Sunday, 25 November 2007

ECM and the FLATNESSES model

So, a while ago I decided to assess current generation (ECM 1.0) Enteprise Content Management against Dion Hinchcliffes SLATES model of Enterprise 2.0, and Chris McGath of ThoughtFarmer seemed a bit shocked that ended up rating the current state of play quite highly :-)

So Chris decided to assess his product agains Dion's MK II model, with the acronym FLATNESSES; so I have to take up the challenge and look at the additional elements of this new Entperprise 2.0 model and how ECM systems fit in. This is Chris version of Dion's diagram, showing the additional elements which we want to examine:

I have added some comments on some of the elements originally assessed against SLATES too.
  • Freeform: Well in the biggest sense of the word, an ECM 'platform' such as EMC Documentum, IBM FileNet or OpenText Livelink can be considered free form, as you can build whatever ECM enabled application you like on top of said platform, with the components and interfaces it supplies. However in the Enterprise 2.0 context 'freeform' appears to speak to Dion's idea of an egalitarian experience for users. In order for ECM 2.0 to be freeform in this context, it needs to support applications like blogs and wiki's where the content of pages is hosted in the ECM repository, manged by its WCM sub-system or provided with the benefits of federated services, such as records management etc. Personally I would also like to interpret 'freeform' as the ability to utilise AJAX, FLASH, Silverlight, PHP or whatever we want to quickly build simple, contextual interfaces that offer true browser based, user centric design.
  • Links: dealt with under the SLATES posting, however moving forward the ability to link to any piece of content anywhere in the repository via URL / URI mechanisms needs to be linked to the increaslingly popular use of RDF / RSS technology for linking to other enterprise systems.
  • Authorship: dealt with under the SLATES posting, but since then IBM have release their free 'Lotus Symphony' toolset, based on OpenOffice.Org components creating Open Documentum Format (ISO) standard XML files. So why not build in such tools to replace the simple inline text editor offered for quick content creation in many current ECMS' - well because it might damage relationships with MS by reducing licensing of their cash cow ? Well no one said you can't do the above and still provide Office connectors !
  • Tagging: dealt with under the SLATES posting, it should be easy to such 'consumer web' oriented aspects such as 'tag clouds' if users find them an easy way to browse the metadata held in your ECMS
  • Network Oriented: "Application content must be fully web oriented, addressable and reusable". Well we have already mentioned that many ECMS' have moved away from 'fat client' or even 'thin client' type software integration with the desktop towards web browser based interfaces, giving URL access to content objects. This move should continue, but care and attention needs to be applied to these interfaces, especially as they can be quite slow compared to MS Windows Explorer integrations provided by the old client install technology. Dion's diagram also mentions "small pieces" - I am presuming this means pieces which are easily consumable over the network. Well that depends on your business context and what content your producing, but actually we are looping back to authoring and XML; if you can do a good job of managing small 'chunks' of XML content as a core competence, then it should be easy to push that to a web browser, or transform it into a paginated PDF for third party printing, or to a talking eBook for your visually impaired customers etc.
  • Social: so where does this fit into the ECM universe. It might be via links to other systems, for example if you leverage a seperate Directory Service to provide authentication for your ECMS, then it may be a case of surfacing useful information from your directory alongside the content in a particular context. It may be a case of leveraging audit trail info, i.e. these people have read this document, other people who read this document also accessed this document... etc. However social aspects are very definately contextual to every different organisation, so the lowest common denominator might be linking people to content by surfacing metadata already held, and doing it in a way thats useful to your users.
  • Emergence: using Prof. J. Goldstein's definition of "the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems." we might argue that ECMS technology could support emergence, but that acually ECM is usually (or should be) part of wider Information Management strategies, and as such should include well worked out structures such as metadata schema's, taxonomies, business classification schema's and folder structures. This suggests ECM strategies and emergence are to each other as matter and anti-matter. However it might not be that simple. For well structured information stores, the marriage of ECM and BI to spawn 'Content Intelligence' might find patterns in content creation or use. An interesting topic for further thought.
However might bottom line on this is the same as always, 'ECM' is a strategy not a product or suite of products - its about information management not about shiny new software :-)

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