CMIS is Here: What Does it Mean for You?

The goal is to make content repositories interoperate by being independent of operating systems and architectures. Here's a rundown on some of the more compelling features.

Ruth Blanco, Contributor

February 3, 2010

5 Min Read

In late 2008, OASIS (OASIS Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards--the not-for-profit consortium that drives open standards) announced a committee that would standardize a Web services interface specification that would enable interoperability of enterprise content management (ECM) systems. EMC, IBM and Microsoft lead the way by developing the initial draft for the standard. Other ECM vendors, like Alfresco, Open Text, Oracle and others, participated and provided comments on a draft standard. OASIS put the v1.0 standard out for public comment through the end of last year and received a flurry of feedback.

CMIS, the resulting standard, stands for Content Management Interoperability Services. The goal of CMIS is to make sure content repositories and solutions are able to interoperate by being independent of operating systems and architectures. It focuses on the basic content functions such as creating, reading, writing, deleting and searching for content across repositories.Some basic features of the CMIS include storing folders, documents and relationship. Collectively, folders, documents and relationships are called objects. Each object has a unique ID and object type, the latter detailing the properties of each object. The basic property types also define details such as strings, numbers, dates, lists, etc. Objects can be created, retrieved, updated and deleted. Documents may have an associated content stream or an attachment. Users can search documents using a SQL-based language. Clients talk to CMIS servers using AtomPub or SOAP.

There are more complex features that make this standard more compelling. Some of these components include:

  • A new (non) foldering paradigm. CMIS introduces a way of storing documents called unfiling, where the document is not held in a folder, it just exists in the state of being unfiled. The key to finding the file is the content and metadata you need to find it (dates, keywords, tags, etc.). The second way of storing a document is multifiling, where a document is stored in several folders at the same time.

  • A way to discover and retrieve renditions for documents and folders. A rendition is a way of viewing or representing a master document. For example, a document may have several renditions such as PDF, HTML, image and pure text. Each rendition is seen as an alternate content stream.

  • Versioning options including a "major" classification. CMIS doesn't impose any semantics on the version. To create new versions, a model of check-in/checkout is used. After checkout from a version, a private working copy (PWC) is created, which can be modified and then checked back in, creating a new version. In the most complete scenario, the repository allows read and write access to all versions, including the PWC, and allows all versions and the PWC to be searched. The versions can also be filed independently in the same (or different) folders, several versions being then accessible at the same time.

  • Access control lists (ACLs) assigning user permissions. CMIS defines three basic permissions: read, write, and all. It's up to each repository to define exactly the semantics of these permissions. The CMIS repository exposes exactly what individual CMIS operations are allowed for each of these permissions. A repository can also define additional, non-standard permissions. Alternatively, a repository may allow a client to not only check but also change the ACL on a document.

  • An optional change log service that tracks operations applied in the repository after a specified date. The change log service returns a list of basic operations that have taken place in the repository: object creation, modification or deletion, as well as security changes on an object.

ECM standards are desperately needed in an industry that is made up of heterogeneous products, systems and multiple ways to storing, searching and accessing data. CMIS has the potential to make a big impact in the market and will help promote:

  • Innovation: CMIS will enable independent software vendors (ISVs) to offer content-centric applications that can be run on top of different ECM-platforms. That will generate opportunities for vendors of content-enabled applications and will lead to a lot of innovation. New companies and business models will evolve serving the fast-growing markets for CMIS-based composite content applications as well as transactional content management applications.

  • Usability: The standard will give end users the ability to more efficiently search the many content repositories that organizations typically have, using one ECM system to interact with the content that may, in fact, be managed by many content management systems. Workflows will be able to tap into content from many repositories. Content management systems will be more flexible and better able to meet your organization's needs.

  • Flexibility: CMIS will prevent lock-in to one vendor. ECM industry was driven by proprietary systems that do not allow organizations to change to other vendors. Even when a vendor could not offer the functionality desired and increased maintenance fees, there was no choice to go somewhere else. Changing systems meant breaking tight, proprietary integrations between customer applications and the ECM-infrastructure. CMIS will help separate the applications from the ECM-platform, so there will be no more lock-in to one vendor.

Unlike some other standards, the software vendors are already working to incorporate elements of the draft standard into the products and we may see the results late in 2010. The broad support of the ECM software community is also promising as they see that embracing standards will increase user adoption of ECM.The goal is to make content repositories interoperate by being independent of operating systems and architectures. Here's a rundown on some of the more compelling features.

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