Interview with Joe Gollner by Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler
The Content Wrangler: Joe, thanks for agreeing to chat with us today. Tell us a little about yourself and your experience in the content industry.
Joe Gollner: I began tinkering with content, using open markup technologies, in 1987 while still a grad student at University of Oxford. The tinkering has never stopped. Tapping on another side of my background, the military side, I was deeply embroiled in the CALS initiative – where we applied open markup technologies to the most complex documentation scenarios imaginable -– within the NATO defense community. I was even given the delightful, as well as official, title of “CALS Philosopher”.
Over the years, I have been entangled in a bizarrely large number of projects and in sectors as far afield as aerospace and education, health care and telecommunications, academic publishing and oil engineering. I formed an XML solution integration company in 1998; sold that company to Stilo International in 2004; and chaired, for many years, the XML World series of conferences. So you could say I have been immersed in the content business for a long time –- so long that perhaps it is time to change my title again, this time to the “Content Philosopher”.
The Content Wrangler: Tell us a little about your firm, the markets you serve, and the products and services you offer.
Joe Gollner: Currently, I am assuming new responsibilities for Stilo International as the Chief Solutions Architect (Intelligent Content Technologies) and my specific role is to initiate and lead solutions projects for customers who need to elevate the IQ of their content and the associated content processes and information products. These efforts dovetail naturally with the technology products side of Stilo, with the venerable OmniMark content processing platform being the foundational offering. Go to almost any large scale content environment that you would be tempted to identify as an example of intelligent content at work and there is a better than even chance you will find OmniMark at work as well. Specifically, OmniMark is used to build conversion, enrichment, validation and publishing processes that bring intelligence to the vast stores of content. OmniMark is used to put in place publishing processes that make something of that new found intelligence.
At Stilo, we use this technology to build highly sophisticated content management and publishing environments. It turns out that we can also build new services that organizations will be increasingly able to access “in the cloud” (or in their environments, if they so choose) – with these being cases where these customers can leverage the power of OmniMark without necessarily jumping in with both feet and mastering what is admittedly a highly specialized field.
For the last couple of years, we have been working on an on-demand conversion portal, known as Migrate, and after collaborating with a number of organizations a new release is fast approaching.
New for 2010, I am also dedicating a larger portion of my time to research and publishing, with a book in the works that focuses, resolutely, on the subject of “intelligent content”. Under my research and publishing agenda, I am approaching the question of “intelligent content” from a number of angles and identifying design patterns that have, over the many projects in my history, seemed to produce the best results. These efforts will lead to a book, as mentioned, but I also expect it will produce some new methodological tools, learning resources, and even, looking further downstream, technology components. These activities are being organized under Gnostyx Research. Most recently on the publishing front, I contributed a chapter to a forthcoming book on Information Management Best Practices which I see is getting some good press at KMWorld.
The Content Wrangler: Intelligent Content is a hot topic today, but many people don’t understand what it is or why it matters. From your perspective, what is intelligent content? What makes it so smart? And, why do organizations need it?
Joe Gollner: I might be the last person you want to ask that question. Not because I don’t have an answer – but because I have too many answers. In fact I have been circling the question of “what is intelligent content” on my blog including a recent post that resurrected some of the memories from Intelligent Content 2009 (very positive memories) and that looks forward to this year’s event.
In essence, the definition I put forward last year in my whitepaper, The Emergence of Intelligent Content, still holds water, I believe:
“Intelligence refers to the ability to acquire and apply knowledge (normally a quality attributed to people but not exclusively), or to a collection of information of value in a particular context (OED). Content can be considered intelligent when it expresses, in an open way, the full meaning underlying a communication such that the data, information and knowledge being expressed can be easily accessed and effectively leveraged by both people and the software applications that support them.”
There is quite a bit packed into this definition. In practical terms, intelligent content is about upping our game in the content business – identifying the content that is the most important to a given business, ensuring that this content is created, managed and leveraged in the smartest way possible, and putting in place the mechanisms whereby these high-value assets and services can evolve in a rapidly changing marketplace.
OK, I should be able to make this more tangible than that. Picture intelligent content is an array of ingredients that can be used to satisfy every customer request as they make their way to your counter. One says, “I want a beautiful reproducible PDF that I can send to my print media supplier.” The next one says, “I want ePub output that is tuned to each of the main eBook viewing platforms.” Then one shows up and says, “I need dynamic help, that is filtered on-the-fly for an almost unlimited number of configuration scenarios.” Finally one says, “I need to glean the best morsels of this content for marketing material which will be arrayed across a number of media channels and delivered individually to each of our customers and prospects.” The purveyor of intelligent content is like Chef Ramsay, who with a few well-timed barks, sees that the right dish is delivered to each customer — prepared, just they way they asked for it.
The Content Wrangler: Creating intelligent content certainly seems like a good idea. Can you share with us a few examples of how intelligent content can help an organization to be faster, leaner, make more money, reduce expenses, reduce risk, or serve its clients better?
Joe Gollner: On the subject of examples, I could go on forever. I will touch on a couple. Before I do, I want to stress that creating intelligent content and integrating it into business processes and offerings of an organization can be very hard work. I am bald for a reason. I mention this not to put anyone off but only to remind people to start small and evolve their “intelligent content capabilities” incrementally. For reasons that I will go into in Palm Springs, where intelligent content is involved the “big leap forward” might well be your last.
In the chapter I contributed to “Information Management Best Practices: Volume 1”, I recount a case study where we dug deeply and greedily into the various benefits that intelligent content can deliver. And this was done on a relatively large scale so what benefits were realized translated to some very big numbers. Perhaps the most important benefit, at least in terms of returning concrete financial savings and fundamentally improving the quality of the information services being provided, was the dramatic reduction of content redundancy.
Content in most organizations exists in a state of unbridled redundancy. If there is one version of a warning statement being managed and translated there will likely be a hundred. In this case, there were often thousands of identical components being managed and translated in parallel. Eliminating this redundancy, making it leaner, saved over a $100 million dollars a year in this one example. And the dollars saved were not the only story. By eliminating the content redundancy the number of documentation errors was dramatically reduced. By eliminating the content redundancy and raising the intelligence of the managed content components, a fundamental change could be introduced that would see content processes fully integrated with the system engineering processes that were continually modifying the equipment platforms the documentation needed to describe.
My favorite anecdote from this case study pertains to the publication of a large parts manual which historically took 18 months to republish. This manual, in being managed the old not-so-intelligent way, was, as you can imagine, almost completely useless because it was always a couple of years out-of-date. When questions arose, the mechanics would typically phone headquarters to ask the equipment lifecycle management office about what parts they should use or order. Once the content was rendered “intelligent”, the republishing of this manual went from taking 18 months to 18 minutes. And the people responsible for providing up-to-date parts information to the field units joked that the 18 minutes coincided with the amount of time they spent on coffee break, because their process produced an online reference tool that was “continually up-to-date” automatically. That’s intelligent content in action.
The Content Wrangler: Are there any examples you can point to of intelligent content on the web?
Joe Gollner: As another example of intelligent content in action, and this one being accessible online, I would point to HP printer products division and the support resources they supply to customers. My good friend, Rahel Anne Bailie, Chief Knowledge Officer of Scroll, gave a great talk where she explicitly used HP support environment as an interactive illustration of several things being done well. As usual, I acted up in the presentation – this time blushing, fanning myself and getting all misty because she was showcasing one of my customers.
A couple of years ago my team had done a substantial amount of work for HP renovating the intelligent content infrastructure that underlies these online support services. Now our work was made infinitely easier by two factors – one was that HP really did have their proverbial act together and the other was that the previous integrator who had designed the initial system (many years before) had done a spectacularly good job. How often does that happen? And, how often does one integrator say that of another’s work?
The Content Wrangler: Do you know of any useful online resources you think our readers might find useful in understanding intelligent content?
Joe Gollner: In terms of where to look for more information, I would first point readers to the Intelligent Content Conference. Somewhat unabashedly I would point people to my blog posts on this topic and specifically those falling under the xContent category. I also contend that my whitepaper on this topic remains a pretty good place to start.
The Content Wrangler: Thanks for taking time out of your hectic schedule to chat with us about intelligent content. We really appreciate it.