ECM for Unstructured Content Only? No Way

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Keywords: unstructured, structured, information, content

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Someone, somewhere once said that ECM is about managing unstructured content. That may have been true once upon a long time ago; not anymore. I’m also not even sure that ECM really exists other than as some ephemeral (in the grand scheme of things) concept and marketing bumpf.

What I am sure about, brothers and sisters, is that organizations are sitting on butt-loads of information in various forms, formats, states of structuredness, and states of currency. They need to manage/control/contain/leverage this information in order to achieve real business objectives or solve real business problems. I have yet to come across an organization that wants to manage content for the sake of managing content (if I did I wouldn’t work with them).

I am currently working on a fictitious project for a made up client in a city that doesn’t exist. The objectives of the project are to catch up to and pass the competition in n years. The client will do this by providing their customers with a kick-ass user experience, delivered through a new web portal.

User experience will be achieved by presenting customers information that is relevant to them and by providing them with an holistic view of their relationship with the client. It also involves allowing customers to conduct business when, where, and how the customer wants. Catching up to and surpassing the competition will be achieved by getting more customers (a better user experience will help) via Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization (big fancy words for metadata / keywords / blah, blah, blah).

They’re going to make all this happen by using information; all sorts of information. Not just the unstructured stuff. (The actual existence of truly unstructured content is a debate for another day.) They’re going to pull stuff from a wide assortment of systems (see the really cool diagram) and present it in a fashion that is relevant to the user. This, folks, takes management. This takes management of information across the enterprise. This may lead to an Enterprise Information Management way of doing business (I really hope so). However, if the client does not propagate this way of working with information to other business areas, they don’t get to use the Enterprise label.

As far as the structured – unstructured thing is concerned; the majority of information that is in scope is highly structured. I’d be surprised if any of the rest of the information was truly unstructured.

 

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Comments

Chris Riley, ECMp, IOAp

Unstructured vs. Structured

I've always found it interesting how people jump to the "Unstructured" conclusion so fast. Especially in the document imaging world this happened a lot! Just because it's not obvious transactional content in a table form, does not make it unstructured.
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Laurence Hart

More than Content Management

Chris, the thing is this, your dealing with Information Management. Yes, you are delivering a website, but as you have pointed out, there is more than just content in that website.

To your point, Content Management deals with unstructured and semi-structured content. It does handle structured content to some degree but that structure is not readily extracted and may be unique to that piece of content. Excel can be very structured, but it takes external knowledge or a set template/guide to extract it.

I like to think of life as two types of information. Discrete information which many people call structured, and blobs of information. XML is a blob of information that can be extracted into discrete chunks. Same with Excel. The amount of "discretion" varies within those examples.

Important take away, when designing business solutions, it is rare that you are only dealing with traditional Content Management. Information is coming from everywhere and people want to see it in context.

-Pie
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Chris Walker

It's All at the End

Points in your last paragraph need to be hammered into people's heads. Vendors, customers, SI's, consultants ... everyone.
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Julie Colgan

Unstructured Content and Unicorns

Or perhaps you prefer Sasquatch, or Smurfs, or Global Warming ... whatevs. This one was good (particularly the art), but I can't WAIT for that blog post!!!
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Chris Walker

Your wish is my command ...

... or something like that.
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Jim Wade

It depends on what the definition of is - is

Chris, that is a really cool diagram than that depicts information that is highly structured.

Isn’t this information structured by ECM –hate this term – systems? If not, what is a Case Management System or SharePoint? How did the Rich Media, Text, Trouble Tickets, etc. become structured?

What do you call this system that miraculously structures all of this information?

Maybe I am just missing your point.
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Chris Walker

Think Backwards

Jim, if we took the content out of the repository, but described it (added structure) by different means, what happens to the structure of the content?

I contend that the tools allow us to leverage the structure of the content, they don't confer structure upon the content.
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David Houlston, ECMp

What about a new Term!?!?

Like we need another.....

ECC
Electronic Content Collaboration

You can't get away from the "Electronicness" of data (whatever the format it is contained in) or the fact that it has or is content.

Collaboration is the buzz word for now.

Here's the Collins definition:
World English Dictionary
collaboration (kəˌlæbəˈreɪʃən)

— n (often foll by on, with, etc )
1. the act of working with another or others on a joint project
2. something created by working jointly with another or others
3. the act of cooperating as a traitor, esp with an enemy occupying one's own country

I particularly like #3 - replace 'country' with 'company'.....

P.S. I'm REALLY good at making up new words.
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Chris Walker

Uhm, no. :-)

Are you referring to collaborating on electronic content or electronically collaborating on content (electronic or not)?

Collaboration is quite silly as a buzzword. Like much else that we do, we've been doing it for a really, really, really long time. Once again, nothing new.
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Scott Abel

Unicorns are structured

LOL This topic is always funny to folks who come from the content industry because we have been working to structure content in documents for years. Not in tables, but in documents. In these efforts our documents become databases. Content inside them is marked up in XML and the components of content are managed in a component content management system.

Just like unicorns, this approach seems to be mythical to many, but is, unlike unicorns, very real (and in use at organizations around the globe). I'd love to see everyone get together and start talking about the differences between the various AIIM members (our experience, knowledge, and approaches) in an effort to start moving toward solving the many content challenges that inhibit operational efficiency and introduce many unnecessary hurdles to organizations that are increasingly challenged to do more with less, faster and better than before.
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Marek  Cwiklicki

Re

But do we really need all content to be structured? Most of it is just a garbage. Remember 20/80 rule.
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Content & Data

Unstructured content? Is that like random letters in a bucket? http://tinyurl.com/3bmqgb4 :-)

I've been mentally exploring areas in which the "marriage" of content & data makes business sense. One possible area is in master data - imagine a master data repository of product information about vacuums. What options exist for linking content assets (manuals, tips, warranties) to that? We could add metadata attributes gleaned from the master data set on the content objects, or we could add reference links in the master data records - or maybe both is the best thing to do.

What I don't believe makes sense is to try and create a single master repository of all things. Not all content (or data) is equal, ergo we can't treat it all as equal.

Anyway, great post. I hope you keep it up!
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