How Smart Content Aids Distributed Collaboration

Authoring in a structured text environment has traditionally been done with dedicated structured editors. These tools enable validation and user assisted markup features that help the user create complete and valid content. But these structured editors are somewhat complicated and unusual and require training in their use for the user to become proficient. The learning curve is not very steep but it does exist.

Many organizations have come to see documentation departments as a process bottleneck and try to engage others throughout the enterprise in the content creation and review processes. Engineers and developers can contribute to documentation and have a unique technical perspective. Installation and support personnel are on the front lines and have unique insight into how the product and related documentation is used. Telephone operators not only need the information at their fingertips, but can also augment it with comments and ides that occur while supporting users. Third-party partners and reviewers may also have a unique perspective and role to play in a distributed, collaborative content creation, management, review, and delivery ecosystem.

Our recently completed research on XML Smart Content in the Enterprise indicates that as we strive to move content creation and management out of the documentation department silo, we will also need to consider how the data is encoded and the usefulness of the data model in meeting our expanded business requirements. Smart content is multipurpose content designed with several uses in mind. Smart content is modular to support being assembled in a variety of forms. And smart content is structured content that has been enriched with semantic information to better identify it’s topic and role to aide processing and searching. For these reasons, smart content also improves distributed collaboration. Let me elaborate.

One of the challenges for distributed collaboration is the infrequency of user participation and therefore, unfamiliarity with structured editing tools. It makes sense to simplify the editing process and tools for infrequent users. They can’t always take a refresher course in the editor and it’s features. They may be working remotely, even on a customer site installing equipment or software. These infrequent users need structured editing tools that are designed for them. These collaboration tools need to be intuitive and easy to figure out, easily accessible from just about anywhere, and should be affordable and have flexible licensing to allow a larger number of users to participate in the management of the content. This usually means one of two things: either the editor will be a plug in to another popular word processing system (e.g., MS Word), or it will be accessed though a thin-client browser, like a Wiki editor. In some environments, it is possible that both may be need in addition to traditional structured editing tools. Smart content modularity and enrichment allows flexibility in editing tools and process design. This allows the  use of a variety of editing tools and flexibility in process design, and therefore expanding who can collaborate from throughout the enterprise.

Also, infrequent contributors may not be able to master navigating and operating within a  complex repository and workflow environment either for the same familiarity reasons. Serving up information to a remote collaborator might be enhanced with keywords and other metadata that is designed to optimize searching and access to the content. Even a little metadata can provide a lot of simplicity to an infrequent user. Product codes, version information, and a couple of dates would allow a user to hone in on the likely content topics and select content to edit from a well targeted list of search results. Relationships between content modules that are indicated in metadata can alert a user that when one object is updated, other related objects may need to be reviewed for potential update as well.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no one model for XML or smart content creation and editing. Just as a carpenter may have several saws, each designed for a particular type of cut, a robust smart content structured content environment may have more than one editor in use. It behooves us to design our systems and tools to meet the desired business processes and user functionality, rather than limit our processes to the features of one tool.

Book Publishers: Stick to Your Knitting

A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation: Seven Essential Processes to Re-Invent Publishing, The Gilbane Group’s Publishing Practice latest study, is due out any day now. One thing about the study that sets it apart from other ebook-oriented efforts is that Blueprint describes technologies, processes, markets, and other strategic considerations from the book publisher’s perspective. From the Executive Summary of our upcoming study:

For publishers and their technology and service partners, the challenge of the next few years will be to invest wisely in technology and process improvement while simultaneously being aggressive about pursuing new business models.
 

The message here is that book publishers really need to “stick to their knitting,” or, as we put it in the study:

The book publisher should be what it has always best been about—discovering, improving, and making public good and even great books.  But what has changed for book publishers is the radically different world in which they interact today, and that is the world of bits and bytes: digital content, digital communication, digital commerce.

If done right, today’s efforts toward digital publishing processes will “future proof” the publisher, because today’s efforts done right are aimed at adding value to the content in media neutral, forwardly compatible forms.

A central part of the “If done right” message is that book publishers still should focus on what publishers do with content, but that XML workflow has become essential to both print and digital publishing success. Here’s an interesting finding from Blueprint:

Nearly 48% of respondents say they use either an “XML-First” or “XML-Early” workflow.  We define an XML-First workflow as one where XML is used from the start with manuscript through production, and we define an “XML-Early” workflow as one where a word processor is used by authors, and then manuscript is converted to XML.”

Tomorrow, Aptara and The Gilbane Group are presenting a webinar, eBooks, Apps and Print? How to Effectively Produce it All Together, with myself and Bret Freeman, Digital Publishing Strategist, Aptara. The webinar takes place on Tuesday, September 28, 2010, at 11 a.m., EST, and you can register here.
 

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.

Early Access to Gilbane’s XML Report

If you’ve been reading our recent posts on Gilbane’s new research on XML adoption, you might be wondering how to get the report in advance of its availability from Gilbane later this month.

Smart Content in the Enterprise: How Next Generation XML Applications Deliver New Value to Multiple Stakeholders is currently offered by several of the study sponsors: IBM, JustSystems, MarkLogic, MindTouch, Ovitas, Quark, and SDL.

We’ll also be discussing our research in real time during a webinar hosted by SDL on November 4. Look for details within the next few weeks.

New Paper – Looking at Website Governance

I am delighted that I’ve just completed my first solo paper here as an analyst: Looking Outside the CMS Box for Enterprise Website Governance. I say solo, but I ought to start by saying I’m grateful for having had a great deal of support from Mary Laplante as my reform from vendor to analyst continues. 

This paper has allowed me to pick at a subject that I’ve long had in the back of my mind, both in terms of CMS product strategy and of what we, as content management professionals, need to be cognizant of as we get swept up in engaging web experiences – that of corporate content governance. 

When I write and talk about web engagement or the web experience, I often refer to the first impression – that your website meets all of your audience, prospects, customers or citizens. They don’t all see your shiny headquarters building, meet the friendly receptionist or see that you have todays copy of The Times on the coffee table – but they do see your website. 

Mistakes such as a misspelling, an outdated page or a brand inconsistency all reflect badly on your attention to detail. This tarnishes the professionalism of your services, the reliability of your products, and attention you will pay to meeting consumer needs.

Of course, when those lapses are related to compliance issues (such as regulatory requirements and accessibility standards), they can be even more damaging, often resulting in financial penalties and a serious impact on your reputation.

I see this governance as the foundation for any content driven business application, but in this paper we focus on website governance and aim to answer the following questions:

  • What are the critical content governance risks and issues facing the organization? 
  • Is your CMS implementation meeting these challenges? 
  • What solutions are available to address governance needs that are not addressed by CMS? 

The paper is  now available for download from our Beacon library page and from Magus, who sponsored it.

Magus are also presenting business seminars on website governance and compliance  on October 12 in Washington, DC, and October 14 in New York. My colleague Scott Liewehr will be presenting at those events, drawing on the analysis in the Beacon as part of that seminar program. You can learn more about those events and register on the Magus website.

 

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.

Summer Webinar Recap: In Case You Missed Them

Here’s a quick rundown of summer educational events in which we participated with our partners. View these archived webcasts that you might have missed,  or refresh your subject matter expertise as your organization heads into fall business activities.

Publishing Production Outsourcing: Wolters Kluwer’s Formula for Success 

Integration Calculus: CMS + TMS = Turbo-Accelerated Creation of Multilingual Product Documentation

Making Quality Part of Your Content DNA

Content, Context, and Conversation: The Three Kings of Consumer Engagement

Fall webcasts include insights from Gilbane’s 2010 research on XML and multilingual marketing content, customer success stories, eBook challenges, web engagement, and web content governance. Look for announcements on our home page and blogs, in our weekly NewsShark, and through our social media channels.