The last five months have been exciting. For years I’ve been waiting to see if Federated Content Services would make a comeback. Federated Content Services takes content from one content repository and makes it available along with content from another repository. Finally, it seems to be making its comeback and quickly. Both Gartner and Forrester are mentioning federating content as part of the new content strategy. This is coming as Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors such as M-Files and Systemware are also promoting their federations. There are also a few new companies entering into this space that really only had one or two players a short while ago.
Full disclosure – I’m doing business development for one of the Federated Content Services vendors. In keeping with BMOC’s principles, I hope you will find this article a vendor neutral overview of this space.
So What’s Driving Content Federation?
Content federation has been rumbling for about a year, but recent analyst announcements have put it front and center. The general consensus from analysts and other thought leaders is that we need to let go of the belief that an enterprise will use a single content repository technology for all of its content. Organizations have not been able to standardize. These organizations now find themselves with several different stores of content;
- Successful ECM deployments that continue to be used
- Unsuccessful ECM deployments that need to be replaced
- Legacy repositories that still need to be maintained by IT
- “Dark data” repositories that have been implemented at the department level
- Business and back office solutions that have emerged in areas like Contract Life Cycle Management or Employee File Management that bring their own repositories.
All of this has created a need to migrate or federate content across organizations’ silos and is leading to the resurgence of Federated Content Services.
What is Federated Content Services?
Federated Content Services is more than a bunch of connectors. Looking at this as just a bunch of API calls alone puts it at risk of failure like Content Management Interoperability Services. (CMIS has had some successes but has not achieved the universal adoption that many had hoped.) While API connectors are an important part of content integration you need a lot more for an integration to be successful and repeatable. Federated Content Services give you more than just an API connector library.
The first challenge of federating content is that rarely are two ECM platforms written in the same way. How one platform stores content, associates keywords, addresses permissions, handles versions, and all the other little things, is a little different. A Federated Content Services platform needs to address each of these areas for each platform with easy repeatable mapping. Otherwise each repository connector would need to be customized and configured individually.
The next challenge of federating content is how the content itself is addressed. In the past, systems would duplicate the content from one repository into another one. This was often called caching. Duplicate copies of content are something that most Federated Content Services try to avoid. Fortunately current systems leave content where it lies. Today, content is streamed or transferred from the source system. This ensures that the latest copy is used and avoids creating unwanted duplicates. Well designed Federated Content Services platforms can be highly performant.
With challenges addressed, it’s time for features. Some Federated Content Services platforms are starting to offer features like file deduplication and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) detection. Auditability is another key feature of Federated Content Services platform. With the rise in concerns around data sovereignty and residency through rules like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), knowing which content was accessed and by whom. GDPR sets rules to how and when information containing PII can be sent outside of national borders of the physical repository. Audit trails can be used to record when content from a repository is requested outside national borders.
State of Federated Content Services Today
In addition to the two ECM vendors that are talking about federated content services, there are a few platform independent vendors that offer these solutions too. Vendors like Simflofy, SeeUnity, SkySync, and Xillio have each announced solutions in this space. Each vendor offers various levels of features on their platforms from connector libraries all the way to feature-rich platforms.
As I mentioned above, I have signed on to do business development for one of these vendors, Simflofy.