In 2016, I teamed up with Chip Gettinger, SDL’s resident structured content “guru” (and our VP of Global Solutions Consulting) to talk about how key content concepts from his world intersect with the globalization topics in mine. Last time, we focused on the basics of taxonomy and how organizing enterprise content in taxonomies helps break down silos and create efficiencies across the enterprise. We’re kicking off 2017 by exploring how structured content fits into global content strategy.
Jessica Roland: To get started, what do we mean by Structured Content?
Chip Gettinger: That’s a good place to start! In our most common usage, structured content separates the content itself from its presentation, or formatting. It organizes content using specific tags that are identified and organized so as to be easy to find, maintain and reuse. The eXtensible Markup Language (XML) provides the tagging structure and metadata to enable structured content.
Structured content enables organizations to reuse content between documents – for example, the same procedure can be shared in a reference guide, online help, etc. Then “single-sourcing” provides the ability to author once, then publish as a PDF, HTML, eBook and other output type.
Content reuse and single-sourcing are key benefits to automation and translation time savings that we’ll talk about later.
JR: Chip, I keep hearing about “component-based content authoring” as well. How does this relate to structured authoring, and what is the impact and interest for the industry?
CG: Component-based authoring is simply a flavor of structured content, which traditionally was document-based. With the growth of online content, “components” take the structured approach one step further by breaking content into smaller topics for easier authoring, reuse and management. Content authored and managed as components provides a higher level of agility to match today’s demanding business practices and schedules.
For example, many of us read content in short bursts, so we are only interested in specific topics, which fits nicely with this newer approach. These smaller components are typically called topics. In our industry, these topics can be things such as “tasks” for procedures, “concepts” for background information, “reference” to enable digging into the details, as well as other topic types.
JR: How does the industry support component-based authoring?
CG: OASIS, an open source standards body, publishes the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) standard. SDL and most of our partners are members of the OASIS organization, supporting interoperability of the standard. The DITA standard does an excellent job of standardizing a majority of the variations for component-based content. User communities established worldwide have grown exponentially around this standard, providing a wealth of openly shared best practices.
JR: Is that growth due to particular business drivers?
CG: Definitely! Companies like Dell EMC, VMware, NetApp, HP Inc., HP Enterprise, Molina Healthcare, and many more, have chosen a component content global strategy to reduce time to market and accelerate revenue. As part of this, they’ve eliminated much of the manual labor, like Desktop Publishing, and automated much of the translation process.
To say a little more on this: many customers find themselves drowning in desktop publishing (DTP) costs and labor challenges as the number of products and languages increase. Transferring content from one format to another can be very challenging. You see companies that do a lot of manual copy-paste, or have word-wrap and layout problems, outdated versions of content mistakenly published, etc. Manual procedures are error-prone, increase DTP costs, and introduce delays into the release process. Because component-based structured content separates the actual content from the format, you can programmatically output in various formats, automatically and quickly.
Another huge driver for component content adoption is ease of reuse. Companies save time and money by reusing relevant content, instead of reinventing the wheel. They also benefit from content consistency, which is good for branding and search engine optimization. This is where translation benefits come in as well. When you can reuse source content, you reduce translation time and cost as well by reuse of the target languages. Small variations in content can result in big and unnecessary translation increases where content reuse via a component approach helps reduce that problem.
All these things result in companies being able to publish faster and more accurately, accelerating their global revenue.
JR: What are the challenges to component content adoption?
CG: One is that it’s a big change for an organization. It requires training and technology for your content authors with a change-management process to ensure adoption. Traditionally, authors are used to working on their own, using creative changes to keep their text as flowing and accurate as possible. For technical content, reuse is more efficient and consistent than that touch of creative variety. This is a culture change for authors. In the new paradigm, they need to create their content with reuse in mind, with a taxonomy that makes the content easily searchable.
JR: So how does component content fit into a larger global content strategy?
CG: We talked about the adoption challenges to implementing component-based content, which are not small! Change management makes sense to create permanent benefits when part of a larger global content strategy to map why you’re doing it, the long-term plan, what the expected benefits are, and how to address any risks.
Then, the global content strategy must be sustained by corporate content governance – who owns the content, who is authorized to change it, and how key strategic decisions are made and communicated. Without governance, people can make one-off, situational decisions that may not work with the next product version. What evolves in forward-thinking enterprises is a content governance board. Its purpose is to ensure an articulated, enforced and communicated content strategy for reuse, terminology, conditions, etc., all supporting the company’s business goals.
JR: What are some concrete examples of content governance board actions?
CG: I have a great recent one: a customer whose content strategy includes creating shorter content that reflects readers’ limited time and attention span. One of the goals for component authoring is minimization to provide your customers just the information relevant to their needs. This customer reframed its training materials strategy to focus on short bursts of 3-5 minutes of learning. The format could be instructor-led, video or presentation, but it all needed to conform to this “short bursts” concept. The governance board lays that out as “guidelines,” for a consistent approach with component authoring.
JR: You mentioned knowing why you’re doing it, what the long-term plan is, what the expected benefits are, and how to address any risks… what are other ingredients of a good global content strategy?
CG: Well, content strategy will vary by company, industry and business needs. You may be in a regulated industry, or have specific regulations when shipping products to other countries. That’s why many companies engage a content strategy consultant to take a step back, view the big content picture and then articulate a sound strategy supported by the right technology. I do a lot of work in this area, and also we are very lucky at SDL to have a rich ecosystem of well-known consulting partners such as Rockley Group, Content Rules, DITA Strategies, Scriptorium, Oberon Technologies, Dakota Systems and more.
JR: We talked earlier about how source content reuse helps control translation cost. What are other globalization drivers to component content adoption?
CG: Globalization teams can do a lot to help the company, like institute centralized translation memory to optimize reuse, and automate processes via workflow and file transfer. However, almost all globalization teams reach a plateau in their business results.
Sometimes they are constrained by the source file formats or by a poorly defined global content strategy. Often they are constrained by technology. For example, each business might have its own software tools and processes, and they don’t coordinate, and this can affect globalization efficiency and cost. A component-based content management system, implemented via tools that connect seamlessly to translation management, optimizes the entire flow of content from source to target languages.
JR: To wrap up, what should a globalization specialist keep in mind when it comes to content strategy and component content management?
CG: Well, very importantly, it should be a two-way street: globalization both influences a companies’ global content strategy, and vice versa. A global content strategy by definition needs to be created with global goals in mind: where your customers are in the world, with what content, and by when.
That means the globalization team needs to be talking to the content strategy team! The “how” of organizing the content for global use is critical – it’s not enough to have terminology in English only if you expect global stakeholders to be able to author and help curate content. And of course, from a technology perspective, you have to have a component content management system like SDL Knowledge Center. It fully handles global content – including managing the relationships of source and target language components to automate synchronization when versioned and updated.
Chip, thanks again for a great discussion on the intersection of content and global!
Readers, Chip will be at the following upcoming events, where he would love to talk global content strategy with you at LocWorld, Shenzhen, China (March 1-2) and CMS DITA North America Conference, San Diego (April 24-26).