Beyond the Hype of Content Services

[Originally published on the TeraThink blog]

The original Washington Monument just off the Appalachian Trail in MarylandA few weeks back, I spoke on an Information Coalition webinar with Nick Inglis about getting Beyond the Hype of Content Services. We discussed content services and tried to separate the reality from the hype. If you been following, there is a lot of hype out there and has been since Gartner stopped tracking ECM (enterprise content management) and switched to content services. This has fed people’s instinct to equate content services with ECM. Many vendors and consultants are now taking their marketing messaging and simply substituting one term for the other. Even more distracting are people that reflexively reject content services because they assume the person using the term is just doing a term swap.

The truth is that content services is not ECM. It is an approach to implementing solutions that support an ECM strategy and providing sound information governance. Content services doesn’t eliminate the need for an ECM strategy or information governance. In fact, if you don’t have a strategy or proper governance, you might end up addressing the wrong things.

You still need a plan. To determine how to implement it, you need to know what content services is and how it can make a difference.

What is Content Services?

Put simply, it is a content platform accessed almost exclusively through APIs. Conceptually, it is like accessing data through a standardized interface as developers have been doing since the days of ODBC. From that perspective, the concept of content services is not new. CMIS (content management interoperability services) gave that ability to most ECM platforms a decade ago.

Content Services is more than an CMIS interface. It is working with business objects that happen to be centered around content.

On a well thought-out content services platform, the APIs don’t simply save or update documents. You save a piece of correspondence. Instead of storing it in a folder, you store it in a business object representing a case or other business construct. This isn’t to say that the content services store all the business data, though they can. The goal is to capture enough data to give the content the necessary context to apply any needed policies or trigger actions.

Agile is Key

A lot of what makes up the “modern” content services is familiar to anyone who’s been in the industry for a while. In many ways, what we are doing is part of the continued evolution of ECM. The change is that many factors have finally come together to make this work.

The cloud, containers, and DevOps have change the way software is developed and deployed. Taken individually, they offer minimal impact to how we operate. Together, they allow us to start small and build as fast, or as slow, as needed. No longer do we need to design and build out a huge system architecture in preparation for year three of the project.

Working in an agile fashion, we can quickly iterate and push changes out at a steady, incremental pace. As priorities change, the roadmap can change immediately. As new features or capacity are required, they can be added when needed. The age of having everything build on Day 1 is coming to an end.

Are You Ready for Content Services?

During the webinar, I was asked if deploying constantly changing applications would confuse the people for whom we are trying to make things easier. A decade ago, I might have answered by saying that by utilizing proper change management practices, people can adapt to the change. Today, I just point to the constantly evolving apps on everyone’s phone. Those apps change constantly and people adapt. Adapting to constantly evolving interfaces has become second nature for knowledge workers. Yes, you still need to leverage change management techniques. You just don’t have to panic over every deployment.

The real question is, Are you ready for this approach? Are you willing to take the time to map and better understand your business? Content services doesn’t require you to architect the world first. However, it does require you to understand your business. What are the mission critical pieces of information? What areas are preventing you from fully becoming a digital business?

Most importantly, are you able to be agile? Can you begin the journey without knowing the route to be taken? You’ll start with a map but the path taken will be dynamic as the realities of your everyday business evolves.

It doesn’t take much to get started. All you need is a map with a starting point and a clearly marked destination. Then you take a compass heading and start your journey. If you want help building the map, guiding you along the right path, or simply want to know if your organization is ready to start, drop us a line.

And if you are not ready to talk, feel free to listen to the recorded webinar to learn more about the real story of content services.