Content as a Capital Asset

I just read a nice post on Web Content Migration where the author compares most web migration projects to pouring sour milk into a new jug.  This piqued my interest mainly because I had just ruined and otherwise perfectly good cup of coffee with a shot of half and half turned medical experiment.  Gerry laments that managers don’t value the content as much as the new technology being implemented. He advocates, at least for web content management, a refocusing of effort on rewriting the old stale content. I don’t really disagree with the point but the core of the problem is really an accounting issue. As we plod through a dismally depressing fourth quarter, cash strapped IT organizations are struggling to get funding for their 2009 projects.  When it comes time to spend money on content management systems, it is a fact of life that the first one is easier to pay for than the second. While I have seen no formal studies on the topic, the cost of content migration from one system to another represents a significant portion of the project budget.  Depending on the size and complexity, moving the data could cost more than the system developed to manage it.

IT Project funding is a mine field of political dangers, both real and imagined. Every business is a little different but for funding purposes it is the system that is considered an asset and can be capitalized. The content itself is rarely considered as such, even though it is the content that maintains intrinsic business value.  A CMS with nothing in it (and there are a lot out there) is just a line on a depreciation schedule.

We often refer to “digital assets” but more often than not this is in a technical rather than financial context.  What is content? It takes money to produce. If you loose it, it can be very costly to replace it. Content can be created, owned and traded. People will pay you money for it – therefore it is an asset.

It is difficult to get consensus about the value of content. There is no open market for most of it apart from some very select categories.  Content is also easily duplicated and there is no reasonable way to determine uniqueness in any universal sense. Academics and semantics aside though, if we can change the perception of content within an enterprise, then supporting funding becomes easier.

Perhaps the problem is that content is too easy to produce. Since the accountants can create a Word document on their desktop, they are less appreciative of the fact that just because nobody values theirs that other content is exceptionally valuable.

At any rate, if we don’t fund content creation as a capital activity, then our project management methodologies will always force us to devalue it and underplan. In fact, in lean times you always reduce expense spending even when capital budgets move forward. So then, even if that shiny new CMS gets built, it will stand empty and depreciate until someone “invests” content into it.

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