Monday, October 25, 2004

Tony Byrne of CMS Watch at NCC AIIM

By way of introducing the evening’s speaker, Mark Mandel promised, “If you’ve ever wondered what chunking means, you will learn tonight.” A lady from Computer Associates sitting at my table said, “Oh good, that’s what I came for.”

Tony Byrne began by saying he had joined AIIM five to six years ago and that it had opened his eyes to content management. He announced that CMS Watch’s second report on enterprise search would be coming out soon.

His presentation surveyed the enterprise content management and web content management market place, and product trends and concluded with thoughts and advice on procurement.

“Instead of a layer cake slide, I have a ‘cheese board’,” Byrne said, showing an illustration of content management technologies. He described imaging as the “granddaddy” of content management. He proceeded through a series of technologies concluding with digital rights management. Gesturing at the slide, Byrnes said, “Any of these vendors will call themselves a provider of enterprise content management systems.” All have certain capabilities including versioning, click chart, process management, and business rules. But Byrne said that no one had a truly complete enterprise content management system.

He liked AIIM’s view of enterprise content management as a discipline. Reviewing the industry’s recent history, he described how major enterprise suite vendors had added capabilities by acquiring smaller companies. He said it was very unlikely that you could buy a big suite that will solve your problems.

Content management originated with single source repositories with multichannel publishing (part of what SGML was designed to do). Problems arise when content is pushed out, under goes changes and is sent back to the repository.

Your choice of content management system will be governed by the application at the center of your system. Different kinds of companies will have different kinds of applications at the center of their business. For example, HBO decided that digital asset management would be the center of their system; while professional services firms want collaborative applications at the center of their systems.

Byrne explained that web content management systems take data from data bases, structured documents, unstructured documents, and media and push it out to PDF, publishing out to the web site, wireless, and xml.

Chunking content is breaking it up into components and reassembling it. There is a cost to managing content at a very granular level, when models are too fine grain. IT architecture firms now have consultants who specialize in up-chunking. Byrne apologized for explaining this at dinner.

Content management systems come in three categories, production-oriented (imaging), delivery-oriented (portals and application servers), and full cycle. In some content management systems you must use the same system to manage and deliver content (Microsoft, to no one’s surprise).

Byrne described the range of content management vendors. Enterprise level, that is, large-scale platforms are typically marketed in multidimensional "suites" that span many function points but may be less well-suited for straightforward web content management projects.

Upper tier providers target large departments and corporations, and their products tend to focus more narrowly on web content management.

Mid-Market packages target mid-market firms or enterprise departments and usually trade customizability for ease-of-implementation.

Lower-priced products target relatively straightforward web content management requirements.

Open source (which Byrne described as “free as in speech, free as in beer”) has the functionality of upper tier systems and can be expensive to integrate. CMS Watch uses Mid Gard.

Byrne described all content management systems as underperforming. “The vendors I’m talking about are in the room” (cheerful laughter).

He said there were few big deals for web content management anymore and that it is usually sold as an add-on. Interwoven and Vignette began as web content management companies and bought complementary systems during the boom. Byrne thought the companies they acquired have stronger products.

He said many analysts think the web content management area is in the dumps, but he pointed out that the smaller firms are doing well. The upper tier companies are feasting on the enterprise companies’ accounts and the middle tier is winning on simplicity and rapid implementation. He quoted Warren Buffet, “When the tide goes out we will find out who is wearing a swim suit.” He observed that while doom and gloom have been predicted for years, it never comes.

Buyers think that their content management system should be delivering their web site, but Byrne said the systems are not doing that and probably should not. He said all content should be on the server and behind the firewall; that way if one goes away you still have the data.

He divided systems into bake and fry. In a bake system, pages are created within the content management system and then delivered to the web page. In a fry system, content is served from sources and delivered to the user. Byrne said, “I am a fan of bake.” However, when you need user input to assemble a page and need to dynamically serve content from a data base, a fry system works best.

He described the Microsoft system as moving from development to authoring to staging before being deployed through security to the web. It is expensive because it is licensed per CPU.

Byrne said the “devil is still in the development.” It is crucial to have strong software architecture in the beginning, which he described as really boring and technical. He knew of at least two federal installations that were delayed twelve to sixteen months because of security issues.

There are some good automatic deployment tools. “That is the good side of the story. But usability is still not great.” Content contributors and site visitors are looking for good search tools.

Records management systems are using Outlook. Technoflak asked, “Does that have a security problem?” Byrne asked, “In what respect?”, Technoflak elaborated, “Just that Outlook has an unhappy history.” Byrne answered, “To the extent that Outlook has security problems, anything you do in Outlook will have problems.”

Byrne had nice things to say about Interwoven, observing that it is configurable in XML and is appealing to both power users and passive users.

At one time the industry thought that thick clients were gone, that you can can use a browser for everything. Some web content management providers (OpenText) have brought back thickish clients.

Byrne began to talk about the importance of metadata and taxonomy. Byrne explained how metadata can be taken from a central store of attributes. Multifaceted taxonomy can create multiple hierarchies such as industry, service, geography.

Licensing is all over the map: per CPU, server, domain or contributor and sometimes, combinations of these. Technoflak would observe that pricing that is confusing is poor customer relations. Nowhere is the need for transparency greater than in pricing.

Byrne highlighted the rise of hosted vendors. Many thought that this business model would not succeed, but some are doing well. They can put their money into developing features and functionality rather than supporting a variety of operating systems.

Byrne offered guidance on deciding whether you need a content management system. Does your information need cleaning? Do you have consistent metadata standards? well defined business processes? If you cannot answer yes to these questions, maybe a content management system is not a good idea. You might be better off with a simple workflow system, which would give you templates and versioning. However, there is considerable cost when you have to move from workflow to a full content management system.

XML works better in a baking environment. Byrne explained the difference between reuse (breaking documents down to a very granular level) and repurposing (taking an entire document into a different format for a different purpose). He seemed to think repurposing was more practical.

Byrne advised attendees that they should expect to pay more for services than systems, something like a 7/3 ratio. He advised buyers to ask for narrative cases rather than check boxes. Don’t ask if a system has WYSIWYG or multitasking; ask how a product supports those capabilities. Buyers should form interdisciplinary teams; federal agencies should include a contracting officer early on. (Technoflak is reminded of a presentation at DC SPIN where the presenter said he was going to write a story in which the heroic contracting officer slew the Feature Creep.) Byrne also stressed the importance of testing before buying. “Don’t go to the vendor’s solutions center, test on site.” He concluded by saying, “Don’t postpone deploying a web content management system waiting for enterprise content management nirvana.”

The floor was thrown open for questions, led off by a gentleman from the production side of Federal Computer Week. He pointed out that some objects in print have no business on the web or need to have a different structure. For example, their top 100 vendors feature has a picture of the CEO of each company, but on the web the companies should simply be hyper linked. Byrne agreed that different renditions should handle content differently. In the ideal world you would have an authoritative XML repository, but you would still need both a print management and web content management system.

Byrne said the tricky thing in the federal space is the requirement that web and print content be identical, at least in respect to text. Change must be synchronized so that changes in one are immediately made in the other.

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