In order to meet the challenge of providing value to customers—and, equally as important, to shareholders—content-heavy organizations must take greater advantage of breakthroughs in information and computing technologies designed to improve productivity, boost quality and reduce time-to-market. To obtain the highest return on investment possible, we, as technical communicators, as well as the organizations we serve, must be open and willing to change. New ideas, products and technologies exist that can help us reach—even exceed—our goals. Getting there is certainly a battle—and, a potentially risky one at that. But, if we step outside our comfort zone and consider fresh, promising alternatives to managing the content we create, we can deliver value unsurpassed.

Enter Content Management

Content management is a paradigm shift; a new-and-improved way of strategizing and organizing information in order to drastically reduce time-to-market. It’s also a popular buzz word in our industry; one that causes much confusion and consternation.

Well planned content management initiatives utilize proven, existing technologies to automate many manual and repetitive tasks, reduce the amount of time and resources necessary to generate documents and other content, and improve the quality and consistency of the information we provide our customers. Although it is a new area for most, the automatic assembly of documents using computers (with little or no human intervention) has been taking place in government, defense and aerospace industries for several decades. Recent advances in computing technologies, the emergence of first generation best practices, and the availability of web-based authoring and publishing tools make content management an attractive and necessary next step for corporations, organizations and government agencies seeking to get the most bang for their budget bucks.

What Exactly Is Content Management?

Content management is not a software product, although it relies on certain software components. Instead, content management is the next logical step in the evolution of communication (technical, medical, marketing, scientific, etc.) Specifically, content management is a set of software tools, organizational and workflow processes, internal policies, procedures and training, that, when coupled with targeted organizational changes and proper research and planning can deliver an excellent return on investment.

Content management is a smart risk because its implementation will not only reward us with productivity gains, reduced time-to-market and knowledge management benefits, but it will also help prepare us for the future. Inherent to content management is the ability to deliver information in computer-readable, open formats like Extensible Markup Language (XML) and electronic/digital signatures. These open technologies are said to help “futureproof” organizations because they do not rely on propriety software code and thus allow the sharing of information between disparate computing systems, platforms, and web browsers without the need to develop costly interface layers between systems. They also make converting information to voice, wireless, Braille, HTML, and other formats much easier and cheaper than alternative methods in use today.

Success Is in the Planning

Software vendors are often some of the first folks we meet when exploring whether or not to adopt a content management initiative. They often hype the features inherent in their software, the training and consulting services they provide, and a host of jargon-laden marketing factoids designed to impress. The ugly truth is, while software selection is important, it’s not the key to content management success.

The key to success is research and planning. The amount of research and planning might surprise, even delight you. Experienced software vendors now realize this. That’s why they are starting to promote 45/45/10 plans (45% research, 45% planning, 10% implementation) and are more often partnering with content management specialists who understand what’s involved in creating, maintaining, publishing and archiving content.

But software vendors came to discover the importance of research and planning the hard way. Only after a few large content management initiatives failed to deliver the return on investment promised by software marketing mavens did content management software vendors discover research and planning as an integral part of any successful implementation.

So, if you’re interested in learning more about content management, look no further. The following list contains links to resources designed to help you get started.

Additional Content Management Resources

Managing Enterprise Content

Are you overpaying for Content Management?

Cross-Media Publishing is the Way to Manage Content

Match Your CM System to Your Content Strategy

XML in Ten Points

eXamining XML: Holy grail or wholly hype? A look at who’s using XML and how