The term Content Services describes and includes a further development of the concept of Enterprise Content Management (ECM). The content services platform represents the aggregation of several of these services; more on this later. Where does this need for change and transformation come from? For the longest time, ECM solutions were implemented as rigid in-house solutions in a monolithic software concept. What was considered best practice at the time no longer meets current requirements. More than ever, companies have to impress with their permanent ability to change and adapt. The process technologies used for this purpose must meet this demand. Content services are the answer to these challenges for companies. They offer far more than just the automated extraction of information from documents and its provision.
The swan song of ECM solutions – birth of content services?
As Gartner analyst Michael Woodbridge wrote back in 2017 in a blog post, “The Death of ECM and Birth of Content Services” the ECM approach has four goals.
- Regulatory compliance and risk management
- Preservation and dissemination of business knowledge
- Cost and process efficiency
- Innovation and new ways of working
ECM unfortunately fails to achieve three of the four self-imposed goals. Only point 1 could ECM successfully put into practice. Points 2 to 4 belong to an unrealized wishful thinking due to the often monolithically designed software architecture. Of course, this is a generalization. This would have to be examined in individual cases. However, the article “Microservices vs. Monolith” illustrates why this tends to be correct. In a word: ECM systems lack flexibility and connectivity. Content services, on the other hand, already provide this in their approach. The goal remains the same: enterprise content management. Only the technologies used change: from monolithic applications to content services.
Content Services – the New ECM?
What are content services and how do they differ from classic ECM solutions? Both pursue the same goal, i.e. to present information in companies under the four points mentioned above.
Definition of Content Services
A content service describes the idea of providing and receiving information in companies via a separate service.
Detached from a fixed application, the service can be accessed via an API – via an interface. REST-based microservices are an illustrative example of such content services. In this way, content silos of typical ECM systems are avoided right from the start.
Everything combined in the content services platform
A content services platform is characterized by flexibility, scalability, and networking. In this sense, a content services platform can be seen as a continuation and further development of enterprise content management. After all, these characteristics were not present in enterprise content management. In a content services platform, too, the ECM repository plus applications are in the background – and content services are in the foreground. In this way, the provision of various information from different applications and business processes can be ensured throughout the entire company.
What is a content services platform?
A content services platform can be understood as a changing number of microservices, designed either as a complete product or as a single application. Changing because new services can be established at any time. This is due to the conceptual design of the content services platform, which focuses on flexibility. The main focus of this platform is the active use of fixed, language-independent interfaces (APIs) that connect frontends and backends.
Practical examples of applications on content services platforms include services for incoming invoice processing, contract management, HR processes, or even customer portals.
In this way, almost any services and content types can be managed via a content services platform. It has its own repository and integrates with other repositories to provide enterprise-wide content lifecycle management, information access, and governance. Common services available from these platforms include document and records management, data capture and indexing, categorization, workflow management, version control, and analytics.
Characteristics and advantages
- Customization: Using low-code tools of choice, front-ends can be created in a content services platform even without programming skills. Web, process building blocks as well as SDKs and fixed APIs are provided for this purpose. Services can be easily created this way. A good example of this would be a shipment tracking service that is accessed via a REST API. The front end doesn’t require too much in the way of knowledge. It just needs to be able to take a string and send it to the REST API via a get request. What the process steps behind the API of the content services platform look like is not important for this example. What is important, however, is that the front end can both send the request and display the result.
- Scalability: The experience of the last decades shows it: The amount of data grows exponentially and when the business is running well, the number of system accesses increases. In day-to-day business, one is then faced with a problem that is not all that easy to solve. This experience has been taken into account conceptually in the content services platforms. This makes it easy to compensate for increasing requirements, e.g. through Docker containers.
- Flexibility: Everything is a service, according to this philosophy, which is reminiscent of the unix design principle “everything is a file”, microservices are among the central components of a content services platform. Microservices are also unix-like in that they do “only” one task, but do it particularly well. Flexibility is achieved here because more complex services are composed of microservices that are independent of one another. Communication between these runs via language-independent APIs, so-called interfaces. The services are largely decoupled and perform a small task. At the same time, this design has the advantage that a single, failing microservice does not bring the entire content services platform application to a standstill.
- Integration: Since different content services communicate via language-independent interfaces, a typical characteristic of modern content services platforms is their integration power. As a result, new microservices can be established at an accelerated pace. This is also important for the integration of older ECM services, which can then be integrated into the content services platform iteratively and in small steps.
- Failure safety: Of course, the cloud plays a very special role in the context of a content services platform. Fail-safety and location-independent access are the keywords here. Both must be absolutely guaranteed for business-critical services – and the cloud delivers exactly that. Despite all skepticism, moving content services to the cloud makes perfect sense. Available content services can then be provided via the web. Certainly, well-designed content services platforms excel in providing a solution for all operating models. Modern content services are available both in the cloud and on-premises or via a hybrid solution.
Content Management Technologies: Areas of Application
This is where modern content management technologies find their application and their playground. Content Management Systems have a tradition in archiving and managing data in a trusted manner; they therefore have interfaces to most of the existing core backend systems with a deep integration to handle data.
Modern content services platforms are able to manage workflows and use a variety of services to design modern, digital and mobile processes. The ability to deal with data from all major backend systems and creating workflows based on modern customer frontends solves the customer’s dilemma. The modern content services enable customers to modernize and mobilize without a big bang approach. So they are no longer locked in with only one vendor’s process design.
Connecting all of a company’s backend systems to a content services platform that allows to leverage all kinds of services and flexible process design with modern and mobile customer interfaces has the ability to digitalize business processes in an agile fashion. Companies can take a process at the time and deliver small increments to the market to evolve its digitization and mobilization. This is a low-risk, fast and agile approach that is based on standard technology platforms; it will be configured rather than customized or programmed.
Technology is additionally able to slowly migrate complete infrastructures by making content accessible to core systems across the whole enterprise while legacy systems can be retired.
Digital Authorization and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Digital signature processes are even more integrated into the content services platforms – with trusted certificates that reflect the current state of technology. The digital signature accelerates processes and reduces costs, replacing the complex signature and approval process. It improves usability and makes customization of processes and applications a reality. Consumerization is the buzzword.
The next wave of content service will rely on artificial intelligence to capture and interpret content along the business processes. With Artificial Intelligence (AI), a new level of content interpretation can be tapped to drive agile process execution, finding the right person for a transaction or further automating the process. AI content services have the potential to create a real competitive advantage in terms of cost, time and customer experience.
The next step: Trusted Content
Finally, trusted content exchanged between parties, will become more important in the future than it is today. Trusted content enables the authentication of content throughout the process – even beyond company boundaries. In many ways, this is going to be more relevant to businesses, e.g. when reviewing transactions, external certificates or health data and the like. These authentications can be integrated into the modern content services platforms by blockchain technology.
ECM creates opportunities
Modern content services platforms will be required to digitalize and mobilize business processes. In this field, the implementation of modern content services will play a major future role. In summing up it becomes clear, that ECM is not dead but it will actually become a core competency which will be moving into content services.
In it’s new appearance ECM will be driving the digitalization and mobilization of business processes in companies. For companies, this creates the opportunity to transform own digital worlds of processes in an individual and agile way.