Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Where Is The Life-Cycle Focus?

I have been participating in many projects that have delivered content management solutions for producing and delivering content products via intranets, extranets and public web sites. And all too often, I have experienced that the content products that are produced have to make it on their own once they have been published, almost as if their lives end as soon they get published.

One of the reasons why this happens is the lack of a committed organization with processes and resources dedicated to manage the content throughout its entire life-cycle, not only in the early stages of it. Sure, there is always a team of editors, but typically the editors are more concerned with production of new content products than in activities such as reviewing, monitoring, revising, archiving and retiring already published content products (see below).



Maybe this lack of life-cycle focus is a heritage from the traditional off-line publishing process, where it is not possible to retain control after a content product, such as a newspaper, has been published and distributed to the subscribers or resellers. Still, one cannot enough stress the importance of implementing content management processes that consider the whole life-cycle of digital content products. Otherwise, things like these will happen:

  • Defects in published content products are not discovered and corrected
  • Content products get outdated before they should be retired
  • Content products that should have been retired are still accessible

These things will inevitably do some damage to the organization’s reputation and brand, giving users that interact with its content products an impression of the organization as being sloppy and lacking control of their content products. Which, of course, is not at all far from the truth.

Monday, February 26, 2007

For Better Or For Worse

It is almost impossible to select a CM platform on the market that fits all your current and future needs. However, I would say, finding a good Vendor that will help you implement and grow with a solution for several years is even harder.

When buying a major CM solution there are many aspects to consider and mistakes are easily made. Fortunately there are some good best practices to apply. Below are my personal favourites of the critical success factors that corresponds to the 5 pitfalls that Tony Byrne identified a couple of years ago.
1. Setup a multidisciplinary selection team.
2. Use the RFP answers and the scoring matrix as guidelines not a fact.
3. Test the critical scenarios in a small implementation project.
4. Sign a win-win contract.
5. Focus more on the service and support organization of the Vendor than the product they are implementing.

The first 4 items are simple enough. It is a pretty straightforward activity to identify the key roles needed in a team and to use the RFP answers as a filter rather than an unchallenged truth is a natural best practice. When the proper selection team/reference group is set it is also fairly easy to produce the critical scenarios to be implemented and tested for evaluation. Signing a win-win contract is to me a success factor based on common sense. A win-loose contract will of course make the Vendor focus on other clients that are more profitable.

The hardest one is to evaluate how the Vendor will match you as a client in a long-term cooperation. It is probably more complicated than finding the love of your life. There are no really good ways of dating a Vendor and in the standard selection process you usually only get one small Proof of Concept project to base the entire future relationship on. You could of course evaluate your relationship with the Vendor during a longer period of time in real implementation projects but the problem with this is of course that when you have invested a lot of time and knowledge in a solution it is very hard to change.

In order to avoid this I can only recommend that you select a CM platform that other Vendors are able to deliver. Unfortunately there are many cases where this recommendation is not applicable (the product developer is also the implementer) and you are left with an unhappy marriage or a terrible divorce.

Making Money On Free High Quality Content

"Good content is like water, or a great view: you build business around it, not on it"

Here's an example on how it is possible - by creating a superior user experience - to make money on free high quality content. It puts such things as DRM and paid content / paid services to shame.

User Experience Monetization Replaces Content Business Toll Gates

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Information and Content Architecture

Generally, people use the terms “information architecture” and “content architecture” interchangeably. I would say they represent different perspectives on content management.

Professionals working with presentation of content more often use the term information architecture. Professionals working with production of content often use the term content architecture.

Information architecture professionals organize information and navigation mechanisms for document, web sites and other content rich products so that users may find and use information effectively.

The Information architecture work can include:

  • analyze the user experience and requirements
  • organize the information and features into a logical structure of the document, website etc
  • define page structures for individual pages or templates
  • develop search navigation mechanisms to facilitate users' access to information and functionality
  • specify guidelines and standards for information usage

Content architecture professionals organize content and storage mechanisms for documents, web sites and other content rich products so that content creators, editors and managers can produce and deliver content effectively.

The Content architecture work can include:

  • establish an inventory of content repositories and sources
  • describe the content and relationships in a taxonomy or schema
  • identify production processes and content flows
  • explore possibilities to re-use and re-purpose content
  • specify guidelines and standards for content production

In accordance to the above, information architecture and content architecture can be seen as the two sides of the same coin.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Metadata, The DNA Of The Content Enterprise



Metadata is commonly defined as data about data. But I would rather define it as content about content, additional content that is intended to help the user to interpret main content by adding context to it, by putting it in the context of other content. Metadata can provide answers to questions the user might have about the content, such as who created it and when or what subject it is about. Content without any metadata is more or less useless. It is hard to find it, hard to understand where it came from, hard to determine if it is accurate and up-to-date or not, and so on.

“Content that has been adequately tagged with metadata can be leveraged in usage tracking, personalization and improved searching.” (GIGA)

Metadata is a key ingredients to help users find the content they are looking for. One of the big problems with finding content on the web and in private networks is that most content is textual, written in natural language, which is hard for computers to effectively manipulate and manage. Computers cannot understand the meaning of a piece of content (the semantics), only determine the structure of it (the syntax). So, when you search for content, the search engine will look for content that contains the same words and has the same syntax as your query. But it cannot understand what the words mean. This makes searching quite inefficient.

But this is also where metadata comes into the picture. By tagging the content with words (keywords) that tell more what the content is about than most of the words within the content itself do, the search engine can look for content that contains keywords that are the same as the words you provided in the query. This increases the efficiency of search, enabling more relevant search results.


Once the right content can be easily found and retrieved, metadata can also help with many other things with the content, such as reusing it for other purposes, preserving it, making sure only the right users can access it, and so on.

In other words, metadata is the DNA of a content enterprise, vital for its growth, survival and success. The metadata has to be good, and it has to be the right metadata. Equally importantly is that there is an enterprise taxonomy that organizes all content semantically. But more about that later.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Defining Content

Content is a generic term for something that conveys a message from a sender, such as text, movies, sounds and pictures, that is intended to communicate information and/or create experiences for the receiver. Digital content is content that can be created, modified, delivered and shared with information technologies.



A content resource is a piece of content that is used as input when performing an activity. For example, it could be an instructional text that instructs the person that shall perform the activity how to do it, or an image that will be part of the final content product.

A content product (sometimes called publication) is one or more content resources that have been put together for a specific audience or user. For example, it could be a newsletter, a web page, a video clip, or an entire web site.

A content asset (sometimes called digital asset) is content that is said to have a certain (usually monetary) value to its the owner, usually a business. Hence, both content resources and content products can be seen as content assets.

The Big Advertising Shift

In Sweden, more money is now spent on online advertising than on other advertising media such as newspapers and television. Even though this was expected to happen sooner or later, it is a milestone in the development and adoption of the Content Economy.

Google is expected to reach a market share of almost 30% of the online advertisement market this year. The biggest threat to Google's domination of the online advertisment market does not seem to be competitors like Yahoo! More likely, the communities that pop up every now and then from basically nowhere are the biggest threat to Google. Not one community alone, but all of them together. Why? Well, community members voluntarily give away a lot of detailed information about themselves, their interests and lifestyle, which makes it possible to target specific audiences and present personalized offers to them. They are also more willing to accept this targetet advertising, since it is more relevant to them.

Google, on the other hand, tries to get as much information about their users via their services without the users really giving it to them, or without the users even knowing that Google has access to their information. It seems to be a successful strategy. But still, this is a more cumbersome, expensive and problematic road to travel than the one that communities are travelling. Google is well aware of this. Who really thinks Google bought http://www.youtube.com/ for another reason than to get hold of information about the members? I surely don't. They are not really interested in the content itself.

Hence, it is reasonable to suspect that Google will continue to buy popular communities where the members provide lots of information about themselves. But, can they buy enough communities to retain their current market share on the online advertising market? That is, in a near future where the online advertising market will shift from a strong focus on search engines and public portals to blogs and communities?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Components Of An ECM Strategy

Knowing where you are, where to go, and how to get there is a basic requirement in orientation. Any strategy includes these components.

Many enterprises do not seem to do this basic orientation when it comes to ECM. Maybe it is because of an uncertainty about what to address in such a strategy?

One way to approach it is to define and position the ECM initiatives and goals, over time, considering the following strategic components:

  • User experience: Explore and meet the user needs and behaviour when interacting with content products and services
  • Content products: Content targeted for specific users and channels
  • Content processes: Development of new services and the continuous creation, management, delivery and evaluation of content products
  • Content resources: Supporting the development processes by
    • Systems: Enabling platform components
    • Sources: Databases, file shares, documents and other content sources
    • Roles: Participants such as editors, administrators, architects etc
  • Governance: Organising roles and responsibilities for efficient enterprise strategic planning, development projects and daily production

The ECM strategy should always be aligned with the business and IT strategy and the capabilities of the human resources and finally fit in the overall architecture.

How hard can it be? ;-)

Why Your CM Initiative Fails

You can always blame it on technology if your Content Management initiative fails. But, then your analysis of why it went wrong will also fail, causing also the next CM initiative to fail. And so it goes on.

Content Management is NOT about technology. It is about a way of thinking, about organizational change, and about a new way to approach the problems and challenges of managing your content. So rather than being a technology issue, it has to do with you and the way you think and act about your content.

Of course, the vendors of Content Management products (WCMS, ECMS, DAMS…) like to convince you that their product is the key to your success, the road to salvation. I know how it is, because I have been telling potential customers myself when I was product manager for a CMS.

Surprisingly (or not), many consulting firms, even the one’s stating their “vendor independency”, also try to tell you which CMS to put your money on before you really figured out what you need. That is because they have invested a great deal of knowledge (money) in specific products. So in order to buy their expertise, you need to have the product they are experts on. So, they will inevitably favor these products and recommend one of them to you as the solution to all your problems, even if you really need something else. And, many consulting firms also find it easier to sell you a product than to tell you that you need help to define what you really need. And that you will have to pay for it.

But again, Content Management is not about technology. Sadly, many definitions of content management are in despite of this based on what features software companies currently are putting into their products. So the definition of what CM is inevitably changes over time, pushing the software industry to invent new names on the same thing to keep their products fresh and interesting to the buyers. But the Content Management challenges remain basically the same - Content Management is really about providing the intended users with the content they need when they need it, and doing it in an efficient and secure way that maximizes the value of the content for your business as well as your users.

To be able to achieve this, you need first to know which your users are and what content they need, and how they need it delivered to them. To maximize the value they get from your content, you need to deliver accurate, relevant, complete, and up-to-date content to them that is adapted to their specific needs. And, you need to deliver it in a way that is as usable and convenient for them as possible.

At the same time, you need to have flexible, secure and efficient processes in place for managing the content resources throughout their life-cycles. A key to maximize the business value of your content is to be able to reuse existing content resources for different purposes so you don’t have to re-create content unless it is absolutely necessary. Furthermore, you need to ensure that your content management processes comply with all rules and legislation, that the content does not fall into the wrong hands, and that the content resources will survive technology change.

This is essentially what Content Management is about.

To succeed with your Content Management initiative, you have to start with what you want to achieve for your entire organization. Then you develop the strategy, the plan that tells you how to achieve it. And after that, you start the process of changing how your organization thinks and acts about content. This is where technology comes into the picture, to support the new way of working with your content.

If you start with looking at technology or even specific products before you have your objectives and strategy clear to you, you will inevitably fail with your Content Management initiative.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Why Deliver Quality?

When looking at content management applications bought by Companies as “off the shelf” and “highly configurable” products, you are always amazed when you see the bad quality delivered and the pore internal processes that the developing and/or implementing vendors have. Sadly it seems like quality services and products are not needed or even wanted in order to make a good profit.

Having worked on both sides with product development and implementation projects as well as in purchase projects I think that one of the biggest reasons is that the sales organizations always are ahead and oblivion of product development. Of course they need to be ahead you say and sure in order to make money you need to sell the product regardless of the current state that it’s in and let future earnings improve the product. What I mean is that people selling the product don’t know what they are selling and the impact of their promises. Furthermore they do not seem to care and even worse they do not have to care.

The fact that it is still possible to have this approach as a vendor comes down to a pair of major reasons if you ask me:
  • The majority of companies are still very bad in defining their needs and buying content management solutions.
  • It is very rare that a company performs regular reviews and has the courage to face their mistakes and select a new vendor after an unsuccessful implementation.
What is your take on this? Why does the history repeat itself over and over again when it comes to these matters?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Consolidating Content Applications

Most enterprises have multiple content management applications, often divided into the traditional domains of document management, web content management, records management and so forth.

They often want to get content services from fewer vendors enabling better control over e.g. costs associated to multiple application management and ease the burden of content integration.

The reason behind their heterogeneous content application landscape is often a lack of ECM strategy and governance. Through a consolidation initiative, the business can get a better understanding of costs and complexities associated to their content applications.

A good start is to:

  • Define a content management strategy covering the whole enterprise or area of consideration
  • Establish a governance model to guide investments and requirement prioritisations
  • Launch a program or team that secures the realisation of the strategy and guides application management and implementation projects

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Check One. Check Two...

It is often said that the first stage in communication is to establish some kind of common ground for understanding i.e. base the communication on known ideas and concepts. This might be the most appropriate approach for both sound checking a new blog channel or health checking a new client.

Another alternative is to ask questions that include some assumptions and thoughts that trigger a reaction. When I first meet a new client I naturally try to understand the client’s situation, challenges and level of maturity. If the meeting concern Enterprise Content Management (ECM) I often apply questions like the following to initiate a discussion:

  • What is ECM for you and how does your initiatives support your business and IT strategy?
  • What are your short and long-term goals for ECM and how do you measure progress?
  • What are your primary stakeholders and users experience of ECM?
  • How does your content portfolio motivate your current ECM investments?
  • In what way does your development and production processes support collaboration, compliance and reuse of content assets?
  • Do you have a reference model guiding the evolution of ECM services and architecture?
  • Do you employ a shared service model for ECM that is aligned with your business, information and technology governance models?

The above questions include some perspectives and notions important for an enterprise view of content management. Questions like these can be used as a quick way to understand a clients way of approaching ECM and position it against an alternatively and possibly more mature approach.

Upcoming postings will discuss different ideas and concepts related to a company’s ECM strategy.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Death of DRM

I didn't even bother to read much about DRM when it became the new buzzword in the enterprise content management discipline, because I knew DRM would die the first time I heard of it. Easy access to content is one of the drivers of the content economy, and protection technologies can only work against that, diminishing the user experience. The low perceived value that the user gets from buying protected content will then continue to drive users to go and look for the content where it is "free", even though it might require an effort and the content quality might be suffering. So it was just a matter of time until DRM would die, and now Steve Jobs tries to put the final bullet in DRM and take the glory for doing so.

The recipe to stop wide-spread content theft ("piracy") is so damn simple - it's about creating the right offer:
  • Creating a great user experience, with fast and easy access to content and superior content quality
  • Setting a price that consumers find attractive and that reflects that reproduction and distribution of content is basically free today.
  • Providing value adding services to those who buy the content.

The right offer will kill piracy, in the same way as bad user experiences has killed DRM.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Google And The Evil

Google, once simply a web search engine underdog that won the sympathy of the people by being simple, straightforward and honest, seem now to the striving for [digital] world domination. Their vision to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" sounds very positive and exciting at first. But, think a little about it again - one company organizing the world’s information. Is that really something good? A vision that might be born out of good intentions, might just turn out to be downright evil.

Please misunderstand me in the right way. I love Google, or at least their services (not their elitist and academic corporate culture). I use several of their services in addition to the search services, such as Blogger and Gmail. Like most of the Google services they are both free to use at no cost and, usually, very usable. I like.

But, I am afraid of Google at the same time. I happen to believe that no commercial company, especially a company that is traded on a major stock exchange and owned by powerful investors seeking the highest return on their investments, gives away things for free, with no strings attached. They expect me to give them something back. And so does Google.

What Google expects to get from me is my content - content that might tell them about me as a person, what I like and don't like, and so on. Google can simply analyze what I write here on this blog, or what I write in mails sent via Gmail. And get information that tells them different things about me – and the ones I communicate with.

Obviously, content is the hard currency in the content economy. Content is king. The ones that have access to content that can contain important information about us as potential customers will also be the one that can guide others to me and you. And take a fee for doing so. Google is of course already doing that with ads and sponsored links today. But I am sure they are trying to invent new and more powerful business models to make loads of money on me (and you and everybody else) in this very moment.

So, imagine Google achieving their vision of organizing all the information in the world. Then Google will be able to rule the content economy. I cannot see that it will benefit me as a user, customer and individual. What if Google was a state, would you like that scenario? It is not far fetched, since Google already has given in to the US government and supplied them with information.

So Google guys, I think you should rethink your vision, because it won’t make the world a better place to live in. It might just be downright evil.

By the way, while writing this post I searched Google for "down right evil" and found this nice blog post http://blog.outer-court.com/archive/2007-01-11-n61.html. It is funny and scary at the same time. But mostly scary.

Are We Finally Ready For Ecomeetings?

The global business of today is in my opinion a great and fascinating place to work in. It allows vendors to develop products for customers all over the planet which in turn allows customers to find the most competitive services regardless location. With these amazing possibilities come of course also challenges in both business and software development processes. In future contributions to this blog I will give my views on these matters.

The first and in my perspective most disturbing challenge of today is how to take care of our environment in the era of global trade. One evident contributor to an unhealthy environment is of course all the flying we do on behalf of our companies. There are a lot of meetings held everyday where people are forced to catch a flight in the morning, discuss something for 2-3 hours and then fly home the same evening.

I know that it is invaluable and sometimes necessary to meet in person, especially in my role where I often need to collect requirements from the business, but there must be a better way to organize the vast majority of sessions. I believe that one important reason why we meet in person is due to the fact that we are not trained to communicate certain matters in any other way than eye to eye. Another reason could of course be that people like to get away from the daily routines and in the same time earn bonus points for their private travel…

My firm belief is that with good training in available technology in combination with a slightly different way of organizing and preparing for our meetings we will be able to save both time and money as well as reducing the negative impact on our climate.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Information? Only In Your Head

The term information technology "...is concerned with the use of technology in managing and processing information, especially in large organizations." (Wikipedia)

This definition is based on the definition of information as being a collection of data, or even as being simply a synonym to the concept of data.

I strongly believe that we should use another definition of information:

Information is the result of a successful communication process, a message that has been sent from a sender and that has been recieved and understood by the intended receiver.

A definition like this would help us to produce more useful and meningful content, as well as technologies that actually make life easier for people. Why? I will tell you why.

Think of information as something that is created in your head, by cognitive processes in your brain, when you consume content. By content I mean a message that is encoded as text, images, sound etc. To be able to interpret and understand what the content (the message) is about, you must already know a lot about the concepts that it refers to. If you don't, then the content will mean little or nothing to you. You will make no sense out of it. For example, if you don't know much about cars and how they work, then you will not understand what a "electronic fuel injection system" is about. You have to have a "preunderstanding" to be able to understand the content, to extract the meaning from it. Otherwise, you will have to do some research first to learn about the other concepts that "electronic fuel injection system" relates to.

My point is, that we cannot create, distribute, exchange or consume information. Everything we create, distribute, exchange and consume in the digital world is some sort of content. Everything.

Furthermore, since information is something that exists only in our heads, then the same certainly holds true for knowledge. We simply cannot manage neither information nor knowledge with technology. So forget about Information Management and Knowledge Management as a set of technologies. What we can do, however, is to enable and facilitate efficient communication between individuals with the use of technology, and thereby enabling and facilitating information and knowledge exchange between individuals.

If we, as producers of content, continue to think that we actually create, distribute and exchange information, we will have less chance of achieving what we want to achieve. By using the term content instead, it will be more natural to focus on understanding the intended receivers (the audience, the target group, the users...) when the content is created, distributed and exchanged. That is, trying to figure out what our intended receivers already know, what they need to know and what they are capable of understanding. Then we should try to create content that match their wants and needs.

This is all pretty much common sense. Or at least obvious when made obvious.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Welcome To The Content Economy

The Content Economy is an economic system where people and organizations produce, distribute, exchange and consume digital content products and services. The engine of the Content Economy is, of course, the Internet and Internet technologies. The Internet provides the Digital Economy with a marketplace without any real geographic borders, where content can be shared and consumed by anyone that has access to a device that can access resources on the Internet.

In contrast to physical goods and services, digital content can be copied, distributed and exchanged at almost no cost. The production cost of content can also be very low, enabling new businesses - and individuals - to enter the digital content market, competing with the media industry giants. These things also mean that traditional economic principles and business models are not fully applicable in the Content Economy. People, organizations, and ultimately the entire society has to change its way of thinking and behaviour. Old business models, practices and even regulations have already become obsolete, and new have emerged or are on their way to see the light of day.

But, we are still in the beginning of the Content Economy, in a sort of trial-and-error stage. What works today might not work tomorrow. There is no simple recipy for success in the Content Economy. The Content Economy is where content is king, and the monster under the bed at the same time.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

This Post Is For Technorati

Nothing else.

Technorati Profile

Glossary


Content



Content is a generic term for something that conveys a message from a sender, such as text, movies, sounds and pictures, that is intended to communicate information and/or create experiences for the receiver. Digital content is content that can be created, modified, delivered and shared with information technologies.




Content Asset



A content asset (sometimes called digital asset) is content that is said to have a certain (usually monetary) value to its the owner, usually a business. Hence, both content resources and content products can be seen as content assets.




Content Economy



The Content Economy is an economic system where people and organizations produce, distribute, exchange and consume digital content products and services




Content Management



Content Management (CM) is an approach with processes and technologies for managing any kind of digital content throughout its entire life cycle.




Content Product



A content product (sometimes called publication) is one or more content resources that have been put together for a specific audience or user. For example, it could be a newsletter, a web page, a video clip, or an entire web site.




Content Resource



A content resource is a piece of content that is used as input when performing an activity. For example, it could be an instructional text that instructs the person that shall perform the activity how to do it, or an image that will be part of the final content product.




Enterprise Content Management



Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is content management within the context of an enterprise, an organization carrying on a trade or business with or without a view to profit.




Information



Information is the result of a successful communication process, a message that has been sent from a sender and that has been recieved and understood by the receiver.




Metadata



Metadata is a pieace of content that intended to inform a receiver about other pieace of content. Metadata can provide answers to questions the user might have about the content, such as who created it and when or what subject it is about