CCM: Do we really need it?

Two things sparked this article. The first was a question about whether a company needs a CCM (content component management system) if they have an existing system that can handle XML files and the second was the answer I got from Interwoven today on their support of XML (no longer a focus they said). Let’s look at both of these in turn.

Why do you need a CCM system?

Groups creating component-oriented, usually XML-based content, for multi-channel delivery need a system that can effectively support the management of content components for the following reasons:

  • System manages XML files

    When a vendor says they can manage XML files, they usually mean that they can manage a “file of type XML” just like they can manage Office documents, images etc. But that means that they simply manage a BLOB (Binary Logical Object)or simply a file type with no understanding and intelligence of that file, in other words “a black box”

  • Component management

    Components are small, much smaller than documents, and the system must be robust enough to find, reassemble and deliver component-based content (And you thought finding documents was hard!).

  • Managing reuse

    Component-based content is typically designed for reuse. When you have reusable components you need to be able to identify where the components have been reused, have they been reused identically or with change (derivative), and if you change the source component do you want to automatically update all the reused components, none of them or only some of them (Try doing that in a regular system!)

  • Filtered reuse

    Many systems can repurpose content (identical content multi-channel delivery) but they deliver identical content in different formats. Good multi-channel delivery is content which has been optimized for each of the channels (e.g., web is clear concise and well chunked, wireless is brief, and print is often more wordy). The first response to this is then you have to write content for each channel; however, skilled multi-channel authors know how to write content where often print is a superset, web a sub-set and wireless a subsub-set. This means that you have to be able to identify content components that are appropriate to the channel and filter as required at publishing.

  • Complex version management

    Version control is usually the activity of making sure that content is versioned as it is changed and only the approved version gets published. In a component world, version control can be much more complex with different sets of content referring to different versions of the same component. For example, in a pharmaceutical company we recently worked with they had multiple versions of the same product, designed for different conditions, going before the regulatory agency for approval and in three different global regions. A component would start off the same but be modified at the request of the agency so we had multiple versions of the same content being referenced by different sets of content. Some of these versions came back together again (merged) at the end but others stayed separate for multiple iterations of the content.

And I could go on. Suffice is to say, there is a good reason why content component management systems exist.

Why shouldn’t all systems support CCM?

Interwoven’s statement to us that “Team XML is no longer a product offering, thus we don’t have a significant amount to share with this report” made me sigh in exasperation (see Interwoven bows out of content component management). It was only 2002 (OK so that was 5 years ago) that Interwoven announced with much fanfare its new offering Team XML that would provide XML-based content management, content reuse, and multi-channel delivery. They announced partnerships with Arbortext Editor, XMetaL, DeskNet, XyEnterprise and more, but now they have chosen to step back from this, in fact they started stepping back a few years ago but didn’t really say so. Why did this happen, I don’t have an insider’s knowledge of why, but I’m sure it was because it wasn’t as strong a driving force as ECM was.

However, this doesn’t mean the need for CCM has gone away. It is a web, web world, but the reality is that multi-channel content hasn’t gone away. It is becoming even more important – in marketing campaigns as they need to reach their potential customers in as many channels as possible, as governments realize that they have to reach all their constituents, and as customer support has to accommodate different customer requirements. If anything, there are more ways we need to meet our customer’s needs; look at the upsurge in mobile devices and visual devices like the iPhone. And structured content is becoming more and more prevalent in content.

Too often teams that have strong requirements for CCM are told they have to use an existing system that will in no way meet their needs. The CCM vendors are happy that they have an advantage and they will continue to often represent best-of-breed, but it isn’t always possible to buy another system.

CCM is a niche market, and there are a lot of vendors who focus on this market, but it is also a market that is gaining recognition. Note EMC’s acquisition of X-Hive and SDL’s acquisition of Tridion. Maybe these market moves signify a turning of the tide. Maybe companies like Interwoven need to rethink their strategy.

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