Monday, February 25, 2013

Seven Types of Content Applications

The enterprise content management (ECM) industry has been talking about content applications for many years. A while back, Gartner coined the term “composite content applications” while Forrester talks about “content-centric applications”. What I mean are applications that primarily deal with unstructured data (content) rather than structured data applications, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), and product lifecycle management (PLM).

We all can usually come up with many examples of such applications but, to my knowledge, they have never been properly classified. What are the types of content applications out there? Sure, Forrester introduced new categories for ECM in their groundbreaking report Transactional, Business, and Persuasive Content: A Better Way to Look at Enterprise Content back in 2005. But that was really dealing with the different technologies rather than the application types. So, I decided to give it a shot myself. I would love to get your help with it, though. Please do comment if you agree or disagree and if you can think of applications that don’t fit into my categories.

Before I start, I should make it clear that while all the application types below use content as the primary data type, they go beyond ECM. They also involve business process management (BPM), customer experience management (CEM), and discovery. At the same time, I am not trying to cover all BPM or CEM applications, but rather only those that use content. For instance, I am not including straight-through processing (STP) applications in BPM such as payment transactions or capital markets transactions because those don’t use content. Basically, I am categorizing applications that span the enterprise information management (EIM) space, as we define it at OpenText. So, here are the seven types of content applications:

1. Productivity Applications
I’ve labeled the first group ‘productivity applications’ because they are all aimed at increasing employee productivity, which is sometimes very difficult to measure. These applications usually involve sharing business documents, sifting through vast volumes of information, collaborative authoring, document libraries, and collaboration/social software as a means of improving employee communication and effectiveness.

Examples of such applications include corporate policy libraries, knowledge management, contracts management, idea management, etc. These applications are often considered part of the knowledge worker infrastructure as they require relatively little customization and they are typically not department specific or industry specific. IT usually selects and owns these applications.

2. Compliance Applications
Compliance applications are the bread and butter of the ECM industry. They are addressing the requirements for regulatory compliance and corporate information governance, and they are reducing the legal risks related to content used as possible evidence in a court of law. These applications focus on access control, auditing, information retention, and mandated tasks, approvals, and sign-offs.

Examples of such applications include records management, legal discovery (eDiscovery) and early case assessment, as well as many regulated document applications used to address specific requirements such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act as well as self-imposed requirements such as Six-Sigma or ISO 14001. Such applications are almost always function or industry specific, i.e. applications dealing with the FDA 21 CFR Part 11 regulations in life sciences, the OSHA material safety data sheets in chemical process manufacturing, or the Dodd-Frank Act in financial services. A wide variety of functions can be selecting and owning such applications, although the heavily regulated industries often have a Chief Compliance Officer while companies in highly litigious industries lean strongly on the Chief Legal Counsel here.

3. Process Applications
There is a group of applications that are very process-oriented, and yet they depend heavily on content as the information used for decisions that determine the process routing, tasks, and results. Such applications usually involve electronic forms and the capture of incoming paper documents. They also take advantage of process modeling and analysis, process simulation and optimization, rules engines, and process engines as well as process reporting and analytics. Frequently, the process applications integrate with other applications such as ERP and CRM.

Examples include invoice processing (a.k.a. accounts payable), travel expense management, and many vertical applications such as engineering change orders, dispute resolution, and authorization for expenditure. Usually, the process applications have an easily measurable ROI. These solutions are typically selected and owned by their respective functions and can span both the core and the supporting functions of the organization.

4. Case Management Applications
Case management came about as an use case of BPM but it deals with quite different types of applications. Gartner believes that case management is just a use case of BPM while Forrester declared case management a separate market - and a very fast growing one too. The case management applications are different from traditional BPM applications as they don’t just use content as a payload - they are much more about the content. They typically involve a case file which is a smart repository container accommodating many content assets and the logic governing their use. Besides a stronger dependence on a content management repository, case management applications can include many of the process application technologies for all the big and small processes required to manage the case file.  

Examples of case management applications include customer onboarding, employee file management, and fraud investigation. Vertical case management applications include insurance claims processing, loan origination, legal case management, and patient care management. The selection and ownership of case management applications falls - just like the process applications - onto respective corporate functions.

5. Resource Management Applications
Resource management applications are, as my label suggests, managing various resources - from human resources to customers and suppliers, from products to plant assets. These applications are frequently used in tight integration with structured data applications such as ERP, PLM, or CRM. The main purpose of these applications is to systematically organize large volumes of content assets that often need to be retrieved very quickly based on a complex set of metadata - i.e., all material with a warranty expiring in the next 30 days found in a specific geographic location. The resource management applications need to accommodate a rich variety of content formats: from documents and images, to CAD drawings and digital X-rays.

Examples of resource management applications include customer information management, product information management, plant asset management as well as vertical applications such as patient records, and legal matter management. The resource management applications are selected and owned by the responsible function in the organization (line of business).

6. Go-to-Market Applications
As the name suggests, these sales and marketing applications are used to support the organization’s go-to-market efforts. Their main job is to capture attention, persuasively convey a message and solicit a desired call to action. They typically involve rich media assets, multi-channel delivery of content, social engagement and the need to measure and monitor their effectiveness. The sales and marketing applications also need to account for geographic differences - from language, local examples, and local trends, to different customs, ways of conducting business, and customer privacy laws.

Examples include digital marketing, e-commerce, marketing libraries, marketing campaign management, sales collateral libraries, and virtual pitch books. While there are vertical flavors to such applications (i.e., the pharma companies have to add some compliance capabilities to their digital marketing), the go-to-market applications are applicable across industries. They are almost always purchased and owned by the sales and marketing departments.

7. Publishing Applications
I use the label ‘publishing applications’ for all types of applications where content is the actual product or a product component. The published product can come in many formats and increasingly multiple formats are being combined into a single final product. For example, books are now typically published on paper (hard and soft cover), for consumption in different e-readers (at least three formats are necessary: Kindle, iBooks, PDF), and as an audiobook. Increasingly, the content delivery needs to take in account the consumption device with its screen size, resolution, and bandwidth. Although the products are becoming more consistent worldwide, translation, localization and distribution rights are a major factor here.

Examples of such applications include technical publishing, catalog publishing, different types of media publishing (i.e., book publishing, magazine publishing, motion picture and video production), radio and television programming, and learning material publishing. Even non-corporate blogs like the ones published on WordPress, Blogger, or Tumblr fall into this category, although many of them are used in the consumer domain outside the scope of ECM. The buyers of such solutions are almost always the heads of the publishing production who often carry different titles depending on the industry.

So, that’s it. These are the seven types of content applications. Before anyone brings it up, I do realize that many of these applications started reaching across the categories. In regulated industries, pretty much every application has to include compliance. You can make an argument that BPM should be included in everything. Same for collaboration or social software. But what decides the categorization is the original goal for deploying the application. Are we deploying the application to handle more customer requests and compliance just happens to be a required feature? Then it is primarily a process application rather than a compliance application. The primary stakeholder is usually the telltale too. Different owners have a different purpose for their application, which usually determines the type of solution they will select.

While this is my view of the landscape, I would love to hear from you. Do you agree with my categories? Do you see any other categories or a different way of categorization? Have you encountered any applications that don’t fit? Please share your comments and help me make it better. If there are substantial changes as a result of your comments, I will publish an updated version of this post.

Thank you!


  1. I like any attempt at describing a domain. I also like that this is "intent" driven. What I am struggling with is how to use it. That needs a little thought. Resource=asset in some sectors.

  2. Lubor, this is a timely and helpful article. Members of the vendor community that serves the markets that must manage all this content have a bird's eye view of the various use cases you describe. We can see examples of each of them, and their associated content types, being managed by our customers. When we get lucky, we see many of them within a single customer!

    First and foremost, I’ll answer your call for input…I agree with your types and their associated descriptions. In fact, I think every ECM evangelist and implementation professional should read this, absorb it, and use it when performing a discovery to test what the customer believes they are dealing with. I can see this as an eye-opening exercise.

    Here's the rub. I believe our customers, and many vendors, live in their own content-type silos and can only comprehend the term "content" as THEIR content. The person who works in AP, a transactional workflow environment, believes that their invoices are content. When they stumble on a content management system that claims to manage the prose and rich media used to support a web site, they are stunned and insulted that someone "stole" their descriptor and wasted their time!

    I believe the market wants the messaging around content management systems that address their particular “type” to clearly describe the problem they solve. As vendors, we understand what we are talking about when we say, “Enterprise Content Management”. In the market, with the exception of the minority of educated consumers, that’s not always the case. Using the “content” term in a general business setting can get up to seven self-nominations of need, of which only three or four may have the “type” you manage.

    What you have presented here is highly relevant. I am hopeful members of the vendor community will use it to improve their messaging around their products from the generic “CM” to something more specific to the solution they provide.