Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with our new SDL Tridion Docs Product Manager, Joe Pairman. We’re really excited about the extensive experience in structured content management he’s bringing to this role. In this interview, Joe shares his experiences and expertise around the role, and importance of a structured content management system for managing product and technical content.
Pramod: Tell us a little about your background, current role and experience working with structured content management?
Joe: Sure. Leading up to my position here at SDL as Product Manager of SDL Tridion Docs, I worked in structured content for quite some time. In a previous job, I led a technical team that used SDL Tridion Docs. We did all the planning, integrations, customizations and extensions, to deliver content to several knowledge bases, web and mobile environments.
Later, I worked with Mekon, consulting various companies for a number of industries, including high-tech, manufacturing, pharma, medical devices and financial services. I got to know many different people, their business, line of work and who could benefit from structured content. Working with them I got a good understanding the challenges to adopt structured content, the use cases, the processes and the technology landscape around it.
Pramod: What role does product/technical content play?
Joe: Content at any stage of the buying process is a valuable thing. It can help to not only achieve customer satisfaction with the product that they have, but it also helps customers understand the product that they’re thinking of buying in the future.
Not only post-sales, but pre-sales as well. It’s critical that the end user has a smooth journey. Whether it’s an existing customer wanting to improve product use, buying new bits of the product or a new product, content is the linchpin. This content plays such a key role in not only using the product but also in selling it.
Nevertheless, product documentation is viewed as a cost to the organization.
Pramod: What are the common issues faced by product documentation groups?
Joe: In my previous organizations, we produced documentation for a huge variety of different products and technical configurations. This content required variations for different geographies and customers with broad language and translation requirements.
The challenge lay in moving away from an unstructured approach, eliminating the ad hoc copying and pasting. They wanted a much more controlled way to manage content, while handling many content variations for different products, markets and languages.
Pramod: How can product documentation create more value for a global organization from a structured content approach?
Joe: Many technical writers/authors work in a fairly inconsistent, ad hoc way. When using desktop publishing tools, different writers create content in different styles, not only in terms of tone of voice, but the structure of the documents, duplicating content, resulting in inconsistent content. This involves a lot of time trying to align content to make it more consistent and accurate, and to reuse the right parts. This time is spent managing tasks rather than creating product documentation.
With structured content management, content is format-neutral and differentiates between various components of the texts such as title, figure/diagram, list, description etc. Content is then formatted using predefined templates for different channels, so customers get the best possible format for their device or channel.
In structured content, authors focus solely on the content, making it fit its purpose, rather than juggling between copying and pasting tasks. Working with any kind of structured content always involves some planning to achieve consistency. It’s this consistency, which almost feels like templates, that provides accurate content and consistent structures.
Pramod: How does SDL Tridion Docs help companies with strict regulatory requirements and detailed product content?
Joe: SDL Tridion Docs is the most effective system for managing structures and content for companies that have quite complicated and sophisticated content management requirements. We use Baselining to manage and understand content variations. Industry verticals such as financial institutions, manufacturing, high-tech etc. have a large degree of variation but also have commonality and they need to manage that carefully.
SDL Tridion Docs also provides granular control. Regulatory and standards bodies, organizations that have standards and regulations to manage, need a very high level of detail. It provides version control, reuse management, and content accuracy in the way highly regulated industries require.
Even though SDL Tridion Docs has sophisticated features, the software itself is quite user-friendly. It’s an intuitive and accurate system that reuses content, updating all the different reused parts once the main content is updated. This helps companies to maintain consistency across product versions, legal notes and so on. It keeps content accurate and consistent. Organizations make great cost savings by content reuse and greater efficiency of managing content.
Pramod: I understand that companies now want to deliver their content in more formats. Can you tell me how SDL Tridion Docs can help?
Joe: Traditionally, product documentation has been stuck in pdfs, which are still relevant, but increasingly companies want to deliver in digital channels – like web-based delivery to mobile, apps, chatbots, voice-command channels, Internet of Things (IoT – like Google Nexus, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri) and other portals. SDL
Tridion Docs’ reuse capability, controlling variations and multichannel publishing capability enable organizations to publish directly to these different channels.
One of the unique features of SDL Tridion Docs is that it understands what has been written and approved, so it can be used again as a standalone piece in other deliverables without having to retranslate it.
Pramod: Why is a structured content management approach important to authoring and translations?
Joe: Structured content provides real efficiency, time savings and quality improvements. It lets authors and translators focus on the text without having to worry about formatting or layout. For translated content using traditional desktop publishing (DTP), if you translate even a small section, you have to send the whole thing back for translations. The task is highly manual, often involving a person actually identifying the changed, translated text, and it often requires additional DTP reformatting. With structured content management, this is all automated.
When you manage content as topics, smaller content chunks, it’s also easier to manage and automate workflows for creation and translation. When one chunk is approved, released and translated, there’s no need to send it back for translation even if it’s used in a different context.
Pramod: How does SDL Tridion Docs help product documentation become part of an organization’s business transformation?
Joe: We have technology that enables organizations to deliver a blended content experience so that customers can easily navigate through marketing content, technical content and even consume content from both, on the same page. Using shared taxonomies and metadata, we can deliver a content journey that is connected, so customers easily find the answer they’re looking for.
We are working to extend this sophisticated content management to non-traditional writers, like domain experts such as engineers and other types of professionals with specialized knowledge. They don’t want to spend a great amount of time learning a new system, and yet they do want to reap the benefits of structured content. They want to have a bit of training and get straight up to speed.
We see new customers in more and more industries and different types of organizations adopting a structured content management approach to new areas of business using SDL Tridion Docs. We’ll be there to support them with the product platform, knowledge and functionality they need to meet their broader business goals.
SDL is the global leader and innovator in language and content management solutions. For over 25 years, SDL has helped companies communicate with confidence and deliver transformative business results by enabling powerful experiences that engage customers across multiple touchpoints, all strengthened by our human expertise and machine learning technology.