If I’ve learned one thing building systems over the years, it’s this: If you build it, people will misuse it. Ask any product manager and they’ll tell you about some of the strangest bug fixes you’ve ever imagined. All because people are unpredictable.
Developing content services is no different. You define the business use-cases. You painstakingly document how to use the content services for both analysts and developers. You implement checks to ensure the validity of incoming data.
Then one day you notice the content stored in the repository does not match the expected patterns.
While normal and expected, do not ignore this. Something was clearly overlooked when defining or documenting the content services — often both. When faced with unexpected usage of content services, it is critical to assess why it is happening, to fix the data and to improve it so it matches the needs of the organization.
Don’t Let Excessive Business Rules Cripple Innovation
When content services are well designed, they reflect the business processes they support. This makes it easier for the organization to use as they match the mental model of the business. It also makes it easy for the content platform to know what to do with the incoming content.
It also seems like the perfect opportunity to ensure proper usage of content. Yet appearances can be deceiving.
When building content services, they are mapped to the more generic APIs of the underlying content engine. During this process, we apply business rules. This seems like an opportunity to prevent misuse of the content services.
However, when building those rules, you cannot restrict every possible usage scenario. Implementing too many restrictions will quickly make the content services too picky and hard to use. This limits their adoption and groups will look for simpler ways to store content.
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Monitor Your Content Services to Understand Usage
Let's be clear: you cannot prevent content services from being misused. Instead, plan to learn how they are being used. This is what commercial SaaS providers routinely do to improve their services. When you implement content services, you are in the same role as those SaaS providers.
The earliest you can capture reliable data is when groups leverage any pre-prod or staging environments. Even then, there will be a lot of experimentation and random data so drawing conclusions will be difficult. The best you can do is look for a change in behavior and reach out to learn what is changing.
You will not be able to truly assess real deviation from the expected until the content services are being used in production. Only by running your analysis in the live system will you get reliable data.
But what are you looking for? Document your usage assumptions early on. Then begin the analysis early, to establish a baseline. Watch trends and when you observe a spike in new behavior, research why.
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Learn From User Behavior
People are quick to complain about developers when things break. It's rarely the developers’ fault. However, unexpected usage of your content services can be a good thing. You get to learn what people actually need from your content services.
Perhaps people are saving the same document multiple times. This may mean you need the ability to link existing documents to additional locations — a common feature in many content platforms and a common need in my day-to-day work. Does your content services provide that feature?
When you find these behaviors, use it as an opportunity to reengage with the teams using your content services. Discover what problem they were trying to solve when the new behavior emerged. Determine if there is another way to solve it using the content services or if you need to build a new capability.
It is impractical to know every application leveraging your organization’s content services to the same depth as the people building those applications. But by analyzing and understanding the content in your system, you can learn more about the business. More importantly, you can take those lessons and improve the services you provide the entire organization.
Because when you find one group that needs a new feature, other groups will likely need the same capability. Adding these capabilities to all your content services buys a lot of good will and trust.
So, perform your analysis. Look for those anomalies. Adjust the behaviors. Fix the data. And take the opportunity to provide your organization more effective content services.