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Author: Geoffrey Bock (page 1 of 3)

What’s Next with Smart Content?

Over the past few weeks, since publishing Smart Content in the Enterprise, I’ve had several fascinating lunchtime conversations with colleagues concerned about content technologies. Our exchanges wind up with a familiar refrain that goes something like this. “Geoffrey, you have great insights about smart content but what am I supposed to do with all this information?” Ah, it’s the damning with faint praise gambit that often signals an analysis paralysis conundrum for decision-making.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear — I do not have an out-of-the-box prescription for a solution. It’s not simply a matter of focusing on your customer experience, optimizing your content for search, investing in a component content management platform, or adopting DITA – although, depending on the situation, I may recommend some combination of these items as part of a smart content strategy.

For me, smart content remains a work in progress. I expect to develop the prescriptive road map in the months ahead. Here’s a quick take on where I am right now.

  • For publishers, it’s all about transforming the publishing paradigm through content enrichment – defining the appropriate level of granularity and then adding the semantic metadata for automated processing.
  • For application developers, it’s all about getting the information architecture right and ensuring that it’s extensible. There needs to be sensible storage, the right editing and management tools, multiple methods for organizing content, as well as a flexible rendering and production environment.
  • For business leaders and decision makers, there needs to be an upfront investment in the right set of content technologies that will increase profits, reduce operating costs, and mitigate risks. No, I am not talking about rocket science. But you do need a technology strategy and a business plan.

As highlighted by the case studies included in the report, I can point to multiple examples where organizations have done the right things to produce notable results. Dale and I will continue the smart content discussions at the Gilbane Boston conference right after Thanksgiving, both through our preconference workshop, and at a conference session “Smart Content in the Real World: Case Studies and Real Results.”

We are also launching a Smart Content Readiness Service, where we will engage with organizations on a consulting basis to identify:

  • The business drivers where smart content will ensure competitive advantage when distributing business information to customers and stakeholders
  • The technologies, tools, and skills required to componentized content, and target distribution to various audiences using multiple devices
  • The operational roles and governance needed to support smart content development and deployment across an organization
  • The implementation planning strategies and challenges to upgrade content and creation and delivery environments

Please contact me if you are interested in learning more.

In short, to answer my lunchtime colleagues, I cannot (yet) prescribe a fully baked solution. It’s too early for the recipes and the cookbook. But I do believe that the business opportunities and benefits are readily at hand. At this point, I would invite you to join the discussion by letting me know what you expect, what approaches you’ve tried, where you’ve wound up, what you think needs to come next – and how we might help you.

The Pull of Content Value

Traditionally, publishing is a pushy process. When I have something to say, I write it down. Perhaps I revise it, check with colleagues, and verify my facts with appropriate authorities. Then I publish it, and move on to the next thing – without directly interacting with my audience and stakeholders. Whether I distribute the content electronically or in a hard copy format, I leave it to my readers to determine the value of whatever I publish.

However, as we describe in our recently completed report Smart Content in the Enterprise, XML applications can transform this conventional publishing paradigm. By smart content, we mean content that is granular at the appropriate level, semantically rich, useful across applications, and meaningful for collaborative interaction.

From a business perspective, smart content adds value to published information in new and compelling ways. Let’s consider the experiences of NetApp and Warrior Gateway, two of the organizations featured in our report.

NetApp
As a provider of storage and data management solutions, NetApp has invested a lot of time and effort embracing DITA and restructuring its technical documentation. By systematically tagging and managing content components, and by focusing on the underlying content development processes, writers and editors can keep up with the pace of product releases.

But there is more to this publishing process orientation. Beyond simply producing product information faster and cheaper, NetApp is poised to make publishing better. The company can now easily support its reseller partners by providing them with the DITA tagged content that they can directly incorporate into their own OEM solutions. Resellers’ customers get just the information they need, directly from the source. With its XML application, NetApp incorporates its partners and stakeholders into its information value chain.

Warrior Gateway
As a content aggregator, Warrior Gateway collects, organizes, enriches, and redistributes content about a wide range of health, welfare, and veteran-related services to soldiers, veterans, and their families. Rather than simply compiling an online catalog of service providers’ listings, Warrior Gateway restructures the content that government, military, and local organizations produce, and enriches it by adding veteran-related categories and other information. Furthermore, Warrior Gateway adds a social dimension by encouraging contributions from veterans and family members.

Once stored within the XML application powering Warrior Gateway, the content is easily reorganized and reclassified to provide the veterans’ perspective about areas of interest and importance. Volunteers working with Warrior Gateway can add new categories when necessary. Service providers can claim their profile and improve their own data details. Even the public users can contribute to content to the gateway, a crowd sourcing strategy to efficiently collect feedback from users. With contributions from multiple stakeholders, the published listings can be enriched over time without requiring a large internal staff to add the extra information.

Capturing New Business Value
There’s a lot more detail about how the XML applications work in our case studies – I recommend that you check them out.

What I find intriguing is the range of promising and potentially profitable business models engendered by smart content.  Enterprise publishers have new options and can go beyond simply pushing content through a publishing process. Now they can build on their investments, and capture the pull of content value.

Smart Content and the Pull of Search Engine Optimization

One of the conclusions of our report Smart Content in the Enterprise (forthcoming next week) is how a little bit of enrichment goes a long way. It’s important to build on your XML infrastructure, enrich your content a little bit (to the extent that your business environment is able to support), and expect to iterate over time.

Consider what happened at Citrix, reported in our case study Optimizing the Customer Experience at Citrix: Restructuring Documentation and Training for Web Delivery. The company had adopted DITA for structured publishing several years ago. Yet just repurposing the content in product manuals for print and electronic distribution, and publishing the same information as HTML and PDF documents, did not change the customer experience.

A few years ago, Citrix information specialists had a key insight: customers expected to find support information by googling the web. To be sure, there was a lot of content about various Citrix products out in cyberspace, but very little of it came directly from Citrix. Consequently the most popular solutions available via web-wide searching were not always reliable, and the detailed information from Citrix (buried in their own manuals) was rarely found.

What did Citrix do? Despite limited resources, the documentation group began to add search metadata to the product manuals. With DITA, there was already a predefined structure for topics, used to define sections, chapters, and manuals. Authors and editors could simply include additional tagged metadata that identified and classified the contents – and thus expose the information to Google and other web-wide search engines.

Nor was there a lot of time or many resources for up-front design and detailed analysis. To paraphrase a perceptive information architect we interviewed, “Getting started was a lot like throwing the stuff against a wall to see what sticks.” At first tags simply summarized existing chapter and section headings. Significantly, this was a good enough place to start.

Specifically, once Citrix was able to join the online conversation with its customers, it was also able to begin tracking popular search terms. Then over time and with successive product releases, the documentation group was able to add additional tagged metadata and provide ever more focused (and granular) content components.

What does this mean for developing smart content and leveraging the benefits of XML tagging? Certainly the more precise your content enrichment, the more findable your information is going to be. When considering the business benefits of search engine optimization, the quality of your tagging can always improve over time. But as a simple value proposition, getting started is the critical first step.

Focusing on Smart Content — in the Main Blog

If you’re only reading this XML blog, be sure to check out my recent blog post Focusing on Smart Content, which I published in the main Gilbane blog.

Focusing on Smart Content

This summer, Dale Waldt, Mary Laplante, and I have been busy wrapping up our multi-vendor report about “Smart Content in the Enterprise: How Next Generation XML Applications Deliver New Value to Multiple Stakeholders.” We’ll be publishing the report in it’s entirely in a few weeks. We are grateful to our sponsors – IBM, JustSystems, MarkLogic, Mindtouch, Ovitas, Quark, and SDL – for supporting our research and enabling us to make headway on this important trend for the future of content technologies on the web. Here’s the link to access some of the case studies that are part of this report.

XML as a tagging standard for content is almost as old as the web itself. XML applications have long proven their significant value—reducing costs, growing revenue, expediting business processes, mitigating risk, improving customer service, and increasing customer satisfaction. But for all the benefits, managers of successful XML implementations have struggled with attempts to bring XML content and applications out of their documentation departments and into their larger enterprises.

So much XML content value remains untapped. What does it take to break out of the XML application silo? What is the magic formula for an enterprise business case that captures and keeps the attention of senior management? These are the issues we set out to address.

We believe that the solution needs to be based on “smart content.” When we tag content with extensive semantic and/or formatting information, we make it “smart” enough for applications and systems to use the content in interesting, innovative, and often unexpected ways. Organizing, searching, processing, discovery, and presentation are greatly improved, which in turn increases the underlying value of the information that customers access and use.

We started this discussion late last year.  We now have the solution-oriented case studies and the additional analysis to reinforce our perspective about the drivers for the digital revolution at hand. We look forward to the continuing conversations with all of you who are seeking to transform the content-related capabilities of your business operations by championing XML applications.

Social Publishing with Drupal — New GG Whitepaper

I just published a new white paper, Social Publishing with Drupal, sponsored by Acquia and also available here. We forget that publishing and blogging (including this post) are stove-piped operations. But what would happen if we could intelligently keep track of all these disparate threads, combining the authoritative content from trusted sources with insights from friends and colleagues, organized contextually around the ways we think about things and make decisions? Social publishing is a new lens for delivering business value.

Here’s the executive summary for the white paper. Click the link above if you’d like to learn more. What’s the future of social publishing? Let’s start a debate. /geoff

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Social publishing combines groomed and authoritative content, produced by an organization and emphasizing its core messages, with user-generated content that customers contribute via blogs, wikis, and social media tools. Drupal is an example of a social publishing platform, developed and maintained as an open source project, and delivered at an affordable cost.

Drupal is now deployed in major media companies, high technology firms, universities, magazine publishers, government agencies (including the White House), research groups, and non-profit organizations. Whether it is in a commercial, non-profit, or government setting, organizations rely on Drupal to project their presence over the web and to channel the interactive experiences that foster communities of contributors.

By leveraging Drupal’s capabilities as a social publishing platform, organizations are able to reinforce their branded experiences and deliver relevant content to their customers and stakeholders. By exploiting Drupal as an open source project, developers supporting these organizations can easily enhance and extend Drupal’s capabilities, and introduce innovative modes of interactivity that meet specific business requirements.

Drupal is an attractive investment with substantial business benefits. Organization can keep their license and support costs modest by building on an open source project. Organizations can leverage the collective expertise of Drupal developers to solve immediate publishing problems. By relying on Drupal, organizations can stay abreast of the rapid technology changes when building competitive solutions for the digital age.

Social Networks as a Feature in Email

Saul Hansell has a tantalizing tidbit in today’s NYTimes, a report that Yahoo! and Google are thinking about making their email systems ‘more social.’ “Web-based email systems already contain much of what Facebook calls the social graph — the connections between people. That’s why social networks offer to import the e-mail address books of new users to jump-start their list of friends.” Our personal email applications should keep track of who is most important to us, and let us know when those messages arrive.

Saul’s report opens Pandora’s box about the future of Enterprise 2.0. The dirty little secret is that our e-mail in-boxes track our social networks by default — who we communicate with, when and in what order can be as interesting as what in fact we say (or do not say). Our personal address books are more than a random list of names — they’re the ‘black books’ that contain the people with whom we’ve exchanged messages in the past, or want to communicate with in the future.

We intuitively track our business networks through our use of email — the names of folders we use when filing messages, the subjects we attach to messages, and the threads of a back-and-forth discussion are all grist for the social networking mill. Gmail, for example, collects message threads into a single record. This is a handy innovation, which helps to cut down on the message clutter that’s so prevalent in Notes Mail & Outlook.

The real challenge is that messaging inside the enterprise is frozen in time — captured by the two most widely deployed messaging applications, from Microsoft (Outlook/Exchange) and IBM (Lotus Notes). It’s hard to believe that these are legacy platforms.

We need to rethink what else we can do with email inside the enterprise — Lotus Connections goes a long way towards staking out a few essential services. These include an “intelligent” enterprise directory & a tag cloud that relates to communities within the enterprise.

We need to do a lot more with features around privacy, security, organizational boundaries, and context.

Tools of Youthful Rebellion . . .

I’m not a regular commuter anymore and rarely catch “All Things Considered” during drive time. Yet yesterday afternoon I had the good fortune to listen to Andrei Codrescu (always a favorite commentator) expound on “From Poetry to Web: Tools of Youthful Rebellion.” Listen & enjoy!
With all the hype around Facebook apps, Web 2.0, and social media, it helps to keep a poetic perspective. Yes the times they are a changin’ — the torch is being passed to a new generation . . . but whether we are digital natives or immigrants, we still need to extract the business purposes from all the interactivity and information available at our fiingertips. What hasn’t changed is the limit of the 24 hour day — how we can work productively and play passionately within it.

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