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The Role of XML in Content Management

The Role of XML in Content Management

The data inside a corporation doubles every six to eight months, according to META Group. As a result, content management systems (CMSs) have become a critical component of organizations' IT infrastructures, managing all enterprise content for a variety of applications.

In the past, exchanging information between content repositories and data-oriented applications within and across organizations was extremely difficult, as many of these systems are incompatible with one another. Consequently, users were often forced to manually convert native content into Web-viewable formats or to cut and paste data into Web-based templates before distribution or publishing. These inefficient processes drove the development of CMSs, offering robust conversion technology that provided users a way to automatically convert and distribute native content via the Web.

XML has recently emerged as a popular mechanism in the content management industry for creating, managing, and exchanging data. As a standard, common format, it can be easily converted to and distributed in numerous other Web formats to best suit the needs of end users, applications, and devices (see Figure 1). XML has quickly become a de facto tool for sharing content between disparate enterprise systems.

It's therefore essential now for organizations to consider the integration of basic XML functionalities when implementing a CMS.

The Content Management System
Providing critical business information on the Web is no longer an option for today's enterprise - it's a prerequisite to success. Consequently, the CMS has evolved into a must-have business application.

These systems allow enterprises to rapidly deploy line-of-business Web sites, such as partner portals and intranets, and manage content on an enterprise-wide basis for use by multiple sites and applications, including enterprise portals. In either case the system automates the cumbersome task of contributing, managing, and publishing business information to the Web. Content management solutions provide a secure, scalable method for checking in, checking out, revising, routing, and approving a wide range of business and Web content, including documents, product catalogs, Web assets, marketing materials, CAD drawings, and regulatory documentation.

CMSs facilitate information exchange between an organization and its customers, partners, and employees and increase the amount, timeliness, and accuracy of shared content. In some cases they have evolved to provide tightly integrated team collaboration functionality. As a result, these implementations generate significant return on investment for companies, such as cost savings and increased productivity.

The content management product suites on the market today continue to evolve and expand, bringing content management capabilities further into the enterprise to reach more users and applications and manage more content.

XML Functionality in Content Management Systems
As companies increasingly rely on CMSs to manage and deliver larger amounts of data to a greater number and wider spectrum of users and applications while also integrating with other IT infrastructure, the benefits of XML functionality within the content management application grow in importance. Following are XML-based features to consider during a content management implementation.

Content contribution and conversion
In addition to accepting XML content, robust CMSs enable users to contribute information into a content server in its native format - such as a word processing document, spreadsheet, or graphic file - and automatically convert this content to XML. By converting and storing content in XML, companies can maintain one single authoritative source of the data and transform it into a variety of other formats, such as HTML, WML, and other XML flavors, for reuse by multiple applications and devices.

Organizations can leverage their investments in existing applications and user expertise by implementing a CMS that automatically converts native content to XML. These systems allow users to create content in the formats they prefer and easily share it via applications they're most familiar with.

For instance, an insurance agent can create and complete a claims form in Microsoft Word and contribute it into a CMS that automatically converts the document to XML for content reuse by other applications or Web sites.

Content access and exchange
XML content can be easily merged from disparate sources and represented in one common manner in content management repositories. Because XML is a standard language companies use to share information, XML data can be easily accessed from content repositories and exchanged between applications and organizations.

As an example, a brokerage firm can store information on individual stocks as XML in a centralized content repository. From there, the information can be integrated with an e-business portal or business intelligence system.

Content formatting and presentation
With XML content, CMSs can separate formatting and display information from structure in content. This separation of content and presentation allows different formatting to be applied to the same content in different situations using XSL stylesheets. As a result, one XML file becomes the single authoritative source from which users can manipulate, edit, and present information with different looks and feels.

For example, two different stylesheets can be applied to a product fact sheet published to both an Internet site and an intranet. One stylesheet would format the document to match the look and feel of the Internet site, while the other would format the content to correspond with the intranet.

Content storage
According to ZapThink, the market for XML data storage technologies will grow to more than $4.1 billion by 2005. CMSs that integrate with and store content in XML databases provide a number of unique benefits that content management solutions integrated with relational databases do not.

A content management/XML database integration provides a single, common repository where XML data can be stored and accessed by users for dynamic assembly in any presentation. XML content can be stored in its original form instead of being broken up into specific components, which is a necessary step for storage in relational databases where XML content can often lose some of its meaning.

XML content stored in an XML database can be more easily searched. However, organizations should integrate an XML database that isn't proprietary to ensure that it's searchable using standard XML search languages endorsed by the W3C. Integration with an XML database enables CMSs to separately manage and store XML content and XSL stylesheets, combine them, and convert and deliver them in any format.

For instance, a publishing company can separately store book pricing information as well as a number of formatting options for price lists in an XML database. If a user requests a price list that matches a specific marketing packet, the CMS retrieves the XML pricing information, combines it with the XSL stylesheet that provides the requested formatting, and delivers the final version in a PDF document the user can easily print out.

Content personalization
XML data can be manipulated and customized during its assembly on a content server to target a specific user or device. Once the CMS identifies the user profiles and the type of device the content is being delivered to, the appropriate XSL stylesheet is selected. The XML files are then quickly broken down and recombined on the fly, and tailored content is delivered to the user.

For example, content that comprises a product price list can be broken down and recombined on the fly to show wholesale prices to one customer and retail prices to another, depending on their user profiles.

Content Management Web Services
XML also plays an important role in content management Web services. When building sophisticated content-centric Web applications, content and functionality frequently must be shared among many applications. Web services are in-creasingly becoming a preferred method for integrating these applications.

Growing in popularity are Web services that rely on XML for exchanging and accessing data and applications. The self-defining nature of the XML language allows disparate systems to understand each other with little or no custom coding, which is a substantial benefit over previous distributed computing approaches.

Many CMSs leverage Web services to share and deliver data and specific content management features on the Internet, within an organization, or across corporate boundaries. The components of these Web services are:

  • SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol): XML-based message format used to communicate or deliver requests between Web services
  • WSDL (Web Services Description Language): XML-based description that defines the way a Web service is to be accessed and used
  • UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration): XML-based directory used for the registration and real-time lookup of Web services (by looking up a service in the UDDI directory, a Web service can find another Web service to dynamically integrate)

    Web services are componentized and provide platform-independent ap-plication access that enables customers, suppliers, and trading partners to access content management Web services regardless of their particular hardware, operating system, or even programming environments.

    Web services reduce the costs and time involved in integrating content and content management functionality with other applications. They can be used as a cost-effective replacement for expensive Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) integrations as well as pure application-to-application integration projects such as a CMS with an enterprise portal.

    A variety of options are available to choose from when it comes to deploying and managing content-centric enterprise Web sites and applications. In many cases XML is a critical part of the solution. Whether an organization's XML strategy involves converting and publishing content to XML, providing robust content management features to file types such as XML and XSL, dynamically transforming XML documents to a presentable HTML format, or sharing data among other enterprise applications, content management implementations can be greatly enhanced with the following basic XML functionalities:

  • Automatic conversion of native content into XML
  • Integration with an XML database to enable easy access to XML content stored there
  • Availability of Web services to easily access and share data and content management features

    The increased need for companies to effectively share data between internal and external audiences and applications via the Web has made content management technology a top priority for many IT executives. The enhanced functionality that XML-based features and Web services can bring to content management implementations enables companies to further increase and leverage the value of these IT investments.

  • More Stories By Dan Ryan

    Dan Ryan is senior vice president of marketing and business development for Stellent, Inc., a global provider of content management solutions. Stellent has been involved with XML, and its predecessor SGML, for more than 10 years.

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    haykel 03/12/03 11:56:00 AM EST

    hi you

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