CMIS 1.0 may be 130 Years Too Late

Jan 23

On my reading list this week? Toby Bell‘s thought-provoking piece on CMIS, and whether this new OASIS standard will really matter in the ECM technology space. Titled “CMIS 1.0 May be 3.0 Years Too Late“, he uses an interesting analogy of local driving habits and currencies to illustrate that a standard is not always really a standard and that enterprise content management is actually not unlike a naked mole rat. I think he rather effectively argues that the emergence of a market standard for ECM - namely Microsoft Sharepoint – could overshadow the importance and relevance of the fledgling CMIS 1.0 technical standard.

Bell is right on several fronts:

  • “…Sponsors of some systems won’t want to provide access to lots of users or restructure the underlying repository or change the user experience..”
  • “Some vendors will use the upgrade path to CMIS-enablement as an opportunity to charge for upgrades and services”
  • “Others [vendors] will embrace it as a way to keep their clunky technology relevant and forestall displacement”
  • “It’s a document management standard in an era of agile information”

I disagree with none of these statements, and have , in fact, observed some ECM vendors behave in accordance with some of these predictions. If left solely to ECM vendors, CMIS could very well be content to just be “the governing review and certification approach for content apps”. This perspective is in line with the pervasive, though rather pessimistic “lowest common denominator” descriptor of CMIS.

Personally, I am much more inspired by the perspective of my colleague Florent Guillaume, an active CMIS contributor and frequent writer/speaker on the topic.  It’s about finding the “highest common denominator” among content management technologies. When we view this base set of requirements as “common ground” instead of a bare minimum,  it’s much easier to envision the potential of building a content foundation for OTHER application developers to benefit from. BPM, ERP, WCM, portal vendors are already actively participating in the technical committee, and niche application developers are building new products with CMIS as a foundation. End-user organizations who fully recognize that they are part of the “new information economy” are also deep into CMIS participation.

Putting my historian hat on, I see today’s debate on the relevance and usefulness of standards having an interesting parallel in the railway gauge debate of the 1880s. Left to their devices, individual railway companies were perfectly content to establish their own track sizes, convinced that their choice was best. And it was just easier to keep building new track their own way. But the rising frustration of  businesses aspiring to national distribution – mines, agricultural exchanges, consumer goods makers – demanded something better. Moving goods – the content of the train cars – became inefficient and expensive when left solely to the mix & match regional rail service providers. Railcar content could not flow unimpeded across long distances. Rail companies resisted the concept of standardized rail gauges, thinking it would lead to lack of differentiation and commoditization.

:-) (sound familiar?)

Railways today see themselves as part of a global supply chain – embracing standards that sensibly relieve them from the burdens of designing and deploying costly proprietary infrastructure. Success today includes adoption of intermodal standards so that content (ie, manufactured goods) can move seamlessly from planes to trains to automobiles, across a business ecosystem that spans the planet.

ECM vendors who see their future as being a puzzle piece – large or small – in the global digital content supply chain will adopt an interoperable, integration friendly platform approach, and let the successful harvest of their content silos begin in earnest.