But it's not due to colliding protons in Switzerland.
IBM announced last week that it has been working with Microsoft, EMC Corp., and several other companies for the past two years to develop a specification using Web services and Web 2.0 interfaces that will try to allow applications to work with a variety of enterprise content management (ECM) repositories.
Since last week also was when CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) officially finished building the Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, and made its first attempt to circulate a beam of protons the entire way around its 17-mile tunnel, it's difficult to tell which announcement was the more newsworthy. An indication, however, is that the Collider has a rap song dedicated to it on YouTube.
The announcement from IBM and others that a new specification has been created to enable interoperation of applications with ECM repositories is significant too, mind you; it's just that some might be skeptical that any such attempt will prove successful. There have been similar efforts in the past, you may recall.
Named the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) specification, the draft is being submitted to OASIS (the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) to hopefully advance through its standards development process. The implementation defines a set of services that provide a layer of abstraction between content-centric applications and back-end repositories.
The ultimate goal, says IBM and the collaborating companies, is to "dramatically reduce the IT burden around multi-vendor, multi-repository content management environments." And Ken Bisconti, vice president, products and strategy, IBM Enterprise Content Management, takes it a step further by saying, "By working together to define the CMIS standard, IBM, Microsoft, and EMC are clearly putting the needs of all customers first in this important technology area. We have worked hard to develop a standard that continues IBM's efforts to leverage the principles of SOA and Web 2.0 interfaces to benefit the industry as a whole."
That certainly sounds altruistic, and for all intents and purposes, companies today are challenged by how to unlock their data when they have several content management solutions dispersed throughout the organization. But what do EMC and IBM sell more of than anyone else? Storage. And what are users going to need when they have a robust, truly enterprise-wide content management system? More storage. And what would Microsoft like to do with their SharePoint Server product? Store documents. So who is going to benefit from the adoption of a standard that will allow access to proprietary content management systems? Well, let's just say that users won't be hurt by it even if they appear quite happy with their enterprise-wide, proprietary content management solutions that they are somehow still muddling with along today.
I found it interesting that Oracle, which, along with Microsoft, made a foray into the content management system business in 2006 with its Oracle Content Management product, was also among the group working to develop a new specification. Other member companies include SAP and two smaller firms, Alfresco Software and Open Text, though Open Text is hardly a small company, with a wide variety of ECM products and offices in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Europe, Japan, Australia, and Singapore.
Alfresco, begun in 2005, offers an open-source model for enterprise content management that is said to combine the innovation of open source with the stability of an enterprise platform. The company has been one of the leading drivers behind the CMIS specification and is optimistic that having such a standard will make it easier for developers to write applications that work with Alfresco as well as SharePoint and the others.
As interest in CMIS develops, those working on the project will likely turn their attention toward a query language. It may be some form of SQL, or it may be something a little more approachable, like Contextual Query Language. CQL tries to combine simplicity and intuitiveness of expression for simple, everyday queries with the richness of more expressive languages to handle demanding ideas when necessary.
With the potential for developers to access heretofore proprietary repositories by writing new content-centric applications, we should begin to see developer interest in writing more and more creative new ones that make content management systems even more useful and cost-effective than they have been to date. This is very green, I might add, because if these systems do one thing well, it's reduce the use (read waste) of paper by turning documents into electronic images.
Vendors who have been slow in improving their own content management systems may resist such a move by outside developers, but the smart ones will figure out a way to capture that energy to their advantage through contests, rewards, and special recognition of enterprising young developers.
Perhaps someone should take a cue from the CERN project and write a rap song about enterprise content management.