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Business objects are the future of content services platforms

The focus of enterprise content management must shift from a CSP-based approach to a business object services model in order to meet business needs.

Every day, business employees use a variety of systems -- including ERP, case management systems and email -- to get work done. While users create many documents and spreadsheets, they are often thought of as specific business objects, such as proposals, budgets and articles. You should think about the future of content services in the same light.

You interact with documents and folders when using a content services platform (CSP) in its default configuration. However, to provide full value, CSPs need to better reflect business needs and organizations need to move beyond the concept of content services and think about business object services.

Work with business objects

Consider a mortgage application. Every application includes information provided by the applicant, the financial institution and various external sources, and it is collectively considered a business object.

As a mortgage processor, you don't want to search for 2018 Pay Stubs.pdf. Instead, you want to locate the applicant's proof of income from 2018. In fact, there are likely multiple documents that show different sources of income over several years that you might want to search for, retrieve and review together. You want to know when documents were submitted, what actions were taken and the current status of the application. If it is a closed application, you'll also want to know what the applicant chose and why.

The entire application needs to be available within a single system. You don't want to ask one system for information about the application and another for the documents -- this disconnect can cause errors.

Content services are part of the solution

CSPs are one way to address this disconnect. All CSPs support a content model that captures key information about content, so you can use CSPs to model business objects around content. The resulting business object in the CSP represents the total picture.

Then you can use the APIs built into CSPs to pull the content out via a logical business object-based model rather than a file-based one. If the CSP supports Content Management Interoperability Services, you can query directly against these custom objects and pull out the most relevant content.

CSP challenges

Modeling business objects that have multiple documents and related objects can push the limits of a CSP's capabilities, as they can't handle large amounts of business data and each object functions differently.

Building business object services is the next step for content services.

CSPs excel at managing the exact amount of metadata they need to search and retrieve information. Though they can store additional information, it is better to place and manage it in separate business systems that are built for that purpose.

Moreover, some CSP providers have weak custom metadata support. The closer you get to a true cloud-based SaaS application, the weaker the support tends to be. Generally, the more work that a vendor does for you in operating your CSP, the less flexibility you have to customize models and behaviors. You can overcome this with system orchestration.

Linking microservices

Microservices can be intimidating for non-technologists, but they are simply independent services that perform specific tasks. For example, a mortgage processer could use microservices to store documents, request credit checks or audit an application.

You can also combine multiple microservices to create a business object service. In this process, known as orchestration, the user sequences and makes requests to several microservices to provide a larger service. This works in the same way mobile apps integrate with Google Maps and PayPal to provide navigation and transaction services.

To retrieve a mortgage application package, make a request to the business object service that stores all the mortgage information. That service takes the mortgage application ID, records the request using an audit service and retrieves the mortgage metadata from a data service. Then, it assembles the list of documents, metadata and retrieval links from your content service.

Actions can also trigger additional services. For example, if you approve an application, a microservice can generate the confirmation letter.

Future of content services

Building business object services is the next step for content services. Rather than using a CSP directly, they will be accessible through business object services, of which content services are just a part. This enables you to think about business needs rather than technical processes. Then, if you add a new CSP to the mix, business processes will operate as they always have.

This was last published in April 2019

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