Common Goals, Split Thinking

Common Goals, Split Thinking


Posted on March 2016


A Push from my Best Friend and Muse, Frank:

Frank:  Hey Doug, isn't it about time for you to write some insightful and interesting stuff about Content Mapper and enterprise content? 
Doug: Good idea, Frank.  It's Easter, so maybe I should I should discuss religion and the resurrection of content standards?
Frank:  Don't!
Doug:  OK, maybe I can write about the US Presidential race.  We could call it "the XML Circus."
Frank:  That's even worse.
Doug:  How about dealing with the immigration of content and the wall of discontent, everyone should be interested in that.
Frank:  Stop messing around.
Doug: At the upcoming LavaCon Conference in Dublin, I'm going to be talking about "Creating Content Peace in a Multi-Silo Environment"
Frank: Please don't give that one away, yet.
Doug:  OK, Perhaps I can cover this by talking about how staff in different departments have common goals, but also biases that often constrain the broader achievement of those goals.
Frank:  Get to work!

Common Goals

It's quite simple. (I love that word!) I think most of us want various types of content to work together for the greater good of the people who want and need to use that content. I think we also agree that time and money are resources that need to be managed and controlled.

Entrenched Beliefs

An executive I worked with at two different companies managed conflict particularly well. He used to not just tolerate disagreement, but encouraged differences of opinion to advantage by observing that, "Where you sit is where you stand." This has become one of my favorite thoughts when I try to deal with a thorny issue. We all have opinions, prejudices, biases, and in fact, something positive to contribute based on the sum total of our experiences with family, education, work, hobbies, friends, and more. These experiences impact our beliefs and actions, whether strategic, tactical, or operational.

Frank:  So far, so good, Doug.

Entrenched Technical Beliefs

Technical staff, including consultants, know a lot. In fact they know more than a lot about XML, DocBook, DITA, CMSs, and more.  That's just fine and they have applied that knowledge in amazing ways to technical documentation and training materials through content reuse and multi-channel publishing of content to PDF, HTML, ePub, and mobile-enabled devices.  To reach the pinnacle of success they had to convert content, implement an authoring and XML standard, add a ton of metadata and publish everywhere.  Congratulations, it worked.

This effort consumed a lot of resources (time and money), but there was a clear return on that investment with the right information provided at the right time on the right device to information consumers. There were meaningful savings and advantages through reuse, elimination of desktop publishing efforts, and increased flexibility. They implemented a lot of complicated technical tools, XML editors, CMSs, translation systems, and more.  Of course, in many of the industries where these systems are implemented – aerospace, medical devices, pharma product labeling, heavy equipment and reference publishing – the regulatory and compliance requirements and costs associated with inaccurate information were a significant component in the ROI calculation. It's only now, that corporations are waking up to the need to value a much broader set of enterprise content as the asset and lifeblood of the organization that it truly is.

This is where the technical staff sits and stands.

Entrenched ROTO Beliefs

So what about the non-technical staff in the Rest Of The Organization (ROTO)?   They also need to provide the right information at the right time on the right device to their information consumers.  They know a lot about their world, the various departments, functions, financials, people, and more.  Similar to the technical staff, their careers have advanced because they are motivated, knowledgeable, and appropriately communicative.  Their communication is more varied and often less complex; including simple hierarchical structures, paragraphs and tables, and graphics highlighting things like facts, concepts, policies, procedures, processes, and plans. And there are a billion or so of them who use Microsoft products as their primary tools: MS Word, PowerPoint, and various repositories.   I believe that most of them, and their bosses, see the complexities of the technical implementations as too costly and unnecessary for practical implementation across the enterprise. 

This is where ROTO sits and stands.

Common Ground in Divergent Departments

The reality is that technical staff could benefit from content available in ROTO.  Similarly, ROTO staff could benefit from content available in the technical areas.  So, for this to work, there needs to be a common approach to content at the level of thinking and creation, but also at the level of structure.  Simply XML is convinced that XML will be the underlying technical structure for content across the enterprise.  However:

  1. Technical staff needs to acknowledge that authors at the enterprise level will use different editors and tools.  And the majority by numbers will keep using Microsoft Word. They won't convert their authoring tool to an XML editor or FrameMaker.
  2. ROTO needs to acknowledge that XML will be the technical architecture underneath most corporate content.  And it is not enough to just stick PDF's or other media into containers with metadata.
  3. Technical staff needs to understand that the XML, whether DITA, or DocBook, or NLM, or something else needs to be largely hidden from ROTO. It should probably be largely hidden from the technical staff, as well.
  4. ROTO needs to constrain document structures and elements from Microsoft Word to get control enabling reuse and flexible publishing.  This will be accomplished with a common approach to structured writing with XML underneath.
  5. Consultants and systems integrators need to understand that the resources necessary to do this cannot be extrapolated in a straight line from what was just spent on the technical side of the house  implementing content conversion, XML Authoring, CMS storage, and metadata.  They should also understand that the simpler nature of content in ROTO does not demand that, either.

Conclusions:

  1. Information consumers of all types want better content (the right information at the right time on the right device).
  2. At the enterprise level organizations need a common structured writing standard with authoring tools that put XML underneath.
  3. The least change model is often the best change model.
  4. This can work in a cost-effective way if you KISS the enterprise (Keep It Simple, Smart-person.)
  5. Where we sit is where we stand!

Frank:  Good job Doug, here's a gold star.
Doug: Thanks for the help, Frank, here's a cookie!