Maximising utility of content stores
Stephen Bounds — Fri, 18/11/2011 - 00:14
On actKM, Richard Vines recently posed a question on how we can maximise the value of ICT investments in content/metadata management systems. All too often systems are implemented without a view to their eventual decommissioning or integration with other systems. This inevitably leads to expensive, error-prone and disruptive data synchronisation and/or migration projects down the track (and often not as far away as people imagine).
To answer Richard's question, the following analysis suggests principles for systems design to maximise utility and minimise redevelopment in this situation:
1. The cost of investing in content (and metadata) for any system can be broken down into the following stages:
d. presenting for use
e. archiving for future use
2. Each of these stages in turn consists of:
a. the upfront cost in developing a methodology for that stage, and
b. the incremental cost of executing the methodology for an item.
3. When moving or replicating items to another system, only the initial creation/capture stage is unnecessary. Unless your systems are 100% compatible, you will need to decode your content and catalogue entries to an interchange format, re-encode, re-catalogue, re-present, and re-archive. Standards are great at minimising the effort of doing this.
4. An archive is an active, ongoing effort to maintain the accessibility of items held within it with a *presumption* that format migration will be necessary at some point. This means:
a. holding instructions on how to encode, decode, and present every type of item held;
b. having standardised metadata describing items and collections of items, including preservation and (where historical/evidential/recordkeeping issues matter) provenance information.
5. To minimise archive maintenance work, archive items are often standardised into only a few formats. While software is an alternative for algorithmic instructions to present items, this then requires a complete hardware infrastructure for executing the software which may itself be brittle and susceptible to obsolescence.
6. Even if a formal archive is not created, a defacto archive can be realised if systems are designed to read from and export to standardised archive formats. Where these archive formats are completely or almost completely lossless, they in turn will become defacto interchange formats.
7. Where a significant degree of content standardisation can be achieved, a bow tie ecosystem emerges. This is scalable, robust and evolvable across large, heterogenous environments but at the cost of extreme disruption should these core interchange (archive) formats be supplanted.
The true cost of an ICT system should include the costs involved in decoding to interchange formats, and the effort involved in maintaining the archive. The ultimate vitality and usefulness of federations of systems with similar purposes will be determined by the health of the "bow tie ecosystem" that enables new systems to leverage existing systems and systems data.
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