The Web and web-based technologies have, in the last decade, changed forever the way in which organisations and businesses work, both at a business architecture level and at a human level. The catalyst for this change has been connectivity. Connecting machines together has enabled enterprises to work more as an entity and to interact with other enterprises in ways that were limited, expensive, and available only to larger enterprises that deployed them only in specific circumstances.
This extra degree of connectivity has brought with it greater access to enterprise resources and greater collaboration between people, applications and those resources. In this environment, software technologies such as client-server platforms, n-tier architectures, workflow management systems, middleware messaging systems and brokers have grown and flourished. There has also been increasing sophistication in databases and the applications surrounding databases. Specific web technologies such as search engines, web-bots, browser- based applications, etc., have also arisen.
With these technological advances have come greater expectations in what applications can do with the content that has become available in such colossal quantities. The harnessing of these vast resources has been problematic, with many enterprises having enhanced connectivity, but still accessing content through a series of applications processing `data islands' or `silos' via proprietary structures, protocols and software.
With these expectations and problems comes a new discipline `Content Engineering'. Content Engineering has grown from a synthesis of Software Engineering technologies and principles together with information technologies, such as SGML, XML, information architecture and techniques in text processing and multi-media handling.
Content Engineering views content in the context of the business process. It enables organisations to manage change in an effective way; disturbing existing applications, working practices and processes as little as possible, but facilitating controlled change where necessary.
Techniques and technology may be applied to extract value from the content, as it exists in current applications and `silos', enabling the treatment of content as a more cohesive, homogeneous, accessible, visible and controllable resource. However, Content Engineering extends this beyond the middleware solutions that provide mechanical means of doing this. Content Engineering is based on the premise that the content is key, irrespective of storage format or the technology used to process it. Knowledge of the semantics of the content and metadata is essential to building a content architecture or model in which content sources can supply application content flows. These may be integrated; with manipulation of content occurring as it passes from process to process within an enterprise (between two or more processes), obeying business rules as well as changing syntactic format, `shaping' content so that it can be processed by the next application.
The value of content
Content is becoming increasingly recognised as a valuable corporate asset. Its importance lies where knowledge can be extracted from it to support business decisions and processes. For instance, it may be used:
* To empower employees in their working practices
* As a product to customers and partners
* As information to improve supply chain effectiveness
No organisation, where content forms a key component of a product offering or where content is necessary to support the functions of it's staff, can afford to ignore its importance.
Specific cases may include:
* Presenting material that is accurate (up-to-date and in context)
For instance, it is essential in the airline industry that the maintenance material for each and every aircraft in a fleet is consistent and up-to-date. Links between different pans of the material may be generated as parts of the information set are changed to reflect maintenance procedures carried out on a particular aircraft and different views of the material are presented to different people within the airline.
* Return On Investment (ROI) via re-purposing the content to be used in new applications
For instance, an online information bureau receives and stores news, financial information and general corporate information from a large number of sources. This material is archived and sold on to clients. The information must be organised in such a way that it is stored in a flexible manner, such that all information, irrespective of content or source, can...