Data, Content, Information, and Records Management


Information Coalition's initial view on the relationship between data, content, information, records, knowledge, and documentsThere are so many terms for the things that we manage everyday. Most people’s understanding of them are remnants of what was learned as we each entered the industry. This understanding has been expanded by how we use it in our daily life. The Information Coalition is working on their InfoBok that seeks to finally define these disciplines.

Recently, I was part of a twitter discussion with several people, primarily hailing from the web side of the content management world. It has been many years since I made the argument that the world of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) should include the Web Content Management (WCM) space. The worlds turned out to be connected but distinct. The uses of the word “content” and how it relates to information is evidence of that difference.

I thought I would take time to better share my thoughts where there were more than 280 characters to frame my thoughts. Hopefully, this will stir some more discussions.

Data to Information

The one thing we all agreed upon was that data is the base unit. All the other terms are built upon data. A piece of data by itself doesn’t mean much. It takes context to turn it into information.

  1. Laurence: Likely a name but of what? A person? A street?
  2. First Name=Laurence: Okay, now we know it is a person’s first name but still just data about a person.
  3. My first name is Laurence: That is information. The data is labeled and assigned a context.

A row in a database is data. Sure, with good table and field names it can be information but that is typically only true of primary entities, and not always then. If you extract the data and place it into a form, you then have information. One could argue that it is a collection of multiple pieces of information.

Now what if you insert those pieces of information into a piece of content?

Information to Content

The logic put forth by those in the web industry was that a piece of content has multiple pieces of information in it, and as such, information is a subset of content. This makes sense in the world of the web. The goal is to publish and produce content for people to consume. The content’s goal is typically to inform and drive an action.

It totally makes sense.

And they are correct. Content does contain information and when done correctly, a single piece of content addresses a single purpose or goal for the consumer.

But content doesn’t stop there.

Information as a Broader Construct

In the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) world, content is part of a bigger picture. In the typical case management application, you will have content submitted by a requester, content and data referenced by the reviewer, content produced by the reviewer, and data captured about the entire process.

When we collaborate on a document, be it a design, a proposal, or a quarterly report, we are creating a piece of content. That content is surrounded by pieces of information that need to be included and discussions about the how the content should be constructed.

An image is content but it requires metadata for better understanding of what it contains, when it was created, and the proper usage rights. With video it is even more complicated.

In the ECM world, content never stands alone. It is a piece of information that leads to a business decision which then leads to an action. Information in many ways is like data. It can be both singular and plural. When ECM people think about content, they see a container that is similar to how data people see a database table. It can wholly contain information but it is just part of the large information landscape.

What About Records?

This is the simple bit. Records are collections of information that describe an entity, a transaction, a process, or any discrete thing.

  • My customer information at Amazon is a record.
  • My order of five books is a record that is also part of my larger record.
  • Each of the two shipments that were used to send me my books are records.
  • My Amazon Smile donation to Girls Who Code is a record.

There is no content there. If I decided to sent a letter to Amazon telling them that I was going to bring legal action against them for not adequately protecting my information, that letter and any legal response would be part of both my record and a new legal record.

Two things to notice. First, the same information, be it data or content, can be part of multiple records. Second, a record can be just data, a gap that needs to be crossed by both Information Governance and Data Management professionals.

All About Context

There are a few lessons to be learned. The first is to let the web people believe what they want to believe. They are working towards a different goal and their paradigm works for them. I still fight to get many of them to understand that there are Content Management Systems (CMS) that have nothing to do with the web. Finally, you will never win an argument with them on Twitter. They outnumber you and for many of them, it is their job to use and understand social media.

The second is that your relationship with content and information is firmly rooted in how you use them. For web and communication professionals, a piece of content is a collection of information that represents what they are delivering. They deliver collections of content in brochures, websites, and other publications.

For ECM professionals, we capture information of which content is just a part of the picture. For us, content is just another piece of information that makes up the entity we are managing. Sometimes we are just managing the big picture in our systems but supporting bigger information systems with content provided by content services.

The real difference is that in the web world, content is the means to their ends. In the enterprise, content is just the starting point.

Information Governance, Moving on from Content


Has Content build holding us prisoner, making us miss the bigger picture?When I dove into the debate on Content Services and ECM, my conclusion was fairly straightforward.

Look at your information flow. Follow it and find new ways to make it flow faster. If you can do that and know where your information is at anytime, you are done.

There is a lot of detail buried under that relatively straightforward statement. Content Services is part of a broader trend in the content management space and is here to stay. It has been here since CMIS (Content Management Interoperability Services) entered the picture almost a decade ago but now people are seeing it as more than a way to integrate systems.

The problem is that ECM (Enterprise Content Management) is still just part of the picture. Even if we use the latest tools without regard to the latest buzz words that define them. If we just focus on the content we are failing to solve what needs to be solved.

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Revisiting the Content Management Frontier


Scene from the movie Alive, dead bodies in the snowTwo years ago, a journal was discovered while excavating in the Trough of Disillusionment of Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Enterprise Content Management (ECM) technologies. The journal told a story of fear, distrust, and desperation.

Today another tome was discovered. Written hastily in the margins of an IDOL manual was the following text. It is estimated that this was written two days after the conclusion of the previously discovered journal (which you should read 1st). The author is unknown.

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Content Management, Platforms or Solutions?


Pendulum about to cut a man in half in the movie "Pit and the Pendulum"The Content Management industry is rife with contradictions. The biggest of which is that the business just wants solutions to their problems while IT wants a common platform from an established player to make integrations and upgrades less risky.

I’m not sure how we solve this problem and I am tired of watching the pendulum swing back and forth.

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Dell, EMC, and Poor Documentum


Even with our fights, I never wanted it to come to thisI haven’t blogged in a while for various reasons that I won’t get into in this post but recent news demands that I share some thoughts. It seems that barring a better offer, Dell is going to buy EMC for a LOT of money.

Now the numbers don’t really matter to me as I don’t hold stock in any of the players except perhaps in some retirement mutual fund to which I never really pay attention. What I care about is the fate of the Enterprise Content Division (ECD), the home of Documentum.

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Reports from the Content Management Frontier


The following are excerpts from an explorer hiking the Gartner Hype Cycle for Enterprise Content Management (ECM) technologies.

Day 1, Reached the Peak

Today we finally reached the Peak of Inflated Expectations. The view is simply amazing. This technology is going to revolutionize everything. Everyone is excited and  teaming up with their friends. Documentum just got some great new equipment from EMC. I suspect that those two will be very happy together for a long time.

Life is good.

Day 2, Getting Crowded

Apparently everyone is excited and more and more people are joining us on the Peak. While the view is still lovely, the ground is starting to get muddy from all the people trampling everywhere.

Stellent showed up with their new pal Oracle. Everyone thinks they are a bunch of posers but they are mostly keeping quiet because Oracle has a bit of a temper.

There seems to be a new noise. I’m going to go check it out.

Day 4, Ooops

That noise from the other day? That was the beginning of an avalanche that carried the entire group off of the Peak. According to our maps we are in the Trough of Disillusionment. It is hard to validate because nobody can get a clear signal anymore. It is a bit gloomy but some people seem to think we can get out.

OMG! Open Text ate Hummingbird while we were sleeping! They must be panicking already.

Tensions are very high.

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Box and Dropbox Race for Long-Term Relevancy


The Spanish InquisitionIn case you missed it, Dropbox has followed the path blazed by Box and has integrated with Microsoft Office. While Box integrated on the desktop, Dropbox is integrating with the Office mobile apps and plans to extend it to the Online Office versions. This is a no-brainer move as anything that simplifies people’s ability to work with content within Dropbox helps keep people using both tools.

On top of all this, Microsoft announced that their Android and iOS versions of Office will now be free. Microsoft is clearly trying to maintain their edge on the office productivity world and Dropbox is aiming to stay in front of people’s eyeballs.

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