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Getting the Most from Content Management

Investing in content management is a valuable undertaking, but without creating a taxonomy as part of the process, companies could find themselves saddled with a next-to-useless solution, writes CIO Update guest columnist Sam Goldman.

It is not surprising when companies consider deploying a content management system (CMS), they look first at establishing a technology platform.

But what they often fail to consider is the governance, or taxonomy, that will enable them to reap the benefits of such systems.

As a definition, content is all of a company's stored knowledge, from Internets and Intranets to sales presentations, to the extensive technical documents and other proprietary materials it creates. And, in simplest terms, a company's taxonomy is the skeleton from which all content hangs.

Gartner researchers note in their report Waves of Information Disruption Due in 2003 that "to get value from the vast quantities of information and knowledge, enterprises must establish discipline and a system of governance over the creation, capture, organization, access and utilization of information."

Developing A Taxonomy

Content management systems have evolved considerably over the past few years to cover a broad range of capabilities, such as Web content management, document management and imaging, records management and team collaboration.

Companies such as Documentum, IBM and Open Text among others have developed suites of products that can solve most of a company's content management needs from a software perspective. However, these products won't analyze and develop a taxonomy.

Creating a taxonomy should be central to any enterprise content strategy. Without that framework, even the best technology may not meet expectations because of the numerous intranet sites and discrete pieces of information it has no way of interconnecting.

Even though developing a taxonomy is both expensive and difficult, the benefits are enormous: better and quicker access to information; improved relationships with partners, regulators and customers; and less duplication of work.

Forrester researchers note in Best Practices in Taxonomy Development and Management that, ideally, taxonomies "represent agreed-upon terms and relationships between ideas or things and serve as a glossary or knowledge map helping to define how the business thinks about itself and represents itself, its products and services to the outside world."

In creating its taxonomy, a company might begin with a survey into what information exists and what is needed and of interest to people inside and outside the organization. It is also helpful to assess how vendors, partners and employees view the organization and how, in that context, they might seek information. Such a process must involve key stakeholders and knowledge professionals working in collaboration with IT.

Information exists in every part of an organization but often remains hidden to those outside a particular division. This is because there isn't a consistent contextual relationship between that information and the way it's captured. The description used by finance might be (and probably is -- remember Murphy's Law?) different from the term used in marketing. Establishing a common vocabulary and rules for applying terminology and labeling, for example, can make all the difference here.

Emerging Opportunities

Content management continues to evolve, and today opportunities abound for companies to exploit and be creative with their content, thanks to the emergence of new technologies, such as XML.

Such technologies enable companies to break content up into more granular and reusable components. Opportunities for information reuse exist throughout businesses. For example, companies spend millions on multiple legal agreements, which often are copied, pasted and redrafted, creating thousands of monolithic, self-contained documents.

Advanced technologies enable components of those documents to be reused, giving structure to unstructured content.

As the opportunities for companies to streamline operations and information by investing in content management continue to grow, forwarding thinking companies that take steps to create a taxonomy and utilize technologies that enable content to be repurposed will reap the full benefits of an enterprise content strategy.

Sam Goldman is the CTO at Intrasphere Technologies, a developer of custom enterprise software and management solutions. Goldman has helped divisions and departments in many companies solve content challenges. Please send comments or ideas to Sam at

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