Content at Rest or Content in Motion? Which is Better?

I really wish I’d thought of this concept but I didn’t.  It’s such a simple idea when you think about it … that there are two fundamental types of content … enterprise content at rest and enterprise content in motion.

Content at Rest = Cost / Risk

Enterprise content at rest is sitting around just taking up space.  At rest implies not being accessed … not being used … not doing anything of value.  (Hhhmm … this sounds a lot like my Uncle Leo around the holidays.  I have this mental image of him asleep on my couch one Thanksgiving surrounded by several beer cans.  Sorry for sharing.)  Anyway … when at rest, this content usually includes duplicates and near-duplicates making the problem worse.  Content at rest drives significant and unnecessary costs in the form of storage, power, system administration and more. Worse yet, all this unnecessary content is ruining our search experiences.  We can’t find anything because of all this useless content just hanging around gumming up our search results.  Boy this sounds dumb.  Maybe we should start disposing of some of this stuff?

Content in Motion = Value / Reward

On the other hand, enterprise content in motion is highly valuable and rewarding.  Content that is part of business process or case management enabling better decisions and outcomes … or content that is community and social oriented driving better collaborative experiences and outcomes … or content that is being analyzed to unlock business insight across large amounts of unstructured data.  Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?  Let’s put all that content to work for us! (Reminds me of my Aunt Marge … who never stops cleaning, cooking, running errands taking care of the familiy critical stuff.  How Leo and Marge have stayed married all these years is beyond me).

What To Do

If we’re agreed that’s far more valuable to activate content, then how do we go about it? … and more importantly how do we pay for it?

Today, over 80% of most IT budgets are already allocated to managing existing “stuff” … programs, systems, storage including all that costly content at rest.  With information expected to grow 44 times by 2020,  This is a failure scenario.  IT budgets are flat or declining in most organizations so at current course and speed we’ll increasingly be spending 83%, 88%, 95% and eventually all of our IT budget on managing existing “stuff”.  This leaves very little or no money to invest in new ECM initiatives that drive value … like those that activate content and put content in motion.

And those who say … “but storage is always getting cheaper, so no big deal” should probably stop reading here because you won’t like what is coming next.  Storage may indeed be getting cheaper but the people, power, maintenance, physical space that it requires to work is not.  It’s was a dumb argument yesterday, a ridiculous one today and an untenable one going forward.  Most IT budgets already spend 17% on storage (yikes), which ought to be plenty.

Action Plan to Activate Content and Drive Value

Let’s just stop the madness and put much more focus, energy and budget on delivering value through content in motion!  Here are some basic steps you can take right now:

1. Think and act differently … it’s really about the communities, the processes and the insight related to your content.  Use and value comes from activity, not stagnance.

2. Defensibly dispose of everything you can, including retiring old content centric apps, abandoned SharePoint sites, unused file shares as soon as you can … except what you are obligated to keep for business, regulatory or legal purposes.  Big hint: This will free up loads of resources and budget that can be reallocated to new projects, like activating content.

3. Work with your line-of-business execs in three areas to activate content:

Case Management:  Automate and improve those workflows and processes that are case centric where people, process and content are essential to the outcome.  The more ad-hoc and exception oriented processes drive maximum content value … think claims processing, dispute resolution, customer inquiry, investigation, onboarding and more.

Responsible Social Content:  Enable a true social content experience for knowledge works where projects, activities, instant collaboration, tasks and ECM services are the norm.  Think Facebook + ECM for the enterprise … combine ECM, social software and a more responsible approach to content collaboration.

Content Analysis:  Leverage and exploit your content by understanding the trends, patterns, anomalies and deviations of your business that are currently trapped in your content. Think Business Intelligence for content and detect fraud, predict outcomes, find new opportunities, hear the voice-of-the-customer and more.

I think it’s obvious by now which is better … or in other words, we should all be more like my Aunt Marge and not  my Uncle Leo (he snores when he naps, too). 

Toby Bell (Gartner ECM analyst) made the “content at rest” and “content in motion” remarks which got me thinking along these lines.  I’ve taken Toby’s idea and added my own perspective.  I also discussed this concept at this weeks Managing Electronic Records Conference in Chicago and received positive feedback from the audience and a few individuals afterwards.

As always … leave me your thoughts and ideas here. I’ll be discussing this topic and other ECM topics at the upcoming Boston and Toronto UserNet events. Hope to see you there.

6 thoughts on “Content at Rest or Content in Motion? Which is Better?

  1. Craig,
    Interesting analogy. And good food for thought.

    But remember Uncle Leo is in himself a wealth of information. Historical information. It may take him a while to shake out the cob webs of the nap, and the beers. My suggestion is that someone nudge Uncle Leo, have him move to another room and take a good long well earned, uninterrupted nap. He will be out of the commotion of Aunt Marge buzzing around. In short, they will not get in each-others way. (Think in terms of HSM.)

    As IBM, and others move forward with major investments in the form of BI initiatives to generate knowledge from hordes of data that is piling up, it follows that the holy grail is not only knowledge from data, but the ability to generate predictive analytics. With respect to predictive analytics, it can be argued that the larger the data set, and the longer the timeline of observation and accumulation, the better the quality of the outcome.

    Aunt Marge will occasionally need to wake Uncle Leo for dinner and his traditional roles and family contributions. Granted, and to your point, a slimmer and more fit Uncle Leo is always a better thing.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Thanks for the excellent view of how to approach Activating Content. This is the opportunity to drive new value from data we might otherwise discard. How to manage it all will be the win-lose question – the statistics you’ve cited spell out the need for a fresh look at the Information Management Framework.

  3. Craig,

    As is usually the case with your blog posts, this piece is thought provoking and entertaining. The content at rest and in motion metaphor is a clever take off on data at rest and in motion. Your points are well taken and your call to action is clear and compelling. So why are most organizations slow to react? Indeed a change in thinking is needed but so far to few companies have, to improvise on your analogy, made the leap off the couch and into the kitchen. What’s holding them back?


  4. Hello

    Another great topic and a very true one indeed.

    I think the biggest problem comes at point (2.)Defensibly dispose of everything you can –

    It sounds easy enough but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of it, I think IT managers find it more costly (in the short term) to get the people and resources and even technology to do this job.

    So I think IT managers don’t look at the long term benefits, but rather at the short term cost and is this where they need to be educated.

  5. Love this post. Content at rest and content in motion is a very clear concept. I noticed former FileNet people often talked about active content vs fixed content. Seems finally the content lifecycle is out of the fileroom and into the decision making arena.

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