Maybe it's a little too far "out there" for most users, but for my money, one of the most interesting and promising developments ahead in content management is the rise of XML. The technology brings granular control, reusability and searchability to content; thus, it's moving beyond technical documents into uses such as financial reporting (think XBRL), regulated content (think pharma) and database publishing (think Lexis Nexis and Elsevier).
Okay, so 90 or even 95 percent of informal, ad hoc communications will continue to be dominated by largely unstructured documents. But this is precisely the type of content that has, until recent years, gone unmanaged. And now this collaborative content has become the target for low-cost, mainstream management tools such as Microsoft SharePoint, IBM Workplace and Oracle Files and Collaboration Suite. Basic library services — check-in/check-out and version control — are now built into or bundled with leading databases, so you don't need more firepower if all you're after is managing Office documents and e-mail messages.
Meanwhile, the several electronic content management (ECM) vendors that have thrived off of imaging — notably FileNet and IBM — are now promoting business process management (BPM), e-forms and "intelligent document" platforms that are essentially turning structured forms that are currently imaged from paper into electronic transactions. Behind the scenes, of course, is XML metadata, so IBM and others have been beefing up their XML mapping capabilities.
While the vendor community still hypes ECM, it's clear from our own research, as well as that of AIIM and others, that customers are still selectively deploying content applications. They're also integrating what they've already deployed rather than ripping and replacing legacy systems and consolidating on a single platform. Integration, too, depends on XML, so users would do well to think about the structure of their content — or lack thereof — and how they might dramatically reduce the time and cost of developing content with more granular management capabilities.
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