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Content services encompass content management, collaboration and dissemination through services that coordinate content input and usage by users, systems and applications.  Content services provide insights from the content and pave the way for businesses to gain value from data. In effect, a content service services content.

The following sections explain the what, why and how of Content Services.

Table of Contents

What are Content Services

Information is pervasive, both in personal life and in businesses.   It is, in the words of Peter Sondergaard, senior VP, Gartner Research, “the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.”

The larger the business, the more is its informational content, largely in the form of documents. And the increasing use of digital data/documents requires robust, secure, and easy-to-use management systems that can not only store but also enable an organized access to data when required. Conventional monolithic document repositories are being actively replaced by content services – a term coined by Gartner – that aggregate digital content across multiple sources.

A good content service enables the following features for better business operations:

  • Streamlined archival of information that helps in quick access to and retrieval of relevant data at the appropriate times.
  • Elimination of physical data (paperwork) and clutter associated with filing of physical documents, thereby helping with better document management and long-term storage.
  • Custom structuring of data depending on the business needs and competency, to enable cross-referencing, context establishment and transparency of documentation across the company.

The evolution of content services

Content services are all about forging a strategic approach to organizing content (“servicing content”) rather than dumping all data into one repository. Organized handling of content enables customization of workspaces based on the objectives of the institution; and all participants and stakeholders are equipped with just the specific information required to make decisions. The personalization afforded by content services allows efficient task management, which results in time savings and better revenue generation. In effect, content services help in automating the exchange of content across and within departments and intelligently categorizing information for easy access.

The tools of content services have evolved over the past two decades, from Network file shares to emerging Content Services Platforms (CSPs).

Network file sharing was the earliest tool for storage of information and included removable storage media, centralized servers on computer networks, World Wide Web-based hyperlinked documents, and distributed peer-to-peer networking.   Although file shares were easy to adopt, they failed beyond a critical size of data, and were notoriously insecure and data could become disorganized.

The next generation Enterprise Content Management (ECM) approach introduced by Gartner, served to overcome the limitations of Network file sharing.  These ECM systems, embodied by products such as Alfresco and OpenText, comprise a master database that stores data in various formats (Word, Excel, PDF, images, etc.). While ECMs allow security of data and a certain amount of content organization, they do not cater to emerging needs such as global file sharing and sync, group communication, team collaboration, etc., all of which go beyond simple document collection and data access and involve interactive systems.

Today, Content Services include Content Services Platforms (CSPs), applications and components.  

Gartner, the inventor of the concept of Content Services Platform or CSP defines it as “a set of services and microservices, embodied as an integrated product suite and applications that share common APIs and repositories”.  The CSP includes one or many repositories of data, and executes document management workflow, capture, analytics and other content services software.

Content Services or CSPS emerged from ECM in order to harness the advantages of the latter and overcome its limitations. CSPs provide the capabilities for storing, organizing, securing, and distributing content within an organization much like the ECM, but they also store and manage content across a cloud-powered application. Unlike the ECM platform which is simply a repository of data, information, documents, and files, the content services platform comprises multiple repositories, endpoints, content types and business use services that cater to multiple stakeholders across a company.

CSP  is essentially a strategic approach, rather than a technology-oriented approach that blends the functionalities of digital enterprise and services required of data management.

While CSPs are at the brain of the Content Services domain -  the words “Content Services” and “Content Service Platforms, CSP” are often used interchangeably - they are augmented by content services applications and components. The applications involve providing solutions to specific use cases. Content services components stretch the capabilities of CSPs and applications for extra functionalities such as bookmarking.

Differences between ECM and CSP

  1. ECM systems support a single repository, Content Services Platforms support multiple and external repositories in addition to the primary repository. The expansion of the repository structure allows efficient scalability.
  2. Beyond data storage and management, content services can track customer relationships, facilitate ad hoc collaboration, organize product information, and enable e‑commerce transactions.
  3. CSPs are API-centric. All clients use common APIs to access the content from all the repositories.
  4. In addition to flexible architecture, CSPs have more intuitive user interfaces and better user experience than ECMs.
  5. Multiple clients and endpoint devices such as drives, browser add-ons, mobile apps., etc., can be used to access CSP content; such versatility is not offered by ECMs that are limited on the endpoint access.
  6. CSPs can be integrated with popular business applications such as SAP. This feature is not as well developed in ECMs.
  7. CSPs can be used in any kind of cloud ecosystem and can support private, public and hybrid cloud storage. The platform may be installed onsite, or in a cloud system, and is already available as SaaS. Cloud deployment can enable delivery of services irrespective of the technical capabilities of the underlying computing infrastructure.
  8. CSPs offer better data security than ECMs through the provision of folder and sub folder level access permissions for granular access control. The cloud-based CSPs can have enhanced security capabilities such as two-factor authentication and encrypted access to files and folders.  The flow of content across the internet can also be monitored and anomalous events can be detected in time
  9. CSPs offer File Sync and Share (FSS) capabilities to securely distribute content to mobile devices and sync updates with appropriate content security.
  10. Automated processes in CSPs can add metadata to content. Meta-data management is easier and more organized than in ECMs.
  11. Features such as versioning, document preview, annotation and editing are possible with CSPs.

Features to look for in Content Services

The features to look for when choosing a tool for Content Services must include:

  1. Intelligent content capture: This is particularly important for physical-to-digital data transition. The capture of relevant and required information from both paper and electronics sources such as emails, documents, enterprise applications and social media is the first step in business automation.
  2. Document management:  The traditional hierarchical folder structure is no longer suited in the current scenario where there are various participants with different work requirements and preferences.  Automated data classification can reduce content administration burden beyond the hierarchical structure. Some data classification features are intelligent metadata managers, OCR/ICR file tagging and roles-based classification.
  3. Records management: Structured and transparent management of records can ensure compliance and reduce audit/litigation risks.
  4. Collaboration and productivity: Seamless integration into enterprise and line-of-business systems can increase productivity. Secure internal and external file sharing capabilities are required for collaborative efforts within and between organizations.
  5. Workflow and process management: Content services provide frameworks and templates for case management, workflow management and task approvals. They also offers tools for automated content processing using trigger events and business rules.
  6. Search: Most CSPs offer context-driven search functionalities within the context of their business processes.
  7. Risk management and regulatory compliance: The CSP must be able to accommodate the  information governance policies and procedures applicable to the company and must also ensure compliance to industry standards and regulations.
  8. Security: The CSP must offer security functions such as access control, electronic digital rights management (EDRM), data loss prevention (DLP), authentication and encryption.  Other advanced features include content redaction, watermarking and digital signatures and may be chosen depending on the organization’s requirements.
  9. AI and Analytics: The intelligent analysis of different content types to extract relevant information can unlock value in content and provide actionable insights for decision making processes.
  10. API Services: API services enable the deployment of focused micro-services customized to the company’s competency. Custom APIs and apps can enable smooth and efficient integration of content services into other enterprise applications.
  11. Location:  Cloud computing is the current state-of-art in the data domain, but comes with its challenges of cost and scale.  The CSP should allow selection from on-premise, cloud or hybrid deployment to suit the organization’s situation and needs. Mobile enabling is also an increasingly sought-out feature so that data management can be brought down to the device level.

Benefits of Content Services

  1. Content Services enable working with content, regardless of format and location of the content. This helps decision making across locations and timescales.
  2. Content can be searched easily using the structure of digital folders and file cabinets that keep content organized.
  3. Revisions and versions can be handled easily to stay up-to-date.
  4. The use of notes, markups and electronic signatures supports effective collaboration and streamlines the content management processes.
  5. Content Services store an audit history of actions taken on key content; this is important for tracking & compliance.

Conclusion

The increasing need to save time and resources associated with data capture, organization, storage, and continuous management has been steadily driving the adoption of Content Services by many large companies. CSPs eliminate rudimentary and time-consuming mundane tasks, reduce processing time, and allow access of appropriate information to the right people at the right time.

Advances in cloud, mobile, AI, and analytics technologies have enhanced the scope of content services. And it is clear that such data management tools would result in better usability and productivity among end-users. In effect, Content Services and Content Service Platforms not only handle and manage information but also create an integrated culture in which all stakeholders are involved in and benefit from how information is captured, stored, processed and utilized.