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According to AIIM, most organizations have three or more repositories for their enterprise content, but the content in one repository rarely works together with content in another. In the off chance it does work together, it is usually through SharePoint with an enterprise content management (ECM) or a content services platform. Last year, the concept of content federation gained more attention as the spotlight on content services intensified. The idea here is to allow access to content stored in several isolated repositories across an organization as if it was in one repository.

Since this content is usually associated with business processes, most organizations don’t see federations as a current need. However, there are solutions inside most organizations that use some federation capabilities. They either bring content together into yet another repository or they loosely connect to content in an isolated repository. The two most prevalent use cases are in records management and e-discovery.

Content Federation Is Records Management

Records management is one space where we see organizations adopting content federations. A traditional records management approach stores those documents in their own repository. If that repository is a records repository, then the content is copied or moved into the records repository. If that repository is a working repository, then the retention policies must be copied into every repository used by the organization. Organizations following this traditional approach will end up with duplicate content and have problems keeping retention file plans in sync across multiple repositories.

Using content federations eliminates both challenges. By having the records system link to the content at its source, the federation eliminates the need for duplicates. The bidirectional capability of federations means that the documents can be locked down at their source and marked as a record. All of this is done from a single master repository and eliminates the need to duplicate file plans across repositories.

Content Federation Is E-Discovery

E-discovery is another place we see changes taking place using content federations. Today, the e-dicovery process starts by identifying content related to a legal or regulatory matter by searching all repositories for potentially relevant content. These documents are copied into the e-discovery system where their relevance is assessed. In most cases, the copy relevant to the matter is maintained by the e-discovery system. Any holds on those documents in the source repository are addressed by manual or disconnected processes.

With a federated content approach, the e-discovery process could use links to the content in the source repository. Not only does this eliminate the duplicate content of the copy, but it can also address the process of placing the record on hold in the source system. It also offers the ability to remember the document’s relative nature to the matter. Therefore, future discovery efforts could take advantage of prior assessments. This could shorten the time needed to evaluate new collection in future events.

Content Federation Elsewhere

Content federations will continue to grow inside an organization in the coming years. It will not only continue to address content challenges that cross departments but will also create new opportunities to use content across the enterprise. How will your organization use content federations in the coming year?

Marko Sillanpaa is co-founder of the blog Big Men On Content and the founder of BMO Consulting. He has been working in ECM for over 18 years for vendors like Documentum, EMC, Hyland, and SDL Trados and systems integrators like CSC and Accenture. Follow him on Twitter @MSillanpaaBMOC.