Content Management: A Survival Guide

By Barry Schaeffer

As the Internet moves from presentation medium to dynamic
content provider, content issues are moving to the forefront of many IT
managers’ thinking.

Among the most difficult of these issues is what has been
long referred to as “content management” or CM, the rock on which many an IT
budget or project schedule has foundered.
To escape a similar fate, IT managers must be armed with a clearer
picture of CM than is often the case.
What follows is a brief survival guide that may prove useful.

What is Content Management?

At times, it seems that CM is whatever the software salesman
says it is. More than one otherwise
capable organization has bought CM snake oil based on a slick presentation and
canned demo in which the salesman directs the agenda toward his strengths,
obscuring the prospect’s needs in the bargain. Actually, the most salient fact about CM is that it is not a noun
as the term is so often used. Instead, CM
is a verb
and while often characterized as something you can buy, it
is actually a list of things that you must do.More than idle factoids, the CM function list is an
organization’s roadmap to navigating the often-troubled waters of CM software

This definition doesn’t include content kept in relational
databases.This class of content has,
by definition, been brought under the content management approach of the DBMS,
and extracting it into your web environment must follow those rules.It also assumes that the target for
structuring content is XML, the rapidly growing foundation for most
non-database-resident content.

Why is this important?

CM requires software and this type of software can be
complex and expensive, in its acquisition and life-cycle costs and in its
long-term impact on the organization.Indeed, buying the wrong CM software can be worse than buying nothing at all. Given the absence of a generally accepted
definition of CM in the software industry, it’s quite possible to inadvertently
buy software that:

  • Doesn’t do what you need, forcing you to pay for
    expensive after-sale modifications and their life-cycle support

  • Does things you don’t need but for which you must pay

  • Consumes so much of your budget that other critical items
    must go unsupported

  • Fails completely, forcing you to acquire replacement
    software with no recourse against the original vendor because you failed to
    articulate a detailed set of functions against which his product could be

    How to avoid these pitfalls.

    If you clearly understand what must be done to your content
    while you are creating, storing and delivering it, you will be able to develop
    a comprehensive list of the functions that must be part of your CM
    environment.In the process, you may even
    learn things about your needs that would have otherwise been missed. You will
    also learn what you don’t need and shouldn’t find yourself paying
    for. You should plan for the process to
    take some time; time for you to communicate your needs; time for vendors to
    develop an approach; and time for you to evaluate what you get back from
    them. This list is your working
    definition of CM and a roadmap for action. Ignore it and you are fair game for the software sharks.

    Content vs. Delivery Management:

    Much of what passes for content management today is actually
    Delivery Management, dealing with content already prepared and available
    for access, either for bulk information products (such as books or CDs) or in
    support of interactive queries. The key
    difference between this and true content management is its assumption
    that content is complete, properly structured and ready for delivery. Most web server software firms offer a brand
    of CM that is really delivery management.

    Content management, on the other hand, supports the
    functions required to create and finalize content not yet ready for
    delivery.Sometimes called “work in
    process management,”
    CM includes functions that relate to authors, editors,
    collaborators and other personnel involved in the preparation of content,
    always assuming that the content it supports is not yet ready for use in final
    information products. The difference could be likened to that between managing
    a factory and managing a retail outlet.

    If you are responsible for the acquisition, creation and
    finalization of content for hand-off to delivery management, you need CM that
    goes well beyond what most delivery management systems offer (or do well.)

    Building your Content Management List:

    If you’re responsible for content creation and finalization,
    you likely face some or all of the challenges listed below (and maybe
    more.) Determining which ones and
    understanding what it will take to meet them in your environment is the
    critical first step in solving the CM riddle:

    1. Enable
      authors to create richly tagged XML content as a part of their original
      editorial process.
      Using a
      word processor to capture content and then putting in the XML tagging
      later means you end up with a smart version of a not-so-smart source;
      guaranteed to be no more useful than its parent. This means that you will want your authors to use an XML
      editor. The editor must be highly
      configurable to give the authors an environment they understand and can
      work with. People and software
      systems are what they eat and you can’t deliver content your authors can’t
      or won’t capture. In the end,
      (though the details are another story) the value calculation of your
      entire endeavor is based on how much of what your authors know you can effectively
      capture for delivery.