Letters to the editor

Content Management: The Whole Story

Patrick Marshall's technology review, "Master the Web" [FCW, Aug. 27], was well-written and accurate from the viewpoint of managing content for publishing Web sites. But it does not tell the whole story.

Web content that is ready for prime time is typically content that has passed an organization's internal scrutiny. Once content has been through the appropriate approval cycles, it is ready for publication on the designated site. Although this type of content management may be adequate for "brochureware" sites, it is not enough for sites that are creating content made for e-commerce or intended as the "official public face" for a federal agency.

Content today comes from many different sources: syndication, legacy systems and personalization engines that drive user-specific content. A site built from a variety of sources results in a "published" Web site that is significantly outside the realm of content management software. How does a content management system re- create content delivery if it has no record of that content in the first place? It cannot be done. The Web today is truly a "here today, gone tomorrow" medium.

In order to "master the Web," you need to think beyond managing the content that goes in and include capturing "snapshots" of content in the context in which it was created and viewed. Laws such as the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act and the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA) heighten this requirement. Those and other e-business laws elevate electronic records, transactions and signatures to the same legal status and validity as their paper cousins.

Electronic records have the same legal status as paper, but they need to be accessible. What is the best way to view a record? The answer: In its original form. On the Web, this means ALL of the content, not just the trans.actional data elements. It means viewing the context of the content as it appeared at the time of the interaction.

Most companies and agencies do not understand the legal issues that impact this area. A memo released in January 2001 by the deputy archivist of the United States requested that all federal Web pages be captured: "Take a snapshot of your agency's public Web site(s)." If content management systems are in use—and I suspect they are—agencies still would not have been able to meet this requirement.

What will happen on Oct. 21, 2003, when GPEA takes effect? How will electronic "records" be managed, stored, accessed? Those are tough questions, and I am optimistic that we will figure this all out—by realizing that the answer is at the other end, the end we all see via our Web browsers. We need to capture and manage that Web content because if we can, the true emulation of paper records can be fulfilled.

Content management systems are extremely useful, but they are simply emperors with no clothes because they focus on getting content properly published rather than tracking and re-creating past Web sessions. They assume that the whole story is the content we manage when in fact true Web content is sourced from multiple locations and is truly dynamic.

What is needed in addition to a content management system are products that can replay the viewed Web pages upon demand, providing a true record of what transpired during any given Web session. That is the only way information will be deemed acceptable and viable in a business transaction or court of law because it fills in the missing pieces of a content management system and provides the whole story for managing content on the Web.

Bill Berens

Vice president

WebCapture alliances

Tower Technology Inc.

Working CIO Magic

Welcome to John Stenbit as the Defense Department chief information officer ["Defense CIO: Systems fill info gap," FCW, Sept. 3]. Once again, we have the opportunity to re-create the wheel on information. Not surprisingly, he thinks that networks are the solution that will bring the shooter and the sensor together and that the services must work together. Clearly, this is innovative thinking that represents a whole new vista for DOD.

Hopefully, Mr. Stenbit has some magical power that will enable him to succeed where Emmett Paige and Art Money did not. Both saw that the services operated only on their own agendas and that as long as Congress cared more about the individual agendas (that expensive work in their home states) than the whole picture, success was only a phantom image.

I wish Stenbit well and hope that he has some "secret sauce" he can spread on a continuing set of information problems.

John Tieso

Tieso & Associates Inc.

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