What’s in a name? Or do you mean what I think you do? Implications for enterprise content culture

Most people love a good rant, especially when it is well-founded, and I'm no different.

And so it was that I really enjoyed Laurence Hart's recent, self-admitted rant (http://wordofpie.com/2010/03/04/a-rant-against-cms/). In his Word-of-Pie blog, Laurence railed against his perceived miss-use of the term 'Content Management Systems' or CMS. It was topical, well-informed, and most importantly to me, resonated on several fronts.

In brief, Laurence's position is that:

"...All you Web CMS people need to give the term CMS back! It doesn't belong to you. A long time ago you took it while the broader content community was trying to futz with the term ECM [Enterprise Content Management]. By the time we realized what was happening, you had taken the term..."
His issue is that while web content management (WCM) is a valid description, it is too often abbreviated to content management (CMS), even though there are a wide range of content types beyond web pages. The common use of CMS is much narrower than is implied. Enterprise Content Management (ECM) was coined in part to describe all content that an enterprise might have.

I'm not interested in the semantic debate about what each term means and what is the correct term to use.

I am interested in what this discussion says about culture and the difficulty getting people in an enterprise to take a broad view of content.

There seem to be at least 'two solitudes' in content management – ECM and CMS.

It is interesting how specific technology applications shape and restrict expectations.

Last year my employer, Open Text, acquired Vignette (history), one of the oldest and most established CMS vendors. Most of Open Text heritage is from document and record management (Livelink and Hummingbird eDOCS for example), process management (IXOS) and collaboration; in other words ECM. We published a trilogy of books on ECM in 2003-2005. While some staff came from acquisitions prior to Vignette that had expertise in WCM (notably RedDot), they represented a comparatively small portion of the Company. The Vignette acquisition brought a much larger group of CMS-oriented staff to Open Text.
I think Open Text is richer for the breadth of perspectives, but we have had to work through the challenge to merge the different cultures. Note I'm not talking corporate cultures, as indeed the companies were quite similar, but rather the application culture of how best to manage content to meet all the needs of our enterprise customers. Each of us has tended to think mostly of some content types, some approaches to content management, and some business needs.

Take Open Text's own Intranet as an example. Open Text has been running an Intranet called 'Ollie' on Livelink technology since 1996. Fundamentally the Livelink model is one of web folders containing 'documents' of any type. This model works really well when individual and team work products to be shared are typically documents – so it's great in supporting teams and managing records. However, linked webpages are a much better vehicle to support the dissemination of centrally managed content, especially information from an organization to its staff. So last year we broadened our Intranet Systems to include a true WCM capability in parallel.
For some in Open Text, the internal use of WCM came none too soon, while for others it was a surprise! I had to make a video to 'educate' staff on why we had both approaches and how to choose the best system for their specific needs. It turned out to be easiest to provide context by talking about the parallel evolution of ECM and WCM technologies over the course of the last 15 to 20 years.
The application of social media in an enterprise has also challenged cultural expectations.

Those with a WCM background have generally talked about the advantages of working closely with customers through external websites. Most of their value propositions of breaking down barriers and being more transparent are absolute anathemas to those ECM practitioners who have focussed on internal process and records management for compliance.
Traditional document management approaches provide another example of cultural expectations nurtured by specific technology experiences.

As I mentioned above, Livelink used a web folder paradigm to organize content. It also had rich metadata capabilities, but users tend to think of these as supplementary or optional ways of organizing content. It is fair to say that most users tend to think first and foremost of folders – so it can be a challenge to collect metadata from them. In contrast, with our eDOCS content management system (from Hummingbird) there are no folders – everything is organized through metadata. eDOCS users find browsing folders can be frustrating. Going forward these alternate approaches are merged in our Open Text Content Server 2010 under our ECM Suite.
Defining effective taxonomies to organize content can be one of the biggest challenges for an enterprise.

Generally people in specific departments, and using specific systems, tend to define taxonomies that meet their immediate needs, but the taxonomies they create are generally too limited for wider use. Similarly, other groups create incompatible taxonomies often to address similar needs. These limitations ultimately contribute to failure. Creating new taxonomies seems to be a recurring theme in many enterprises as most are never broad enough, scalable or robust.
Ironically then, what a person means by 'content', the 'content taxonomy' they think is required for their organization, and their perception of the critical features of a 'content management system' are all highly subjective!