Not many people get excited watching tech standards bodies work. Let's face it, when software -- especially big software -- representatives get together to talk about interoperability, you can bet there's a tinge of distaste behind the smiling faces and pledges of cooperation. In their heart of hearts many of these sellers would be happier to keep their proprietary standards and product lock in, even knowing they are dragging out the inevitable in their negotiations.

So let's give credit where it's due to OASIS, the grandest open standards body in the information industry, for pressing through the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) Standard. OASIS made CMIS official just last week, and the whole thing took about 18 months, which is greyhound speed for such an agreement.

CMIS is a repository-to-repository protocol for content and document management systems. It allows a built in standard of exchange for documents a company or party might have in Documentum, and others in IBM FileNet, or Stellent or whatever. As a standard, it will end a lot of back-end IT work to build or buy EAI or connectors or write custom code to interconnect different proprietary repositories.

And while the scope of CMIS (SEE'-MISS) is rather simple and basic, that's a good thing for a standard, says Alan Pelz-Sharpe of The Real Story Group (formerly CMS Watch).

"CMIS, without exaggerating, it is the most important document management standard there's ever been in as much as there's actually support from everybody from Microsoft to IBM to open source vendors like Alfresco," Alan told me. We can add Adobe, Open Text, SAP, EMC, Day, Nuxeo and others to the list.

Buy-in is a good thing for any standard and, in the case of document management, it's a breakthrough. What makes that last sentence more believable is that this announcement is probably of more interest and value to buyers and users of technology than to vendors.

"With a CMIS compliant connector, I can at least see your documents and check them in out and keep version control of them," says Pelz-Sharpe. "It's not terribly sexy but if you're a big bank with 30 or 40 legacy document management systems in different groups it's huge for them."

Think of how CMIS can delay or offset decisions to consolidate disparate systems and query them without a huge development project. And, if at a future data you change your mind, it's not difficult to get your document and metadata back out via the protocol.

It's something the structured data world has had for a long time, Pelz-Sharpe says. "I'm not saying it's completely straightforward to pull everything from Oracle 10g to DB2, but it's a heck of a lot simpler than moving documents has been."

And there's a chance CMIS could potentially help gap the chasm of integrating unstructured and structured databases, if only because a lot of unstructured data already sits in databases. CMIS should allow some interesting experimentation and outcomes for vendors, and vendors will also use the standard to hedge into their competitors' sweetspot.

Of course it was public demand that sped the passage of CMIS, and users and buyers were preselecting CMIS in RFPs even before it became a formal standard. Pelz-Sharpe noted that buyers were telling vendors they'd better support this or they wouldn't get on the short list.

But last week was a good day for OASIS, and for that, we'll start the slow clap and share our happiness for the long awaited union of old friends who never realized they were always meant to be together until it was almost too late.

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