Hoo momma, did I make a huge ass-of-umption. There I was, talking to probably my favorite content migration partner of all time, and he was flinging the hallowed “CM” word all over the place, and none of what he was saying made any sense. Now I’ve made this toolset sit up and bark on more than one occasion, and I knew it did some amazing things, but it was still essentially moving stuff from here to there. You couldn’t use it to monitor for naughty behavior, you couldn’t use it to set up management rules, and you couldn’t use it to create or configure any of the building blocks I would typically expect to find in a content management toolset. So, what on earth was he going on about?
It took me a while to figure out – far longer than I’m comfortable admitting, actually – but I got it eventually. No, my favorite migration toolset hadn’t grown a new appendage. My colleague was talking about ETL – the 3-step process used in almost all forms of data migration (Extract > Transform > Load). From his perspective, yes, he absolutely was managing content flow from source to destination, but it couldn’t be further removed from what I was referring to. No wonder he looked so confused. I should probably apologize.
What is this thing of which you speak?
That is the question, isn’t it? Turns out the answer to that question can differ quite broadly depending on the context. For the purpose of this conversation, let’s concentrate on Content Management as either a discipline or a strategy:
Content Management as a DISCIPLINE
When we speak of Content Management as a discipline, we are referring to the day-to-day implementation of Content Management tools, methods, principles, and best practices to ensure users can easily identify, retrieve, and interact with the information they are entitled to access. This is the foundation for effective compliance, business process automation, and much more.
Of course, there is no absolute one-size-fits-all, and there are many industry-specific principles and standards, but at their root, they all cover pretty much the same base material. For example, these are ARMA International’s Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles:
- Accountability: A senior executive (or a person of comparable authority) shall oversee the information governance program and delegate responsibility for information management to appropriate individuals.
- Transparency: An organization’s business processes and activities, including its information governance program, shall be documented in an open and verifiable manner, and that documentation shall be available to all personnel and appropriate, interested parties.
- Integrity: An information governance program shall be constructed so the information assets generated by or managed for the organization have a reasonable guarantee of authenticity and reliability.
- Protection: An information governance program shall be constructed to ensure an appropriate level of protection to information assets that are private, confidential, privileged, secret, classified, essential to business continuity, or that otherwise require protection.
- Compliance: An information governance program shall be constructed to comply with applicable laws, other binding authorities, and the organization’s policies.
- Availability: An organization shall maintain its information assets in a manner that ensures their timely, efficient, and accurate retrieval.
- Retention: An organization shall maintain its information assets for an appropriate time, taking into account its legal, regulatory, fiscal, operational, and historical requirements.
- Disposition: An organization shall provide secure and appropriate disposition for information assets no longer required to be maintained in compliance with applicable laws and the organization’s policies.
Looks great on paper, doesn’t it? It’s a little trickier in practice. If we want to ensure that these principles are adhered to, we have to make sure that our people, processes, and systems work together to ensure that:
- Users can upload documentation easily – no fuss, no muss
- Users don’t have to wrestle with clumsy document categorisations – it needs to make sense
- Users can find what they need, when they need it, without needing to jump between a gazillion interfaces
- Documents are secured and presented in such a way that users can easily access anything they are explicitly allowed to see and never need to wade through oceans of documents beyond their interest or scope
- Documents are fully trackable and auditable, from initial upload, through all subsequent updates, throughout their lifetimes
- Document versions are managed in such a way that users can be confident that the document version in front of them is the single, most recent version of the truth
Generally speaking, professional bodies advise the implementation of best practices, such as:
- Consistent naming conventions throughout the environment
- Explicitly assigned user permissions
- Pre-defined document templates for each document type
- Pre-defined, consistent document taxonomies implemented across the enterprise
- Pre-defined lifecycle policies for each document type or category; and
- Replace the 1001 information silos scattered across the organization with a single platform that works for everyone
Content Management vs Records Management
In colloquial language, phrases such as Content Management, Document Management, and Records Management are often used interchangeably, but they are so very much not the same thing:
- Document Management refers to the overall process of document creation, from inception through completion. It formalizes the document creation process and aims to make the overall process more efficient. In Document Management, you’d deal with the creation of an initial draft, review, update/revision, co-authoring by multiple contributors, locking for edit, approval, storage, and so on.
- Content Management can be seen as encompassing the generally recognised activities related to Document Management, but applied to all forms of content, including but not limited to documents, graphics, video, audio, etc.
- Records Management is a very different animal: Simply put, records are EVIDENCE of a transaction, decision, or an action taken, usually something of legal or regulatory value. For example, where the working draft of a client contract would be considered a document, once it is signed and scanned into electronic form, the signed TIF / PDF contract would be a record. Other examples might include signed safety checklists, delivery slips, etc. Once an information object (document, video, audio file, etc.) has been declared as a record, it MUST BE LOCKED DOWN so that no further changes or updates can be made, so for records; you’d only see actions such as records declaration, retention, disposition, and archive.
Content Management as a STRATEGY
Right, so we’ve established that the DISCIPLINE of Content Management uses predefined tools, methods, processes, and practices to capture, manage, organize, store, secure, preserve, curate, and/or deliver information to the right people at the right time.
A Content Management STRATEGY looks at the organization’s business goals, operational requirements and compliance requirements and uses that information to help us define which tools, methods, processes, and practices will provide the best organizational fit in terms of:
- Information accessibility and flow
- Operating/storage costs
- Information protection
- Legal / industry compliance management; etc.
A Content Management strategy is a living, breathing thing. It must grow, change, shrink, and morph in accordance with the organization’s requirements, or be delegated to paper-weight duty next to the clay monster Little Johnny made in kindergarten last year.
As with all strategies, a Content Management strategy must also be easy to understand, easily accessible, repeatedly communicated, and reinforced.
Finally, it is IMPERATIVE that the organization’s Content Management strategy is seen to carry the executive’s enthusiastic support. For far too long, the correct management of organizational information has been seen as an exercise in drudgery rather than having strategic value. Unless it is given its rightful seat in the organization’s hierarchy of executive priorities, you might as well throw in the towel now.