Today, EMC announced in conjunction with Microsoft and IBM the submission of a new standards proposal – CMIS – Content Management Interoperability Standard.
And it’s not Just Another Standard (JAS)– this could be bigger than many people realize.
Here’s why …
Put Aside Your Standard Skepticism
I suppose anyone who’s working in the IT industry has become skeptical – even cynical – about new standards in the industry. So many are proposed, fewer make it to final ratification, fewer still get meaningfully adopted by a majority of vendors, and precious few ever end up delivering the customer value once envisioned.
So why might CMIS be any different?
1 – It Solves A Real And Growing Problem
Content is exploding everywhere in modern enterprises – files, emails, content management systems, document repositories, and so on. For many customers, it’s the fastest growing category of information.
It’s also where most of the high-value stuff ends up: reports, presentations, internal and external communication – collectively, the intellectual property of the modern organization.
Whether it’s exploiting the value of this information, reducing the costs associated with managing it, or simply complying with various edicts regarding compliance and retention – many people think it’s the new battleground in information management.
We spend a lot of time in the 1980s and 1990s arguing about SQL and data dictionaries when most of our information was transactional. Maybe CMIS is the parallel discussion for this decade?
Having a standard way to identify and manage content – the valuable stuff – could create the same kind of breakthrough that SQL did with transactional data, and XML did with web content – a standard, vendor-neutral way of moving content from application to application, and preserve important metadata.
I remember when SQL become a relative standard in the industry – customers could buy all sorts of tools from different vendors (databases, query tools, report writers, data cleansing tools, etc.) and they’d have a decent chance of working together out-of-the-box, so to speak. The IT world was a better place simply because there was a decently implemented interchange standard for transactional tabular data.
And I think there’s a lot of customers who are going to be very interested in CMIS once they understand what it can potentially do for them.
2 – The Right Vendors Are Backing It
Between EMC, Microsoft and IBM, you’ve got all the heavy hitters in the enterprise content management space. Sure, there are lots of other players in the marketplace, but if these three big vendors agree and implement this standard, you’ve gotta think that more than a few others will want to participate as well.
And it's not just the biggies, either: Alfresco Software, Open Text, Oracle and SAP also helped validate that the standard would be useful and provide the interoperability that everyone's looking for.
You wouldn’t buy a database system today that couldn’t easily import and export data, would you? Or an office automation application that couldn’t do the same? Customers want their data to be portable and interchangeable. Before too long, the same dynamic should set in for the content management application vendors – it’ll likely become table stakes before too long.
3 – The Developers Will Want It
One of the things that I’ve come to understand about the ECM market is the incredible strategic importance of application developers in this space. Simply put, there are very few out-of-the-box enterprise content management applications: all the useful stuff I’ve seen is built from various toolsets to solve very specific business requirements.
This stuff doesn’t build itself. And it’s not like sitting down and whipping up a few nice screens for users to see. No, there’s a bit more to it than that :-)
Hence, in this world, skilled and professional developers are king. And I think that – before too long – they’ll come to see the advantages of creating content management applications that use a portable and re-purposeable metadata standard such as what CMIS brings. Ideally, they’d be able to code once, and move the bulk of their logic and value-add freely between different enterprise content platforms.
Much like programmers from another generation learned to love portable code that moved freely between different architectures and operating systems, CMIS might offer the same potential for the growing legion of skilled ECM developers.
4 – Sooner Or Later, This Problem Is Going To Have To Get Solved
One could debate that the proposed standard is imperfect or incomplete in some regard – but, then again, most standards are. The difference here? This problem isn’t going away by itself. To me, it’s the right standard at the right time.
The future forecast is pretty clear: more content in more applications with more and more business requirements to manage it in a relatively standard manner. Just like no company has the luxury of standardizing on a single database or a single operating system, it’s highly unlikely that any company will be able to standardize on a single ECM environment – things are just growing too fast for any customer (or vendor) to make that play.
And if it’s not CMIS, it’s going to be something very much like it in the very near future …
Courteous comments are always welcome, of course.