Choosing a Target for Standards

Reaction to my previous two posts revealed two simple things about the Universe. Enterprise Architects want/need ECM standards now. Enterprise Content Management people don’t think that the ECM world is ready for them. They are both right, so let the fighting begin.

Brian “Bex” Huff wrote about the lack of useful ECM standards and how writing a standard to the lowest common denominator would leave it all but useless. He raises some excellent points, but I think there is an important thing here. If an ECM system doesn’t support a minimal level of functionality, is it really Enterprise worthy? If it isn’t ready for the Enterprise, do we care if it can’t integrate with everything else? I’m thinking No on both counts.

Not everyone agrees on what approach to base standards upon. This has been mostly a REST vs. SOA debate. I’m not ready to pick a side on this debate. I see merit on both sides, and I don’t know enough about either side to intelligently defend any decision, yet. I think the first vendor that puts forward a functional vendor-agnostic approach that adheres to some EA standards may create a de facto standard that the rest of the world eventually adopts.

This appears to be the approach to standards that EMC is taking with D6. The new Documentum Foundation Services is providing baseline services. Two of those are Object and Version Control. You use the Object services to update a piece of content and you use the Version Control to do things like check-in. In the Documentum world, they are the same, but maybe not in other ECM systems. Looks like an attempt to create a de facto standard.

The attempted creation of a de facto standard isn’t a bad thing. People don’t have to adopt it. These kinds of standards can serve as a catalyst and a baseline to creating defined standards. At least with the attempt, vendors may actually open their system to the Enterprise instead of just saying that they do.

D6 is supposed to be a platform for SOA. I hope that it is true and not just hype. The balance between execution and hype has soured some people in the industry. There is still a lot to learn about D6 and DFS. In one month it will be out and I’ll be among the first to download, install, and play with it. Then we will truly know where D6 falls on the hype scale. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now, but only because we’ll be able to verify in a month.

I think that the one thing that EMC and the other ECM vendors should be able to jointly come to grips with now is utilizing standards for managing Authentication and Access Control. Even if you map against LDAP, interacting between multiple systems with the same account may require some behind the scenes trickery. It does between SharePoint and Content Server. eRoom and Content Server also do some behind the scenes manipulation.

There are several ideas and standards out there, including XACML, that I am beginning to research. I am going to learn what I can and then report back what I discover. I would think that requirements in this area should be easy to reach agreement upon and implement. If the ECM vendors can’t come to a logical conclusion here, I think that the other issues around standards in the ECM world are doomed.