Most companies create a large amount of content,
or digital information. This content is found in many forms: financial data in
spreadsheets, internal memos and external correspondence in word processing
documents, customer/client information and product inventories in databases,
creative work in graphic, video and audio files, and so forth. Much of this information
is unstructured, and can include such things as email messages, handwritten
documents and drawings.

When your company is small, you generally manage this
content at the document level. In the smallest businesses, files may be stored
on individual workstations where they’re created, although you’ll most likely
quickly outgrow this stage. Your next solution is to store user-created content
on one or more file servers. You may implement RAID for fault tolerance and
you’ll almost certainly have a backup program to ensure that there are
redundant copies of your critical data.

As the amount of content grows, the problem becomes how to
manage it from the creation process to the need to access it later. Large
projects will span multiple documents, often of different types, and involve
many different authors and reviewers in the creation process. You may need to
reuse content and collections of content. Tracking different versions of
individual documents, tracking all the documents that relate to a specific
project, and accessing specific content within an in-progress or completed
project quickly and easily can be a challenge when you have thousands or
hundreds of thousands of documents in your data repository.

At that point, you need to start thinking about a complete content
management system (CMS) that will allow you to keep tabs on the location of and
relationships between all of the information you’ve collected at the content
level. And as with any complex technological solution, it’s important to consider
future growth and scalability when you choose the best content management
solution for your network.

Evaluating your content management needs

The first step is to determine whether you need a content
management system. If your company is approaching or already
at the enterprise level, you probably do. Other large companies seem to
think so; according to a survey conducted by Information Week recently, large
companies in the U.S. are investing in CMS technology to a greater degree than
ever — in many cases, spurred on by compliance regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the Health Insurance Portability
and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other electronic records-retention and
privacy laws. If your company is part of a regulated industry, CMS can help you
document compliance.

The next step is to determine exactly what type(s) of
content you want to manage. The term “content management” is used by some
software vendors in the broad sense described above, but other content
management solutions are designed to deal only with the content of Web sites.

The Information Week survey found that the most commonly
used form of CMS is document management, with Web content management, record
management/archiving and retention following closely.

Once you know what you want to manage, you’re better
prepared to evaluate the many content management systems that are available.

Content management options

The sheer number of CMS solutions on the market can be
overwhelming. Here are a few examples:

Microsoft’s Content Management Server 2002 (MCMS) is an
enterprise Web content management system that runs on Windows 2000 Server and
integrates with other Microsoft products such as their Commerce ServermBizTalk Server,
Application Center and SharePoint Portal Server.
Content can be stored on a Microsoft SQL server, and Word can be used for
authoring and publishing content.

Many other vendors, such as Vignette, RedDot,
offer both Web content managers and enterprise CMS solutions (ECM) that allow
you to centralize and share your documents and automate and manage business
processes. Some vendors focus on specific industries and markets. Hummingbird
Ltd, which acquired RedDot in June 2005, is a major
provider of enterprise CMS with solutions specifically targeted at the legal, government
and financial services sectors and offers a suite of products that work
together to provide management of email, correspondence, contracts, Web content
and content lifecycle, as well as compliance solutions.

There are open source CMS solutions, too. OSCOM is an international organization that’s
devoted to developing standards and promoting open source content management
solutions.

Content management software isn’t confined to PC platforms.
IBM’s DB2 Content Manager runs on their mid-range iSeries
and mainframe zSeries computers.

To keep up with content management trends and new solutions,
check out CMS Watch. In addition to
reports on different aspects of CMS/ECM technologies and vendors, their site
includes a very helping section on building a business case for implementing
content management in your organization.

Choosing a content management solution

Once you’ve determined your content management needs, you
can better evaluate different options in terms of cost, ease of deployment,
usability, and scalability. Since CMS solutions are generally high dollar
items, it’s critical that you choose wisely.

Some important considerations in selecting a CMS/ECM
solution include:

  • Ease
    of use for content creators/authors (for example, authors shouldn’t have
    to learn HTML or have programming/technical skills to create their
    content).
  • Ability
    to manage different platforms from the same content source.
  • Ability
    to easily create cross-links that will survive restructuring of the
    content.
  • A
    workflow model that you can customize to fit your organization’s needs.
  • Good
    archiving, backup and version control functionality.
  • Ability
    to integrate with other systems and applications you have
    in place.
  • Security
    mechanisms to protect the content.
  • Support
    for all document formats in use in your organization.
  • Extensibility
    so you can upgrade features or add custom features (such as support for
    additional formats) later.

In doing your research prior to selecting a CMS solution,
you should ensure that the vendor provides adequate training, documentation and
support.

Don’t overlook the “people factor.” Even though the new
content management system may offer great benefits to the enterprise and to
individual users, most people don’t like to change the way they work. A system
that requires them to drastically change the process of creating content will
be met with resistance by many — perhaps most — users unless you can convince
them that there’s really something in it for them.

Scalability considerations

In terms of scalability, you’ll want to know the capacity of
the system (for example, for a Web content management system, is there a limit
on the number of Web servers supported? For a document management system, is
there a limit on the number of documents or file size?) You should also be sure
to clarify whether additional software must be purchased to upgrade to a
greater capacity as your company and document load grows, and investigate what
hardware requirements will be necessary so those costs can be factored into
your scalability projections.