By Ann Rockley, President, The Rockley Group

Simply put, ‘intelligent content’ is content which is not limited to one purpose, technology or output. It’s content that is structurally rich and semantically aware, and is therefore discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable. It’s content that helps you and your customers get the job done. It’s content that works for you and it’s limited only by your imagination.

In recent years, with increased interest in the use of Extensible Markup Language (XML) for content and the rising popularity of the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) standard, content creators have begun freeing their content from the trappings of unstructured documents by leveraging structured XML component-based content and pairing it with XQuery, a programming language designed to help us find, manipulate, extract and render content found in XML files. Today, we can do so much more than just full-text search. In a short time, we’ve gone from documents as black boxes to intelligent content that is structurally rich and semantically aware, and is therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable.

Lets look at the definition for intelligent content in more detail.

  • Structurally rich – Content that is semantically structured; content in which the structure has meaning. For instance, whitepapers may have a structure that includes an executive summary, an introduction, a discussion and a conclusion, while the structure of a marketing brochure might include a positioning statement, a value proposition, a list of features, and a list of benefits. Some other types of content may be structured to adhere to a standard like DITA or DocBook. Semantic structures enable us to understand ‘what’ types of content are contained within the documents and other content types we create. Because we know what the content is (and how it is organized) we can search through vast collections of content quickly and find exactly the content we need. We can search through white papers to locate positioning statements only, and then retrieve and reuse them in another document or different type of content altogether.
    Structured content is also easily manipulatable content. For example, we can automatically determine how to publish structured content to multiple channels (print, web, mobile). We can filter out some content types (e.g., tables may not work as well on certain mobile devices) or add in others based on the type of content being created. Structurally rich content also allows us to perform increasingly precise searches (e.g., look for all occurrences of the word ‘high definition’ in positioning statements).When content is semantically-enhanced and structurally rich we can do so much more.
  • Semantically aware – The word semantic means “meaning”. Semantically aware content is content which has been tagged with metadata to identify the kind of content within it. For example, you might tag your content with industry, role or audience, and product, making it possible to automatically build customized information sets based on audience or industry, for example. As more organizations begin to offer personalized content on demand (content that matches the specific needs of an individual user and that is dynamically assembled and delivered upon request) semantically-rich content becomes critical.
    And, in situations where content is pushed to others, or repurposed in mashups, it becomes even more important to ensure that our content is semantically tagged. Semantic metadata makes it possible to automatically locate the right content, deliver it at the right time, to the right person, for the right purpose, in the right language, and in the right format.
  • Discoverable – Content that is semantically-aware and structurally-rich is more easily discoverable content, especially when it’s in XML, it’s tagged with rich metadata, and you’re using XQuery to help you find, retrieve, prepare and publish it.
  • Reusable – Reusable content is content created once and used many times throughout a variety of information products. A warning statement, for example, might be created for use on a product box, but it may also be reused in a printed user guide, on the product website, in training materials, etc. Reusable content is common in technical documentation, but it is fast becoming an approach used in the creation of business documents like marketing materials, proposals, contracts, and policies and procedures. There are various reuse types that can be employed to help us identify, locate, retrieve, and reuse content.
  • Reconfigurable – Structured content is content separate from format, in other words the look and feel of the content is not embedded in the content. That makes it very powerful. Knowing the structure of the content in advance, we can programmatically output it to multiple channels reconfiguring it to best meet the needs of the channel, or we can automatically mix and match content to provide us with specific information personalized to meet customers needs. We can even transform content (reconfigure it) from one structure to another, but only if we know what the structure is in the first place.
  • Adaptable – We frequently create our content for a particular need or audience, but content can be adapted (used in a different way), often without our knowledge, to meet a new need. Think of mashups, we don’t know how our content is being aggregated, but it can be because we have structured and tagged it intelligently.

Let’s take a look at a few scenarios that illustrate intelligent content.

Customization – A major cell phone manufacturer and distributor produces over 100 phones. They range from simple handsets to highly capable models designed to support email, video, and conferencing applications.

While each handset has a unique market position, there are numerous features that are common across handsets, for example, texting. The description of texting is the same, but each handset requires different key sequences, images, key names, and so on. In addition to handset configurations, there are regional differences that determine the features a particular handset will support and region specific safety standards, not to mention language requirements. Some of the handsets are OEM’d through specific carriers requiring different contact information and branding. One component of information could have as many as 500 variations!

To reach their goal they make the content intelligent to facilitate automatic builds and content filtering by:

  • Creating structured component-based content
  • Creating semantic metadata to clearly identify what piece of
    content is appropriate in which situation
  • Creating rules which identify how each product configuration is to be built
  • Using variables for key sequences so that they can be automatically populated with the correct content at the time of publication
  • Using a component content management system to publish the content on demand based on the configuration rules

With this new intelligent content they are saving through reduced translation costs, and optimized processes. And they are actually making more money because they can now personalize content and customers are purchasing customized content at an increasing rate.

Personalization – People have been talking about personalized content for years, but often back off because creating personalized content is a lot of work with traditional content. Not so with intelligent content. A Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) provides health insurance for hundreds of companies with thousands of policyholders. The HMO builds a self-serve website to enable employees to review coverage, submit claims and get customized health and wellness information.

Personalization is supported by intelligent content through:

  • Development of personas to identify the key characteristics of customers
  • Policyholder login profiles that match the customer profiles
  • Structured component-based content
  • Semantic metadata used to tag content based on personas
  • Personalization rules to be applied based on profile and policyholder requests

Dynamic delivery – A financial services company has been producing content for its investors for both the web and print. There are daily News and Notes to keep investors informed of key breaking news, weekly reports (that summarize an area of particular interest), as well as monthly and annual reports. Historically, reports have been produced in Portable Document Format (PDF) while News and Notes have been published in HTML as part of the website.

There is more than a decade worth of content squirreled away on the web and hidden in fileservers throughout the organization. The traditional method of content delivery has been effective until recently. With the economic melt down, investors are clamoring for content daily — even hourly — and they want more than just the information the financial services company can create themselves.

To calm nervous investors — and to provide a broad offering of high quality content to investors who have decided to stay in the market for the long haul — the company decided to change their paradigm and offer personalized dynamic content delivered automatically to their investors.

Much of their content is marked up in XML. The legacy content that isn’t, they decide to convert. They also set up RSS and other types of content feeds to ensure that content can be aggregated from multiple external sources, incorporated with their own information, and automatically delivered to investors.

They built a set of profiles of their investors and provided a simple way for investors to indicate the types of information they would like to receive. Some investors choose to see an historical perspective (information on what has happened in previous market instability), while all investors see a need for hourly financial market updates. Investors can also search for information when they need it and the system builds for them a customized view of the content in which they are interested. New information from both internal and external sources is captured, converted to XML, searched for and retrieved based on specific criteria, assembled and transformed into a format that can be pushed to individual investors.

Dynamic delivery is supported by intelligent content through:

  • Development of customer personas
  • Customer login (profile information and content preferences, interests stored here)
  • Structured XML content
  • Addition of semantic metadata
  • XQuery and full text search for retrieval
  • Dynamic multichannel publishing
  • Really Simple Syndicate (RSS)

Who is using intelligent content?

Nearly every industry is starting to make use of intelligent content. Companies whose product is content (e.g., publishing and media companies) have begun to adopt intelligent content as a
methodology for moving away from their traditional print offering to a multichannel, and often personalized content offering. Companies that produce huge volumes of content such as life sciences firms, aerospace, defense, and financial services companies use intelligent content to optimize content access and retrieval. The high technology industry (software, hardware, peripherals) has been moving towards intelligent content for a number of years, but are not yet making a lot of use of metadata and personalization. Government is starting to use intelligent content to manage and deliver legislative content.

Benefits of intelligent content

There are many benefits of intelligent content. We can:

  • More easily find it
  • Deliver it
  • Customize it
  • Personalize it
  • Automatically deliver it to multiple channels
  • Simultaneously release content in multiple languages
  • Reduce costs
  • Speed up delivery time
  • Optimize resources
  • Do more with the same resources
  • Increase customer satisfaction

About Ann Rockley

Ann Rockley is President of The Rockley Group, Inc. She has an international reputation for developing intelligent content management strategies and underlying information architecture. Rockley is a frequent contributor to trade and industry publications and a keynote speaker at numerous conferences in North America and Europe.

Rockley is known as a “luminary” in the content management industry. She has been instrumental in establishing the field of online documentation, single sourcing (content reuse), unified content strategies, content management best practices, and intelligent content.