Friday, April 27, 2012

Are we brain-washed?

In fact I am coming from the database world. This means I worked as an Engineer for the vendor of an relational database and also did Consulting for a No-SQL company. In both cases I had contact with ECM and related systems. So as I worked for Ingres I did Partner Certification work for systems like Alfresco and Liferay. In the past the system borders of an ECM system were very clear to me. So everything beyond the storage of just Meta Data was out of the scope of the Database System itself. I became a 'border liner' during my time as a Senior Consultant for a Graph Database System. The vertices could store not just meta data but also provide you a Content Stream. The system aimed to support unstructured data very well (as mentioned it supported Content streams and also something that was named Undefined Attribute). There were even Document Management use cases those were covered by this system. However ... . During my work with ECM, I realized that ECM companies understand themself more and more as Data Management companies. (Another point seems to be that today everything has to be Social or in the Cloud.) We tend to see everything as document. By definition a document is a set of properties thoses are used to store the meta data and the content itself. This raises questions like:
  • Is a document without content really a document?
  • Is really everything which has meta data and content a document?
I am sure the answer is 'It depends', but I think we should go back to the roots by not using ECM-Systems like Databases. We should ask questions like:
  • Is there a real paper document involved in a given use case?
  • Are there some real workflows with real persons those are handling real documents?
  • What should the person know about the document?
If the answer is 'Yes', then we can be sure that  we are doing right by storing a digital document which has the right set of properties regarding the given processes and requirements.

But what's if the answer is 'No'. In my opinion we should then not use an ECM/DM system to store such data, even if we want to do it because it seems to be close because there is already one available. Just use a Database System (NoSQL or Relational, whatever the use cases are requiring) to store the data regarding the required data model. Be not brain-wahsed! Do not belive that ECM solves all your Data Management problems and the answers to the above questions will be often (but not every time):
  • A document without content should be an object in a datbase (row, vertex, ...).
  • Not everything which has meta data and content is really a document!
What do you think about?

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