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.

Book Review: Designing Connected Content


Designing Connected ContentTwo book reviews in a row? Yep. As I said in my last review, I’m reading non-fiction a lot more now and I have a backlog of industry books to read. One of the authors of this book, Carrie Hane, is a good friend. I watched her work on Designing Connect Content for pretty much all of 2017. I was very excited to finally get my copy.

For years, Carrie and her co-author, Mike Atherton, have been talking about Designing Future Friendly Content. In the web world this means using a structured content model so that the management of the content is not tightly coupled with the presentation layer. As design trends change, your content and underlying website structure doesn’t have to. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, you are looking at a headless Content Management System (CMS) supporting one or more presentation layers (web, mobile, Alexa…).

They finally took the time to write a book on the topic. It was time well spent.

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InfoGovCon 2017 Continues to Set the Bar High


Governor Raimondo speaks at InfoGov17This post has been a long time in coming because I’ve been trying to process everything that happened this year. Once again, InfoGovCon was a great event and the Information Coalition should be proud at the quality of speakers that they assembled. After all, how many conferences score a governor and get them to talk about something relevant?

Conferences like InfoGovCon are critical for the industry. We are still building a template for consistent success. As Shannon Harmon, whom I had the pleasure to meet this year, put it,

The best practices are still being developed. The body of knowledge is under construction.  This makes information governance an exciting space within which to work.  It can also be immensely frustrating for those who want a well-defined structure in place.  Working in this space requires a certain comfort level with the unknown.

After decades of working in this space, I agree that there are still some unknowns. We have learned a lot about what NOT to do. It is the way we can get things done consistently that we are still putting together.

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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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ECM, Content Services, or Just Doing It?


"It's deja-vu all, all over again." - Yogi BerraRecently, Gartner issued a note announcing The Death of ECM and Birth of Content Services. This has been met with several, mixed responses. Many pointed out to Gartner that many of us have been talking about this for years. I wrote a post on Content Services, Not ECM back in 2013. Going even further back, the concept of Content Services is core to Content Management Interoperability Services. In 2009 I outlined the three fundamental use cases for CMIS, or any content service.

I could spend all day linking to old posts but I want to take some time to bring something new to the discussion. A lot has changed over the years and perspectives have been refined. The last few days have seen my mind wandering and debating this whole topic in my spare, and not so spare, time.

Let me sum it up for you, it is a false dichotomy. Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is not a thing you buy. It should not be taken into isolation. Content Services is useless as a replacement as it is completely different.

Let me break this down.

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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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Saying Goodbye to Documentum


One year ago, when Dell announced it was buying EMC, I wrote,

If you see Open Text or CA buy the ECD, start lighting the funeral pyres because Documentum would be officially brain dead and waiting for the machines to be turned off.

Well, it happened. OpenText acquired Documentum. This brings to end the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) wars that began almost 20 years ago. Back then, the leaders were FileNet, Documentum, Oracle, and OpenText. FileNet is buried at IBM who is flirting with Box. Oracle is struggling to reestablish itself after bringing on former Documentum leaders but they are fading away.

This morning, OpenText announced their acquisition of Documentum. I was hesitant to predict that OpenText was going to buy Documentum. It was the obvious prediction and I knew that it would be a chunk of change. $1.62 billion was the final price which covers the $600 million OpenText raised in May and another billion of debt commitment provided by Barclays for this transaction.

I suspect that nobody else was willing to pay EMC that much.

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