CMIS, my vision

Today I represent (as usual) my personal vision. I tell this once again, just to be sure that my personal vision won’t become Sitecore’s public vision :).

This morning while I was running through my task list I decided to share this on my twitter account:
Thinking about my CMIS proposal for product management: can WCM really benefit from an ECM(mostly DM) standard?!

I see it as one of my primary responsibilities inside Sitecore to inform product management about changes in our world of content management. Most of the time they’ve already added something similar on the roadmap, but it’s good to have my input. I talk on daily base with our implementation partners and customers, they do not always get that chance.

After a while, a couple of reactions showed up. John Newton, one of the founders of Alfresco replied to me and so did some others. It shows how constructive a tool like Twitter can be, but more important, how hot this topic is.

JBoye just posted a blogpost(also a reaction) about what they think customers should do an not do at this moment. I agree with them to some level, but only if you include the reactions in your vision.

But let’s get back! What is CMIS? It is a standard for communicating between different ECM installations. There’s a big need for the possibility to interexchange documents including metadata between these systems. These documents often have a lot of metadata and also their folder structure tells a lot about their semantics. As every vendor has its own idea about how to store this data, it is very important to have an common format for communication otherwise exchange of documents becomes impossible or very expensive.

(This is of course a simplified view on CMIS. It does include the state where a document is in and lots of other features. Some more or less important.)

The evolution of having such a ‘protocol’ and to see the different vendors talking about these things is a very good step. As vendors ECM, DM and WCM have to deal with all kinds of different standard. Most of them are very technical, take for example Web services, RSS, Atom, WebDAV, etc. Most of them are also not intended to become a standard in our particular space of issue solving. Which means that they are too general or too domain specific to integrate tight with a system like Sitecore.

The question is now what value CMIS brings to WCM. WCM is not document minded and often it does not focus at all on storing document. Looking at today’s Web pages, you often see that companies try not to deliver to many documents on their websites. Which is a good move, as it improves usability. But CMIS is not just about PDFs or Word documents. It does include movies, illustrating images and results of collaborated documents as well.

As soon as the standard will reach its public stages, we as Sitecore, but all the purely WCM vendors should definitely start supporting this standard. But not as a content producer. ECM and DM will continue to focus on creating documents. Although WCM can deliver this, their main target is a markup languages. WCM is very good in producing (X)HTML, XML and image manipulation. Its strength is definitely not creating PDFs or so. Most WCM vendors are capable of doing it technically, but they cannot facilitate the quality process steps ECM can.

Therefore it doesn’t make a lot of sense to integrate the whole standard a producer. But as a consumer it does. Often documents get published out of intranets and other collaboration environments. It does make sense to be able to consume these documents and use them on all kind of web pages.

In some way WCM should support the production side as well. WCM has a real strong relation minded structure. This means that content tagging, inter-content-relations and other ways of categorizing are available out of the box. Why not use this data back to feed the ECM again? Looking at the world of web 2.0, you often see the end consumer(also known as website visitor) does tag/rate content. This information is highly interesting for the content producer.

On the other hand that’s also the challenge for WCM. Because of our nature in linking data to each other, you can harder define a single asset. That’s a pity as you have to define, in my suggestion above, if user generated content is a property of a certain asset or not.

As you have seen above, I see a lot of value in CMIS for WCM. But we should keep in mind that the standard is still a draft. When the final version is there Sitecore and all the other WCM should start to support it as a data consumer(once again: my opinion). It will decrease the investment for companies to get their back office to communicate to the front-end. Which is always a great step. Beside of that it can decrease the time to market for certain information and allows team to gather feedback from the web(depending on the implementation and the product visions of both vendors: ECM & WCM).
It also shows how separated WCM can be from ECM. This discussion wasn’t ongoing when ECM had incorporated WCM totally.

The acceptance of the standard can highly benefit from a toolset developed for the different platforms. I would highly support the idea of having Microsoft (.NET) and Sun (Java) writing the communication layer as a library. The specific implementation can be completed by every individual vendor. But this communication part shouldn’t take to much time from every individual vendor, reinventing the wheel.
It doesn’t matter if it are Microsoft and Sun or if it becomes an open source project. As long a the biggest vendors doe support this open source solution as well and give an indication of it’s quality.

This whole CMIS standard, all the attention and discussion around it will hopefully open the discussion for standardizing WCM solutions as well. Similar to DM I think that it would be good to come to an exchange format which allows WCMS’s to exchange data but in a more specific way than RSS and Atom do these day. A big lack of these formats are internal linking and once again document support. Also, you’re strictly bounded to a set of predefined data.

But that’s a total different discussion. Hopefully this posting explains a lot to you. I’m sure I haven’t covered all parts of CMIS and also haven’t spoken about all the business opportunities WCM can get out of it. But I’ll leave that up to the imagination of you, my reader and commenter.
It’s time now to get this in more in-depth and slightly more technical to product management :).