How to Approach Enterprise Content Management

BLG01x - Greefhorst - image(1)I was recently asked if I could support an organization on their journey of improving their approach to Enterprise Content Management (ECM). This sounded like an interesting question to dive into. I am not a specialist in that area, but I have seen a lot of things related to ECM in organizations and have been involved in a lot of discussions around the topic. Also, I have an intrinsic drive to try to understand things like this, so I agreed to support them.

It should be no surprise to you that ECM is closely related to data management. Content is typically considered to be “unstructured data,” although there is a gray area between structured and unstructured data. People also talk about semi-structured data, referring to data that has some structure such as “tags” that indicate what certain data items mean.

When you google “Enterprise Content Management” you will find a lot of information, including a number of models that tell you what sort of things ECM is about. The average interpretation is that ECM is everything related to managing all sorts of content, from documents to images to messages on social media. ECM is typically related to areas such as workflow management, document management, collaboration, records management, and web content management.

As an enterprise architect I tried to find a model that included all relevant aspects in a sufficient level of detail. Surprisingly, I could not find such a model, so I started to construct my own. I tried to identify all IT capabilities that are related to ECM, starting with the existing models and then adding detail until I felt it expressed these areas effectively. The resulting model can be used to plot existing IT solutions and identify gaps, overlaps, and over-extensions.

It also triggered me to think about the types of content, and why certain types of content were given special attention. In particular, documents, digital assets, web content, social content and records are typically distinguished. My main insight was that these types of content require different IT capabilities. On the other hand, these types also overlap. For example, a digital asset can also be a document, as well as a record.

Another insight I had was that knowledge management, sometimes included in the definition of ECM, has a very specific role. Knowledge Management includes ontologies; descriptions of the “things” that exist and how they are related. An ontology should be the foundation for metadata of content. It eases the discovery and interpretation of content. It can also be used to “tag” the text in the content, which increases the meaning and thus the value of it.

These are my reflections so far in working with ECM. Do not hesitate to look at the model that I constructed which you can find on: http://www.slideshare.net/dannygreefhorst/reference-model-enterprise-content-management

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About Danny Greefhorst

Danny Greefhorst, MSc., is a Principal Consultant and Director of ArchiXL in Amersfoort, The Netherlands, and acts as an architect and consultant for clients in the financial and public sector. He has extensive experience with the definition and implementation of enterprise architectures, application architectures and technical architectures. In addition, he coaches organizations in setting up and executing their architecture function. Danny is responsible for the EA portal Via Nova Architectura and is a member of the governing board of the architecture department of the Dutch Computing Association. Danny is active in the architecture community, regularly publishes on IT and architecture related topics and is co-author of the book Architecture Principles: The Cornerstones of Enterprise Architecture. He can be reached at dgreefhorst@archixl.nl.

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