I attended SDL’s Global Content Operations event June 29 in Palo Alto, where panelists and audience discussed best practices for managing content on a global scale. As the discussion progressed, we began to hear common elements, that together form the basis for a “Global Content Maturity Model”.
Companies attending this event were interested in connecting the dots between content creation, translation and publishing, for a smooth, seamless flow of content across the enterprise, leading to an efficient global content operation model. The discussion was moderated by SDL’s Derek Patrick, who leads SDL’s Business Consulting team, advisors on improving global content processes. The panel included a mix of high tech and consumer customers, as well as SDL experts.
We started by recapping the typical high-level stages of maturity models, that apply to many areas of process improvement, including global content:
- Ad hoc – Organizations start here, with no process and having to reactively deal with one-off requests.
- Repeatable – They start seeing patterns and then develop repeatable methods for dealing with them.
- Defined – They articulate and communicate these methods, to “institutionalize” them.
- Managed – They start trying to “turn the dials” to drive improvements in the methods and their results.
- Efficient – The focus is on identifying “friction points” within different groups and between processes in the operations model, and eliminating them, often via automation.
As the group went deeper into these concepts and how they apply specifically to global content, we saw 5 key tips emerging in how to optimize across the global content maturity spectrum.
Tip 1 – Getting from Ad Hoc to Repeatable
At the left hand “beginner” end of the spectrum, the ad hoc nature of projects depends primarily on hand-offs of finished source material. The system at that point is not set up to easily handle updates to the content and translations. Every hand-off feels like a painful, one-off effort, often accompanied by time-consuming copy-paste operations. To ease the pain, an important first step is to agree internally on the best hand-off or “interchange” formats and the minimum acceptable input for proceeding to globalization and publishing. For example, many customers are using XML as a common interchange format. Having a defined handoff format helps you get to the “repeatable” stage.
Tip 2 – Getting Definition
Then, to arrive most quickly to the “defined” state, it is important to have agreement between groups, and ideally across the enterprise, on best lifecycle touchpoints or handoffs, so that is no longer ad hoc. A key element for determining this is what type of development cycle is associated with the product or content, such as agile or waterfall or something in between. If you can map out the expected steps of the content planning, creation, globalization and publishing cycles, it becomes easier to pinpoint the right moment for interaction with another team. Some companies choose to create a set and continuous globalization cycle where source content is picked up for translation at regular intervals regardless of its state. Other companies choose to start globalization when the source writer indicates the content is “baked” enough to do so. There’s no one right way. The important thing is to decide on a commonly understood mapping of the desired touchpoints. Once the decisions are made, they can then be automated in workflow. The goal is predictability.
Tip 3 – Measure to Manage
When it comes to the managing stage, the objective for many companies is to make sure that they are hitting their goals for cost, timeliness and quality and that they know how to turn the dials for improvement. There will have already been some progress during all three previous stages, from having standard handoff formats and agreed upon lifecycle touchpoints. What should be added for further management progress is a set of metrics for success and a feedback loop for regular measurement and communication of actual performance. We see many customers focused on this right now, trying to turn themselves into data-driven organizations by measuring what they want to manage. Whether it’s output rate of writers, readability of text, consistency of terminology, cost of globalization per word, quality of translation, hitting budget and on-time goals…all these are concrete data that can be easily measured, and then actioned for improvement.
Tip 4 – Becoming Efficient: Finance is your Friend
Many of our enterprise customers have made great strides toward moving upward in global content maturity using the tips described above, during the phases from Ad Hoc through Managed. They are now faced with the challenges at the very top of the maturity model, for becoming truly efficient. We observe two tips for that among the leading global thinkers. First, understanding and mastering calculation of business impact and ROI of their global content operations. Lastly, working out any remaining operational friction, via seamless, automated and continuous connection between the various segments of the model. For these last two steps, it is debatable whether you put one before the other. My own observation of customers trying to work through these stages is that they most often need a foundational understanding of business impact and potential ROI to get “permission” and funding to put the enterprise through the hard work of integrating systems. To get this understanding and leverage it across the whole global content operations, managers of the various segments of the content chain can really benefit from getting together to discuss this topic with a trusted finance partner. One to one help is great too, but teaming up so the finance partner can understand the full chain of operations gives them the big picture, and more ideas for identifying business value. This also is an invaluable lead-in to the next step of justifying tools acquisitions and systems integration.
Tip 5 – Automation is Worth the Effort!
When you get the triumvirate of information experience managers, web content managers and globalization managers working together to seamlessly automate content flow across operations, you can reach a high state of efficiency in routine operations. It’s not easy, and we have seen how a vital success factor is for customers and providers to work very closely to plan automation together right from the early stages, so as not to overlook any key factors and to ensure alignment. It’s also key to design automation for long-run maintainability – to keep it simple and standard enough so that upgrades are as straightforward as possible.
Companies that make it to the top right of the maturity model have the routine of efficient global content operations so well established that it becomes much less effortful than earlier stages of reactive one-offs or struggles with establishing procedures. When you get to this stage, it allows you to deal with big changes, like acquisitions, much more easily. It also provides for mental time and space to think about other types of innovation, creating a virtuous circle. This is where we’d all like to be.
A Chance to Learn From Your Peers
Some customers are getting very close to achieving this vision – we see it in our day to day at SDL, as we work with customers on their global content operations goals, via our technology teams, language services teams or our business consultants.
It’s especially visible at SDL Connect, where customers share their stories and accomplishments from the past year. The dates are set – October 25 – 26, 2017 in San Jose, CA. We’d love to see you there! For more information and to register (it’s free!), please click here.