Service-Oriented Architecture and the future of the CMS

In a previous blog item I talked about the future of the institutional CMS and why TechWatch wasn’t going to commission an update to its 2001 report. You may remember that I focused on two of the main concepts from the CMS report: processes rather than products, and blurring the boundaries between systems. At the time I said that the future of the CMS is actually caught up in technological reinterpretations of these concepts, so I thought I should explain a little bit about what I meant by that.

In order to do that I need to take you back to TechWatch’s 2001 CMS report. In it, Paul Browning and Mike Lowndes, the report’s authors, list some of the processes that a CMS should facilitate (page 3). These include:

    “Engendering the re-use of information by allowing the ready integration of data from diverse sources”
    “Permitting the efficient re-purposing of information”
    “Allowing information maintenance to become devolved but at the same time preserving central control”

In fact, as they later acknowledge, these processes/benefits are not exclusive to CMSs and they go on to say: “The emergence of ‘portal frameworks’ (open source or otherwise) has done much to highlight the overlap and convergence of document management systems, knowledge management systems… There is a pressing need, in our view, for institutions to think holistically (reinforced by their work on information strategies) and to invest in and develop open and extensible information systems” (p.12).

This is the crux of the matter. What they are saying is that it’s the processes that are important, not the software applications per se. We need to shift the emphasis from thinking about kit to thinking about what it is we need to do and how that fits in to the bigger institutional picture.

As always, of course, this isn’t straightforward. One approach that’s being road-tested is Service-Oriented Architecture (‘uppercase soa’), but this has not been without its detractors. The heart of this is for another day, but to start the ball rolling you should have a look at a case study that the e-Framework programme has just published and you’ll hopefully get a feel for how the big picture concerns raised by Paul and Mike are tackled through this particular technique.