The Implicit Value of Content is Realized Through Business Process

As I have noted before, much of the historic discussion in the document management field has concerned the cost of producing content, or the cost of finding existing content.

But the value of a document, or any other piece of content, is seldom the same as its cost of production.

I was chatting about this the other day with my colleague James Latham. He used an invoice as an example of a piece of content that may be managed by an enterprise content management (ECM) system. James noted that, 'There is inherent or explicit value in an invoice'. In fact the value of an invoice is fairly tightly linked to the cash it represents.

A $10 bill has an explicit value of $10. Likewise a delivered invoice for $10 has a value of about $10 to an organization. Arguably it is not quite as valuable as $10 cash given the delay and perhaps uncertainty of payment, but it is close enough in most cases and will be treated as such in an accounting system.

There is a case where a $10 bill is worth much more: if it is a rare, old $10 bill, it may have a lot of implicit value (e.g. to collectors it may be worth hundreds of dollars) above its explicit value of $10.

Tangible value (explicit plus implicit) is established by sale of the item itself or the recent valuations of comparable items. But it is hard to think of invoices, especially electronic invoices (i.e. digital content), as having any implicit value.

Are there other kinds of enterprise content besides invoices that clearly have implicit value? I think so. Here's a good example: documents that support a patent application for a product with large market potential may have huge implicit value that greatly exceeds their cost of production and their explicit value at a given moment. This implicit value may become more explicit over time with the issue of a patent, together with product and market advances. At some point an intellectual property sale could attribute very significant tangible value to the documentation.

In this patent documentation example, the application of process over time helps to create tangible value. In ECM discussions we often speak of the context of content as helping to give it meaning, but clearly we also need to consider how process can give it value.


  1. Interesting question: what is the value of a document? If you have a stock of 800.000 documents in a repository like eDOCS what is the value of that stock? Or what is the value of the documents that are “inside” Google and if there where no documents inside Google would Google still be a valuable tool? Is the value of the document depending on how easily it could be found? Perhaps it’s a philosophical question; but if you can’t find a document can it still have a value. A $10 bill that I can’t find does it have a value (for me). So perhaps we could talk about an estimated value, based on the probability that you can find or use it.

    The value of a document seems also to vary over time. For example; the week/month/year before the CEO leaves the company his or her documents are quite valuable if something happens with their documents technicians can spend weeks trying to recover them. However the day after the CEO leaves the value of the documents are zero and the same technician will probably delete all files and clean the mailboxes.

    There is probably a formula to calculate the value of a document – but will that be possible to see in the financial-reporting-module of the ECM-system? In eDOCS there is possible to count the hours spend on creating the document, knowing the size of the document you could also calculate the storage cost. The revenue side could perhaps be based on numbers of access, if the document is copied and therefore reused etc. So, perhaps like we do with materials and products the value of the document stock could be reported in the accounting systems.

  2. A topic near and dear to my heart. I wrote about it a couple years ago: http://www.datamobilitygroup.com/saltworks/archives/6

    I've further clarified my thoughts since that post. Forget implicit and explicit...I've always found those terms to be lacking in the context of information management. Information value is of two types: anticipated and realized. It really is as simple as that.

    It isn't much different from determining the "value" of a house. We can assess the house and its context (land, improvements, comparables and location) to calculate its anticipated/market value today. Calculating anticipated value helps us make decisions about how to manage the property. Why am I holding on to it? Should I sell it now or wait? Is it costing me more than it's worth? Should I apply for a home equity line of credit and make immprovements? Its realized value is set at the close of its sale. And a lot can happen between now and then.

    To use your invoice example...a $100k invoice has an anticipated value of $100k until such time the paper trail leads to a payout. At which point the business realizes a $100k gain--or more or less--depending on the terms and conditions of the contract and its deliverables and payment. Accounting certainly banks on a value of at least $100k. However, it is possible that a $100k invoice ends in a $75k or $102,500 payout due to mishandling and mismanagement.

    Anticipated value (and risk) helps us make decisions about how to handle the information. It's not a one-time measure of value, but a periodic assessment used for course correction as context changes. Later, realized value helps us assess how well we managed and applied the information to attain its anticipated value.

  3. I greatly appreciate your post Martin and the comments from Sten - the more we can do to help organizations understand that their content has value the more the industry will focus here. We need powerful, ubiquitous means to separate the wheat from the chaff.