ECM Vendors Practicing What They Preach – Not!!

So here’s as interesting blog post about Microsoft’s ECM stated strategy of, “Integrated user-oriented ECM systems,” and the fact Microsoft apparently fails to practice what they preach. In summary an error was found by a reporter on a public Microsoft website, a senior Microsoft guy said he’d get it fixed right away, and it wasn’t fixed by the next day – the blogging reporter saw this as a failure!

Having been involved in the new Open Text website project I can say it generally takes us several weeks to get new content up even though we use Livelink WCM. To qualify that, in my experience blatant errors get fixed by the web team very quickly, but significant changes take much longer. At it’s not really because of the software, but the processes around controlling and structuring what we put on the website.

Maybe it’s because of ‘old think’ combined with specific software. I can get new content on the web in seconds when I do it myself through a blog or forum in Open Text Online Communities. And if you wanted, so could you. Our corporate (www) site is a classic website that like practically that of every other company is seen as a formally published and tightly controlled. The businesses processes around this require time.

In contrast, tools like Livelink as a classic Intranet (even if used externally) provide much more flexibility, but interestingly in order to support this flexibility they require user membership and authentication.

So it seems that in practice, at least for corporations, “Integrated user-oriented ECM systems,” require user management for both contributors and consumers, and this is not a characteristic of corporate websites. In contrast, in the consumer web the authentication of content consumers is not required. Witness this blog I cited – rapid posting and response by others while Microsoft still hasn’t fixed the issue. I don’t think businesses are ready for “Business at the speed of thought” as Bill Gates once called it.


I Guess I Didn't Really Get Wikis

I'm familiar with Wikis; in fact I've used them -- I've made modest postings to Wikipedia for example.

But it turns out I really didn't get it.

Anton Huenermann and colleagues in Open Text have developed a Livelink Wiki feature. It would be easy to see Wikis as yet another Livelink collaborative feature along with Discussion Groups, Forums, Task List, News Channels, etc. Easy, but Wrong!

Wikis, as you may know, are a way to edit documents that appear as a webpage. One of the ideas is that documents develop by consensus. In the aforementioned Wikipedia, people write encyclopedia articles that appear as webpages, and then others amend and add material. Over time the richness and accuracy of individual articles, relationships between them and the overall collection size and quality improve. Previous versions are kept and it is possible to rollback if someone makes bad changes. Group consensus rules over time.

You could argue that the online editor feature of Livelink Enterprise Server, combined with open permissions could allow users to have this kind of a wiki experience -- easy editing by anyone with version control and rollback capabilities. What is different is that users would be editing a document (Word, text, html) that they would see as an object on a Livelink page but would have to open. In the case of a wiki, the document is the webpage.

There is a very fundamental paradigm at the core of Livelink ES and that is the representation of a list of documents in a folder/container hierarchy. As many have commented, Livelink appears as a web-based file system with a lot of other features.

Over time there have been many refinements to the appearance of a Livelink ES page, but the fundamental idea of a file list remains. We have even created modules like Appearance and Expressions that change the layout of Livelink pages -- change everything but the file listing in the center.

The other thing that is different about Wikis is the easy way to make links between different documents/pages. In fact it is so easy there is no visible hierarchy of content objects since such a hierarchy makes no sense. Any page may refer to any other page for any of a range of reasons related to context or meaning. To be accurate, in the case of the Livelink Wiki, a breadcrumb trail can be shown, but it is not usually relevant to user navigation.

So for the first time in Livelink ES, there is no file listing on pages and your position in a hierarchy is not apparent.


Content Management Systems Are Second Class Systems for the Rich

Actually the article I'm going to mention is called, "Databases Are So 20th Century" by Dave Kellogg in CMS Watch. I found it an interesting read for the start of a new year.

Kellogg's basic thesis is that database systems can never handle content well, and that the current efforts to manage content as XML in databases is now the fourth attempt to address the problem and is doomed to failure. As he says:

"First, you need to abandon the notion that content is a special case of data. Indeed, it's the other way around; data is a special case of content that happens be highly regular in structure."

What of content management systems? Kellogg says:

"Just as poor countries have rich residents, there is an upper class of content that gets to live in databases (e.g., corporate web content, aircraft repair manuals, new drug applications). Typically, this is accomplished through enterprise content management (ECM) systems that both break the content into bite-sized morsels that fit into relational "square tables" and track metadata about it (e.g., author, version, check-in status, required approvals).

So while upper-class content enjoys life in a database, the great irony is that ECM typically treats the content itself as opaque -- because of the limitations in the underlying database system. That is, while ECM tracks and manages a lot of information about the content, it actually does relatively little to help get inside content. Despite its middle name, ECM today isn't really about content. It's about metadata."

Since it doesn't appear that Kellogg's ideal system is likely to appear anytime soon, I guess we can go on selling and using ECM systems for some time! Happy New Year!