Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ECM SOA Strategy

I am attempting to build a ECM-SOA strategy at my company. This blog will identify key issues we have run across and the solutions we are attempting. I will get very technical since I am the primary technologist for content technologies at my company, but I will also maintain a higher level focus on the business aspects of this initiative, since the two are inextricably tied together.

At my company, we have many applications that manipulate content, both for site management and for document management. Each application was built as a silo, unique technology to suit a unique job -- no sharing, no reuse. This is typical for many companies, whether content management applications or other types of applications. Service oriented architectures (SOA) try to address this issue by placing a service layer between applications that consume services and service provider applications, allowing many applications to leverage shared services. Implementing this forces the organization to think about standards and common facilities.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is a term referring to a strategy to manage content across the enterprise in a common way, leveraging common facilities. ECM covers types of content applications including Web Content Management (WCM), Document Management (DM), Records Management (DM), Digital Asset Management (DAM) and others. Companies like mine typically have all of these needs. And we have applications that address these needs, but, like many companies, they are composed of unique purpose built applications with no overarching strategy or technology. Also vast holes exist in this application web that necessitate ad-hoc approaches and manual intervention, costing in labor and quality. This silo approach is costly and limiting.

Vendors attempt to address this need by selling monolithic systems that replace these many purpose built applications with customizations and tailoring of their product. Aggressive implementations of these systems force the organization to change and adapt in order to be successful. Failure typically happens because the organization is unable or unwilling to make these changes, and the customization efforts of these products is vastly underestimated. Much is promised by these solutions, but little is delivered. Sometimes millions of dollars of 'shelfware' or hobbled and cobbled systems limp along adding little and causing frustration and empathy. This is nothing unique to ECM: try CRM, ERP and others. Consultants love them. Companies hate them. We can do better.

My approach is to be more evolutionary. We cannot rip out the many processes and programs that make up a web of content management. They work (more or less), and they focus on solving specific problems. There is a lot of knowledge embedded in each application. There is a lot invested in them: both mindshare and monentary. But change is forcing us to change. We have to improve our efficiency at the same time we expand to a global presence. We have to adapt our management systems to serve our new global platforms. In particular, site content management (Web Content Management and Digital Asset Management) must improve or we will sink under the weight of all the content management needs. In short, we have to change everything to realize our vision. But how can we be evolutionary and still change everything?

I'll leave with this cliff hanger for now...

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