • Content streaming
  • Auditing and traceability
  • Business rules

In addition to this, an enterprise CMS platform must fulfill the requirements common to all enterprise software, such as:

  • Integration with name directories (e.g. LDAP)
  • Capability to fit within a predefined enterprise technology portfolio whether in the cloud or on premise
  • High availability

Generally speaking, while file sharing applications are designed for independent, uncontrolled, unstructured content, they include few tools to support structural management (e.g. taxonomies) or to add supporting metadata.

Without the ability to classify the content or to represent its relationships to other content in a uniform manner, content becomes almost impossible to manage as the volume grows.

The Evolution of Enterprise CMS

The result is the need for change, as content changes and the enterprise CMS is frequently changing to introduce new models, concepts and meet new challenges. Originally, it consisted of a number of independent solutions.

Organizations desire more integration. They want content to be everywhere and available on-demand wherever it’s required -- not just within a specific standalone application supporting one use case. Users are looking for content within the tools they work without having to jump across multiple tools and follow disconnected processes

These business demands are driving new enterprise CMS technologies from being,departmental, siloed, single-purpose solution, to enterprise-level infrastructure.

Enterprise CMS as a Content Platform

Modern enterprise CMS technology is not an application, Nuxeo argues; it is an interoperable, flexible content platform that exposes components and services that organizations can integrate to support a diverse set of content-enabled business processes.

The new ideal enterprise CMS platform is transparent to users -- only the capabilities are important. The diagram below illustrates this evolution.

Nuxeo: Evolution of enterprise content management

Nuxeo: Evolution of enterprise content management

While some organizations have made significant advances in leveraging enterprise CMS tools, in most the use of the technology is still not optimized, as many still see the enterprise CMS as a standalone tool.

Instead of looking at the enterprise CMS as a middleware component that provides support services capable of supporting business functions from invoicing to case management, many have their system isolated, set apart from their other applications.

Enterprises need to think in terms of content platform rather than the traditional enterprise CMS, made up of a number of components.

The content platform also provides access to stored content via standards-based interfaces (repository services). The content platform can be used to build content-enabled applications that leverage either the content or the set of high-level services provided by the content platform.

The platform should be architected in a modular and flexible manner. It should expose an entire framework for use by developers, and not simply a content repository.

Many enterprise CMS tools tend to be architected around the content repository only, providing no additional layers. This is a more traditional approach, inherited from the client-server era.

Providing Modularity, Extensibility

No vendor can anticipate every use case that must be supported for managing enterprise content. New content types, standards and business models are constantly being developed; therefore, it is important to select an enterprise CMS platform that is architected for interoperability, customization and scalability

A well-designed enterprise CMS platform will support extensibility and customization in a manner that is predictable, sustainable and affordable.

Nuxeo's modular enterprise content management system

Nuxeo's modular enterprise content management system

The design should allow architects to choose the precise set of features and services necessary to meet project requirements as well as coming with an exposed API that can be used to gain access to platform services without “hacking,” engaging specialty vendor resources or purchasing add-on products.

Enterprise CMSs Now

The bottom line is that “out of the box” solutions are no longer sufficient. Content-driven applications have a level of uniqueness that requires most organizations to set up a development team to configure, develop, maintain and deploy the solution.

A set of best practices can ensure higher-quality solutions with a lower cost of implementation than traditional software delivery approaches. Nuxeo suggests;

  • Adopt Agile and iterative development practices
  • Implement continuous integration
  • Implement automatic testing
  • Use modern tools and techniques for source control
  • Implement continuous and automatic performance testing/benchmarking
  • Implement continuous deployment

Over the next couple of days, Nuxeo will be developing these themes at its annual conference, where we should hear more on this as well as new perspectives on where enterprise content management technology is going in the future.