Calculating the Value of Content in ECM

It's only worth expending effort to manage something if it has value – usually positive, but sometimes negative. So the concept of content value is implicit in enterprise content management (ECM).

On the other hand, the value of a given content object (i.e. digital file) such as an email or document generally declines over time – or at least this is the common wisdom. I have seen graphs drawn mapping 'value' over 'time', with a smooth decline of value tending to zero. However, such a representation is clearly an average of value across many types of enterprise content.

If you look at individual pieces of content, then you'll find different profiles:

  • In compliance, a piece of content may retain 100% of its value for a defined period of years and then abruptly drop to having no value, or even having negative value (liability) that should trigger its destruction
  • In knowledge management, a piece of content may have declining value over time, but then because of some new event may suddenly have increased value
But this perspective is of the Inherent or Independent Value of a piece of content – the value is assessed entirely based on the information contained in the object. But it seems to me that there are at least two other factors that impact value:

  • Context – when correctly combined with other prices of content a given piece of content may have greater value. For example a specifications document is more valuable together with the associated requirements document. Value can often be realized by the way in which context is presented between content items – how they are grouped, ordered or ranked.
  • Impairment – Ironically, the value of a piece of content may be impaired by efforts to manage content. If you mix valuable pieces of content with large amounts of irrelevant materials, that should have been destroyed, you reduce the chances that the valuable content can be found and its value realized. Keeping everything is usually a bad idea. And often users impair value when they misclassify content.
So the available value of a piece of content to an organization may be expressed as follows:

Available Value = Inherent Value x Context / Impairment
What this says is that content management efforts can be beneficial, but if not done well can actually be destructive.

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