Enterprise content management (ECM) is invaluable to any organisation. Managed content is searchable content, and searchable content enables productive workers. Understanding this, many organisations have implemented ECM systems of some description, but few have realised the promised benefits.

Applying the principles of service-oriented architecture (SOA) to enterprise content management will enable companies to maximise their impact, writes Grant Hodgkinson, business development director at local Microsoft Gold certified Partner, Mint.

The Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) defines SOA as a paradigm for organising and using distributed capabilities that may be under the control of different ownership domains. “It provides a uniform means to offer, discover, interact with and use capabilities to produce desired effects consistent with measurable preconditions and expectations," according to the definition.

As such, when solutions are deployed according to the SOA framework, it becomes possible to create new super-applications that deliver product-wide functionality. As a discipline, it eases the interoperability between systems.

Taking this to enterprise content repositories and management presents an interesting case: no company will ever consolidate all its content into one single repository. It might consider consolidating all its document management systems onto one platform, but this is often a different platform to the one used for Web content management.

This siloed approach inhibits the true capabilities and benefits ECM has to offer the business as interacting with and interrogating other applications, which also operate as silos, becomes challenging. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important to view content exposure, searching and interrogation as a service.

From this perspective, organisations can begin to effectively aggregate information across silos; allowing users to easily search across all the various repositories in a consistent way, sharing content from one system to another, and representing the content across multiple devices.

It is logical to enable users to share content easily and effectively between repositories. For example, when an organisation creates a press release to announce a major project, the process is inevitably collaborative. There are countless people across the business that must see the document, add information or correct facts. Once the document has been approved by all involved, only then can it be translated into different formats for publication.

With an SOA-enabled content repository, this entire process could be made as simple as a single mouse click, setting in motion the automatic formatting of the correct document and disseminating to the necessary Web content system for publishing.

Applying SOA methodologies to ECM is influenced by the planning done on the types of content present in the organisation. What does the business need to do with that content and how will it be used? After all, any ECM must be determined by where, how and what the content will be used for.

Because of the nature of ECM, it is important to introduce SOA into the equation in small quantities, but methodically. Incremental re-factoring of enterprise content management capabilities to embrace service-oriented architecture will ensure faster results that are more beneficial to the organisation as a whole. This approach also enables more detailed reporting on what successes have been achieved at each stage of the rollout.

As with any IT initiative, the success of marrying SOA and ECM depends on the presence of a project champion responsible for managing and maintaining the architecture and accessibility of content across the entire organisation. This same person is also responsible for ensuring that everyone in the organisation is kept abreast of the reasons for applying SOA to enterprise content management, what progress there is, and what benefits can be expected or can already be seen.

SOA is not something that is completely embraced in the content and collaboration community yet. However, what it stands for – open standards and interoperability – provides organisations with a good basis on which to create content systems that can easily and seamlessly integrate.