Since I don’t feel there’s a good, all-encompassing name out there for this, I’m going to attempt to invent one –
Content Integration encompasses the philosophy, theories, practices, and tools around the re-use and adaption of content from our core repository into other uses and channels, or vice-versa: the creation and ingestion of content from other channels into our core repository.
Traditionally, we create content and store it in a repository. In many cases, this repository is also a delivery channel. A web content management system (WCMS) is the perfect example – we create the content in the WCMS, store it there, and deliver it from there. In many cases, our content stays entirely locked within the bounds of our WCMS. The entire lifecycle of that content—creation, management, delivery, archival, and deletion—happens inside of that system.
Content Integration would be the process by which we connect to content in that repository and use it in some other way. Content Integration occurs every time we connect a content-based system to the “outside world” to take in or push out content to other systems to allow for creation or consumption by other means.
For example –
We create an announcement for our company intranet. We also want to email this announcement without having to create separate content for the email.
Employees of our company submit Improvement Suggestions via a Word document. These are reviewed, metadata is added via document properties, and items worthy of further discussion are moved into a separate location by an admin assistant. Files in this location need to be consumed and automatically published to the Improvement Committee section of our intranet.
Our latest financial projections need to be published to the investor relations section of our website, and to seven different reporting services. Each service has slightly different formatting and composition requirements, so our financial projection content has to able to adapt to each one.
Content management vendors tend to silently wage war against Content Integration by adding features to their systems in an effort to remove the need to go “outside” that system. In the first example above, WCMS vendors often built entire email messaging platforms into their systems to allow for this functionality in addition to the core web publishing.
This is done in the name of sales demos and competitive advantage but weakens the product overall because no vendor can ever predict all the possible ways content can be re-used. (While it’s easy to blame vendors, the guilt can probably be laid at the feet of their customers, who—being ignorant of the concepts of Content Integration—have historically equated “built-in” with “superior.”)
To circle back to the original definition, Content Integration is multi-disciplinary. It encompasses:
Philosophy: How do we adopt the mindset that content is divorced from its channel? That message and medium are not the same thing, and a message can be carried over multiple media? How do we evangelize this philosophy to the entire organization?
Theories: What are the core paradigms of working with content? What is content, itself? What is a repository? What is a channel?
Practices: How do we design content for integration? How do we manage it in such a way that it can be re-used? What governance and workflow situations arise from the usage of content in multiple locations?
Tools: What type of repository is sufficiently abstracted to allow us to integrate our content easily? What channel products and services are designed for content integration? What content management systems allow for the easy import/export of content for re-use? What systems are easily adapted for use as a Web Content Delivery System?
In the end, Content Integration is an umbrella which falls over a collection of knowledge and technology, the combination of which allows us to get more value out of our content – to reach greater numbers of content consumers, at less cost, with greater control, and less risk.
(Note: I spend a bit of time talking about content integration models and practices in my book.)