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Content Management:
Our Organized Future

George Siemens

January 23, 2003

Content management holds the promise of better organization, increased access to resources, greater organizational effectiveness...for those who dare slog through the process of setting up a content management system - a task often more onerous than dealing with unorganized content.

After clearing away marketing hype, "next-big-thing-ism", bloated expectations, and misconceptions, content management is revealed as a necessary tool for organizations to achieve strategic goals and thrive.

In many organizations/industries (especially my field - higher education) digital content creation is far outpacing management. The result is an almost chaotic format of resources dispersed across an organization (which is fine - as long as connections are made), without a clear understanding of information/digital assets - the building blocks of a knowledge society.

New technologies/concepts have two potential impacts: a completely new way of doing things, or an improved way of doing what is already happening. Managing content with technology falls into the latter category, but is unfortunately marketed in the former. The "new thing" is the rapid growth of digital resources...improving organization with technology is only an improvement of existing practices of libraries and information architects.

In our developing knowledge economy, content management will continue to take a central and increasingly vital role in organizational success, effectiveness, and competency.

What is Content Management?
Content management is (drum roll...) the management of content (any digital item - video, audio, text, graphic, links to physical resources, etc.) to allow for contribution from varied sources with points of control to ensure quality. The contributors are often individuals without strong technical background (subject matter experts), so templates are used to create uniform and consistent documents.

Content management is a concept, process, function, and a strategy.

As a concept, it is the organizing of corporate information and making it useful (useful defined as being usable in format, time, and place needed by end user).

As a process, CM is a set of guidelines, templates, roles, and procedures to achieve the concept of CM - namely to make information more useful.

As a function, CM requires low-tech front-end (for non-technical users), multiple contributor environments, control points (to ensure quality), scalable, and separation of content from presentation.

As a strategy, CM is part of an overall knowledge management process and includes:

  • Organizing information in an organization
  • Knowing what information an organization owns
  • Finding what information an organization has
  • Maintaining (current and relevant) information of an organization.

Process of Managing Content

  • Creating - This may involve the creation of content via an authoring tool native to the CMS, conversion of legacy content, or creation of content through regular corporate processes (and the content is then uploaded into the CMS in its (usually) proprietary format).
  • Reviewing - Content that has been created is submitted to a review process. Reviewers can accept, reject, or suggest changes.
  • Editing - Improvements/alterations to content based on review, feedback, or changes in the underlying principles expressed by the unit of information.
  • Organizing - Information needs to be organized in order to be accessible to end-users. Some aspects of organization:
    • Format (legacy content conversion)
    • Version control
    • Meta tagging/Indexing
    • Set live and kill dates
  • Publishing - Once content has been created/reviewed/edited/organized, it is then published and set "live" in a system. "Presentation" (CSS, usability, accessibility, etc.) is added at the publishing stage to create look and feel desired for the format.
  • Feedback loop - 3rd party evaluations. The initial review process will ensure content accuracy and conformity to standards. However, knowledge becomes outdated (or errors were made during the review stage), and feedback from content users can ensure knowledge "freshness". Additionally, 3rd party evaluations can offer qualitative assessments of the content itself that may not be intrinsic to the initial review process.
  • Searching and retrieving - This aspect of CM ensures that content is available when it's needed and in the desired format.

Benefits of Content Management
The ultimate goal of CM is to permit organizations to achieve strategic goals. As with any technology process, the tool has value only to the degree that it enables (not dominates) achievement of larger corporate missions. This list details some major value points for CM:

  • Repurpose content for use in various formats - web page, documents, etc
  • Reduce costs associated with maintenance of content/web sites
  • Reduce costs associated with searching for content (or duplication of content creation)
  • Access - findability (and its implications - info when needed, avoiding duplication)
  • Meet info needs of organization - when, where, how
  • Relevant - content is current and meets needs of users
  • Organized - content can be easily located due to an imposed organizational structure at the time of publishing
  • Customized - delivering info in a manner and format required by the person for the task
  • Increased responsiveness to trends, markets, etc. (and every else that comes from knowing where things are)
  • Quality control (via automated workflow process)
  • Collaboration and "spiraling" knowledge as contributors build on each others' work
  • Permits non-technical staff to enter and publish content into a system

What is a Content Management System?
A content management system (CMS) is a combination of tools used to achieve objectives of CM. Often, content management is viewed as content for the web (digital content used for Inter-Intra-extranet). This is a significant use currently, but as organizations (like libraries and education institutions) begin to use CM, the system can also be used to point to physical resources (though only having a link to a resource does eliminate one selling feature of a CMS - content when needed).

Some additional definitions:

"Most content management providers and experts can agree on at least a basic definition of a web CMS: at a minimum, a web content management system should be able to separate content from presentation, and in so doing should allow the non-technical creators of content to manipulate a web site's content directly." CMS Basics

"A CMS is a tool that enables a variety of (centralised) technical and (de-centralised) non technical staff to create, edit, manage and finally publish a variety of content (such as text, graphics, video etc), whilst being constrained by a centralised set of rules, process and workflows that ensure a coherent, validated website appearance." What is Content Management

"A content management system provides Web site operators with tools to automatically enforce versioning and change control, maintain hyperlinks and site maps, and schedule publication of content. It also allows content providers to submit text and graphics without knowing HTML, while enforcing a consistent look and feel across the site." Content Management

Features of CMS
Each CMS will have different features and functionality. Some common features are:

  • Versioning to allow revisiting of previous content and to detail development process
  • Template-based publishing for consistent look and feel
  • File "check-in" and "check-out" to avoid accidental over-writing
  • Workflow process
  • Roles-based
  • Repository for storage and access for various needs
  • Metadata features
  • Content scheduling to ensure content is current.

Additional resources:

Content Conversion
Proprietary content formats can be inhibitive as organizations need to present content in various ways. Content conversion is a significant aspect of effective management. By creating content and presentation separately, usability of each piece of content increases (i.e. for multiple formats).

"Most existing content is trapped in a proprietary format that binds the content to a particular viewer and editor. To be liquid, content needs to be free from its proprietary format and thus, free from its proprietary editors and viewers. Converting legacy content to XML makes the content liquid and therefore, easy to reuse in different contexts destined for a variety of display formats." Liquid Content

"Corporations have a tremendous amount of information assets that exist today as individual files in directories...Because of its unstructured nature, it has been difficult to leverage this information and to reduce both the cost and complexity of managing this information...By converting existing documents and new documents into XML, organizations can achieve significant savings of both time and money. " Why Convert to XML

Contrasting opinions (centralized or decentralized) exist about the best format of a content management system based on:

  • Technology trends
  • Organization needs (security)
  • End user needs (access)

In a centralized model, content is organized in large databases, resulting in increased control and security. In a decentralized model, content is stored in pockets, and then connected and searchable. Centralization is based on a business management/control model, while decentralization is based on the Internet model.

Centralization and decentralization both have unique characteristics, and each should be selected based on an organizations needs. If the objective is a closed, higher security system with maximum control, the centralized model may be the best choice. If the objective is an open model for maximum sharing and collaboration (especially with other institutions - a focus of higher education), then a decentralized model may be the best option.

A good overview of centralized/decentralized characteristics can be found: Centralized or Decentralized Authoring? "In practice, neither centralized or decentralized authoring is the single answer to all requirements. To gain the best business outcomes, it is necessary to use both models where appropriate, with a full understanding of their strengths and weaknesses."

Not directly related to content management, but an interesting exploration of Centralized versus Decentralized Information Systems in Organizations

Classifying, Organizing, and Finding Content
Findability (or intelligence) is built into content in one of two ways - at the point of authoring and at the point of searching. Effective utilization of taxonomies, classification, categorization, etc. helps to ensure content is created for optimal findabililty. However, even this process is context sensitive and may result in confusion as a result of word usage by designers versus content users. Some problems can be solved through intelligent search (think Google). Currently, a perfect classification and discovery tool does not exist. Promises of the Semantic Web may make this easier, but even then, some trial and error may remain as part of the "finding" process.

Resources for classifying/meta tagging:

Some resources for searching:

As with any emerging or rapidly developing field, today's definitions and concepts of content management are under continual pressure to change and react to technology, client needs, and improvements based on lessons learned. Some predictions and trends:

  • Commodity, open standards, convergence Looking towards the future of content management
  • Increased use of content management for internal (not only web-facing) information management
  • Development similar to web model - pockets of information, connected.
  • Content management strategy initiated as a change management strategy first - technology second.
  • Increased strategic focus..."Which goals does this accomplish? How does it meet our mission statement?"
  • Simplicity - make the system user-friendly
  • ROI - focus on value for investment Finding the ROI in Content Management
  • Subject matter expert focused - success depends on understanding user needs and motivations (for entering content into a system) Structured Content: What's in it for Writers?

Additional Resources

Design and Reusability of Learning Objects in an Academic Context: A New Economy of Education? Note in particular the Design Principles

Paying for Learning Objects in a Distributed Repository Model An ecommerce model for distribution of content. Learning focused, but very relevant to any content model that requires sharing/purchasing of resources (though this may not be applicable to a corporation that is not attempting to connect with content providers outside of their institution)

Interview with Bob Boiko (author of Content Management Bible)

Semantic Web Metadata for e-Learning - Some Architectural Guidelines Discusses metadata, XML/RDF, Semantic Web

From Chaos to Control - PCMag article providing an overview of CM and listing several commercial and open source options.

Step Two Designs - excellent resource site/blog.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.  


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License