I have been working in this industry for 20 years. When I crossed that threshold last year, I had a small cry. Okay, maybe not a cry, but I was upset. Here we are in 2015, and we are still trying to get content under control in most organizations. The problem isn’t new, and the technology works. We just aren’t getting it done.

What really saddens me about this is that in the 90s, we were so close. Adoption on the projects I worked on was high, and we didn’t really worry much about change management beyond training. People used the systems. It was easy and simple. Then came the web, electronic records management and enterprise content management (ECM). We stopped solving business problems and focused on technical problems.

We need to design systems to store the content relevant to the business problem.

Databases solve problems
What does a database do? It stores and manages discrete information—numbers, strings and the relationships between them. Databases enforce business rules, but they are not the business application. They are a foundation upon which business solutions are built. What would Salesforce be without a strong database underneath?

Why do we insist that content is different?

It is less structured than traditional data. It is stored in large, unwieldy, binary files. Deriving meaning from content requires extra data and intelligent indexing engines that can not only find words but interpret their context based on proximity to other words. Content management systems require databases to work, just like Salesforce. People work with content in their raw format, otherwise known as Word and Excel.

Yet, content is not that different than data.

It is information that is part of a data process. It is related to other items, rarely existing on its own. It may take more time to create, but it invariably exists to support the business and does not exist on its own. It has value, especially when viewed in the full context of everything that is going on around it.

Why don’t we think about it from that angle and develop solutions accordingly?

Just solve the problem
I started life as a database designer. In those system designs, databases have been a tool for storing information and for processing the queries. Over time, we started using those databases for analysis and to provide intelligence on what the business was doing on a daily, monthly and yearly basis.

That same approach needs to be taken with content. We need to design systems to store the content relevant to the business problem. Just as every organization picks SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL or some other database, organizations need to pick their default content management systems.

Even Salesforce has figured this out. They are starting to build free integrations to cloud-based content management vendors. They are treating them as repositories that solve the problem of managing content. Content management is being used as a means to delivering a business solution, not the solution itself.

I started in this industry because of blind luck and happenstance. I was that poor database guy sent to learn a document management system because we needed to manage content in our correspondence tracking system. We delivered content management because it was just a way to more effectively manage information.

I should have paid more attention.

Laurence Hart is a proven leader in content and information management, with nearly two decades of experience solving the challenges organizations face as they implement and deploy information solutions. Follow Mr. Hart on his blog, Word of Pie, or on Twitter @piewords.

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