No Silver Bullet – Essence of Content Management for the Web
By Marc Piparo, VP Technology, Intellavia LLC
© Intellavia, 08/21/2010. Permission to share if source is fully credited.
Building upon the notorious idea, at the time, and defined by the infamous “No Silver Bullet” [i] argument made so boldly in 1986 by Fred Brooks[ii], one can expect, and should not be surprised, that this argument would also carry into one of modern day’s most complex and common web software solutions, the Web Content Management System (CMS) and Document Management System (DMS).
It is important to note that Content Management and Document Management is a very misconstrued concept in the enterprise world – and often misinterpreted. But the facts are that CMS and DMS software each solve distinctly separate problems. If we assume the common concept and core of Content Management, referring more likely to how content delivery via the Internet through various means is “managed”, we must concede that Document Management involves the pure work-flow, storage, retrieval, and versioning of documents at its core. This distinction is what is often overlooked, and an effort to morph one system into the other (in an attempt to create an all powerful single solution system), is where the No Silver Bullet failure is most obvious.
The most adopted web content delivery solutions of today, such as Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, and others, all are typically based on PHP (a server side scripting language) and owe their successfulness to their relativity simple setup, typically due to their ease of deployment within the classic LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack. These systems, among the now hundreds of available as well as the more complexly developed systems built upon Java (OpenCMS, iVCMS), Microsoft .NET (DotNetNuke), all involve the core function of “delivery” of content to the web, with the management of content in direct support of this primary function.
On the other end of the argument, we have the Document Management Systems, the popular systems of the day being EMC Documentum and Microsoft’s SharePoint. These systems feature rich, often enterprise level solutions, with heavy emphasis on work-flow, capture of content, versioning, and accessibility across an enterprise user-base. Again, the core function in this case, is “management” of content and documentation, with delivery being a secondary, often addition or plug-in to the core system.
Because of these core discrepancies in purpose of these two district systems, as in often the case, many have attempted to create the “all-in-one” solution, combining core features of these systems, each designed to solve two distinct problems. Case in point, the majority of DMS systems now almost always offer a “web plug-in”. These plug-ins are often a template based, locked-down, web delivery mechanism, which very often leads to websites with a cookie-cutter style and design. In other words, it’s a generic site representative of its source DMS.
Additionally, integration with external systems within the website is a task often involving a team of software engineers to take this generated code apart and interact with often poorly designed APIs, primarily created for the purpose of stating on the box, “We have an API”.
CMS systems on the other hand are increasingly adding document management like features to help bridge the perceived gap in functionality from the other end. However, in this case as well, most web CMS solutions cannot measure up in functionality to the core strengths offered by enterprise DMS systems, and fall short of features – failing to be used effectively. Again, teams of software developers are often needed to make these modifications in order to morph these DMS style capabilities within the CMS to support an enterprise’s established SOPs and processes, something a web CMS cannot achieve at the same level of a pure DMS.
While there is No Silver Bullet for this CMS/DMS paradox, there are hybrid solutions or so called “Slay the Werewolf” solutions, that do create the results required of many an enterprise. These solutions involve first understanding the CMS/DMS distinction and focusing on your enterprise’s Document Management needs; meaning do not let the delivery of your content (CMS) drive your work-flow for creation, authoring, versioning and management of your enterprise’s content. After all, your content is your bread and butter and should always take center stage.
Once a clear Document Management process and SOPs are in place, choose a DMS from the many that can meet those goals and processes. It is during this point in the decision making process where CMS, or more importantly content delivery, should begin to be addressed. Choosing a DMS with “hooks” or an API for extracting content from the DMS is the most important aspect of creating a hybrid solution with a CMS. However, use caution, as many APIs often don’t put their money where their mouth is. As always, any open-source system provides the ultimate “hooks”, but sometimes this comes at a cost of features and ease-of-use. So it is important before deciding on a DMS to bring in experts for your potential web CMS solution so they can analyze the DMS’s API to ensure it can deliver to meet your requirements.
Choosing your CMS solution will greatly depend on how you wish your content to be disseminated throughout the web. There are many open-source based systems that typically involve software expertise of various levels depending on the CMS. There are also commercial CMS systems that are typically less complex to setup and deploy, but costly. However, since this is a hybrid solution, software developers will be needed to integrate the CMS with the DMS. Choosing an open-source CMS system with the appropriate resources skilled in the CMS’s programming language and design is typically a sound solution.
Choosing a CMS system that is not so much an out-of-the-box product (such as Drupal and iVCMS) but rather a platform for customizing to your enterprise’s content delivery workflow is often an optimum choice for enterprises wishing for ease of use for their web content delivery staff. Often these system costs are not so much the software (which is often free), but the expertise of the developers and designers to customize the CMS to your specifications. This combined with a powerful backend DMS often makes for a much more customized document management and content delivery process within your enterprise.
So again, while there is No Silver Bullet, no one-in-all solution to solve all your enterprise’s document management and content web delivery needs (as of this writing), there are hybrid options increasingly available. And – as usual – understanding the problem, is the best way to solve a problem.
[i] “Fred Brooks”. IBM.
. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
[ii] “Fred Brooks”. IBM.
. Retrieved 19 August 2010.