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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Cloud Content Management to Challenge ECM?

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A phrase that instantly intrigued me when I had a pre-brief of Box.net's new announcement this week (all Techmeme coverage) was the vendor's newly coined notion of "cloud content management." VP of marketing Jen Grant (who I've interviewed previously here in a podcast) explained that Box is using the term to denote the application of social computing and enterprise 2.0-inspired principles to content management. This gives rise to a dynamic, participative treatment of all forms of content that's in sharp contrast to the fusty image of conventional enterprise content management (ECM), which many people think of as the place "where content goes to die."

I liked this so much, I Googled the term as I sat down to write this blog entry and, much to my surprise, the top search result was another podcast I published here on ebizQ a few months back called Content Management Moves to the Cloud. That interview is about web content management — in the sense of content that sits on a public-facing website — and is a category of content that personally I see little sense in managing anywhere else than in the cloud. Enterprise content management is different, however. Much of this content is private and confidential to the enterprise and so it has to be managed in a way that allows control and governance over who gets to see it, when they see it and what they do with it.

(Search result number three, by the way, is a news story about open-source ECM vendor Alfresco taking its existing ECM software and making it available as a package that's ready to deploy to the Amazon cloud. That's taking ECM into the cloud without changing it, which I would regard as a half-aaSed way of going about things and is certainly not what Box.net means by its definition of cloud content management, which finally makes an appearance as the fourth search result).

As defined by Box, cloud content management (CCM) is a revolution in "how businesses interact with their content," as Grant explained to me. It means taking a cue from how content is viewed on the Web — moving from text to video to embedded slideshows, accompanied by ratings, reviews and a real-time side-panel of related status updates — and "tak[ing] that seamless content paradigm and apply[ing] it to business content."

Of course, the whole enterprise content management space is one of those arenas where there's a lot of what I've taken to calling 'Soviet-era software' as part of my 2010 watchlist item around People-Oriented Architecture, which I suppose is why what Box.net has been saying resonates for me. The term 'Soviet era' is redolent of the arcane user interfaces and culture of exclusion that's associated with older software. ECM has this tendency to lock everything away in its place, and the Web is opening up news ways of working with content that allows us to view and interact with it in a collaborative, constantly refreshed context. The Box.net blog has a great posting that sums up the dysfunctional information browsing experience those Soviet-style interfaces impose on users:

"Imagine if the web worked like this: you want to watch a YouTube video, but you have to download the video in a separate window before watching. Then you decide to read the New York Times, but you have to open a PDF to read each article. Now you're in the mood to browse photos on Flickr, which requires downloading each image before viewing. Ridiculous? Totally. The web is designed for the seamless consumption of content, without forcing us to worry about content types. But the scenario described is analogous to what we deal with every day in the workplace."

Cloud content management, as articulated by Box.net, is about freeing content from its archive setting to be shared and accessed in the living context of today's fresh perspectives. It excites me because I've never been one of those people that thinks of content that is consumed once and then has no further value. I like the way that it's still possible to link to articles I wrote ten years ago — much of it is still surprisingly relevant — and I prefer to create content that's long lived. Cloud content management, by removing many of the barriers to sharing and reference content, can significantly extend the life cycle and value of content by keeping it relevant. Yet because it uses commonplace Web infrastructure in which it's very easy to monitor and track those interactions, there's even a positive outcome for the control freaks, too.

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Anyone else here reading “I.T. WARS?? I had to read parts of this book as part of my employee orientation at a new job. The book talks about a whole new culture as being necessary – an eCulture – for a true understanding of content management, being that most organizations seem to struggle with a glut of information. Some content, particularly when outdated and having no business value, becomes a liability in terms of storage, processing and even the legal liabilities it can pose. The book has a great chapter on content management, as well as security, risk, project management, acceptable use, various plans and policies, and so on. Just Google “IT WARS? – check out a couple links down and read the interview with the author David Scott. (Full title is “I.T. WARS: Managing the Business-Technology Weave in the New Millennium?).

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

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