We’ve had a lot of questions lately about whether SharePoint constitutes content management for technical publications and dynamic information delivery. There was also a paper published by the Aberdeen Group about Securing Unstructured Data that made the point, none too gently:

Companies face a significant challenge with respect to safeguarding critical data in unstructured formats (i.e., in documents and file systems), a problem made worse by the ubiquity of web-based portals and collaborative tools such as Microsoft SharePoint.

They tracked:

  • Number of actual security-related incidents related to unstructured data (e.g., data loss or exposure)
  • Number of non-compliance incidents related to unstructured data (e.g., audit deficiencies)
  • Human error related to unstructured data (e.g., policy violations)

This tracks with what we find when we see companies trying to use SharePoint as content management rather than what it’s good at: you get basic for search capability, some audit trail information, and ad-hoc collaboration.

If all you’ve got is a file system, then SharePoint is a massive improvement. Truly, getting any of this where you previously had none is a huge win. However, if you’re talking about true content management, then it’s critical to define what you mean by that and what you’re actually trying to achieve with it.

Most SharePoint strategies fall short because SharePoint itself is not truly content management. SharePoint cannot handle any complex associativity or relationships between compound document structures. It can’t enable life cycle management or process automation. SharePoint is good as a delivery vehicle for intranet publishing sites—for sharing published content for review and retrieval across enterprise functions.

SharePoint is more of a portal view into corporate file servers. SharePoint is simply a better way to access the files you use every day. But it isn’t content management: SharePoint is document management.

Content management systems manage information modules or chunks (parts) of documents. Document management systems focus on asset management and, as such, manage complete documents—finished information products. The input to a document management system is the output of a content management system.

A content management system has structure built in—structure around the content, structure around access, workflow, monitoring and filtering, encryption, and management. A true content management system can pass the same validations that a class three medical device can pass. A CMS manages information not files. A CMS manages everything required to deliver information to consumers from it’s creation through to publication, distribution and delivery.

A fully-functional content management system has the ability to initiate workflow, to make decisions on document construction based on metadata stored inside the information components as well as the system itself. It tracks more than who last looked at the document or who last modified the document: it tracks functional activities related to the document.

It associates content reviews to information components so that information quality improves over time. A content management system can answer the question “Where is this used?” and “How many documents are affected if I change this drawing, legal boilerplate, or feature description?”

In DITA environments, these kinds of questions are critical and having the ability to manage topic-level information components is essential. It is not uncommon for even a small DITA deployment to have literally 1000s of information components that are combined, recombined, and reconfigured into multiple documents and deliver those documents into a multiplicity of formats—PDF, HTML, eBook, Text, online help, Eclipse Help, etc.

For technical publications, it is this end product—the PDF, the set of HTML files—created from mounds of other, smaller, content components that would be shared with the enterprise, not the components themselves. A content management system would automate the composition, publication, and delivery of these final formats into a SharePoint environment for collaboration and review across other parts of the enterprise.

PTC’s Arbortext Content Manager integrates with SharePoint to provide this level of enterprise sharing and collaboration. Companies get the benefits of SharePoint for internal collaboration for social product development without hindering the activities required to get to that point in the product development process. Arbortext Content Manager doesn’t replace SharePoint, rather it delivers final information products to SharePoint for enterprise collaboration.

Quotes taken from the Aberdeen Group paper: “Securing Unstructured Content: How Best-in-Class Companies Manage to Serve and Protect” published June 2009 by Derek Brink.

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