Thinking about a content management system? Buyer, prepare.

The content management label is fuzzy—after all, what is "content"? Call it "information management," and you'll understand just how amorphous the issue can be. You're going to need a clearer definition if you want to get a handle on your unstructured information.

To figure out what kind of software you'll need, evaluate what kinds of information are central to the company's most critical tasks. Doctors need drug analyses, customer service reps must have reference materials, insurance brokers require complete descriptions of premiums. Next, ask how they access critical information. Is the data they need most useful to them on a Web site or in electronic document storage? Are workers most likely to be sitting at a desktop computer or carrying a PDA? Building profiles of such requirements will give you a clearer understanding of whether you'll need the content management equivalent of a few shovels, helping workers dig data out of a relatively small pile, or an industrial-strength backhoe that sifts through mounds of documents as rapidly as possible.

Typically, organizations in industries with tried-and-true processes for creating content, such as media, financial services and government agencies, will also want to automate the process of creating information. Using workflow software to improve collaboration and content development, teams in such industries can more efficiently develop training manuals or produce magazines. Being able to control the steps required to develop unstructured information—giving you the opportunity to tag and categorize it at the same time—can increase flexibility when the time comes to distribute it.

But stay focused. Analysts say that "boil the ocean" content management efforts that attempt to automate data access across the enterprise are doomed to fail. Help business units understand they'll get better results by developing and managing their content locally, but within companywide guidelines. That's how Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Inc. tackled the problem. The company used Vignette Corp. software to automate the process of creating and publishing information on Web sites for its 41 independent properties, each of which manages its own promotions and customer bases independently. Each hotel can even create targeted Web sites for every wedding party and meeting, so attendees can get specialized event information. "The process would kill us if it were centralized," says Vineet Gupta, Fairmont's vice president of technology.

Ask Your Business Constituents:

Which employees feel the most pain when trying to manage their unstructured information?

Tell Your Business Constituents:

Let's devise a way to help those departments get what they need—then create a rollout plan to deliver to other groups as well.

Tell Your IT Implementation Team:

We need to offer the best balance between local and companywide management rules.

This article was originally published on 05-01-2003
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