When I joined SDL in 2014, after having worked for years at the intersection of content management and globalization, I quickly discovered that SDL’s go-to person for a strategic view of the world of structured content is Chip Gettinger, VP of Solutions. Chip travels the country guiding top companies on turning their global content strategy goals into realities, and speaking at content events with the best and brightest of the content world.
I’ve always wanted to sit down with him and hear his lessons learned! We decided to put pen to virtual paper and capture it, to share with all of you.
JR: Chip, tell us about some of the major changes in the content world you’ve seen throughout your career.
CG: My interest in content started in high school then college with publishing and typesetting and then in the mid-80s I got into DTP. Up until then content was all print-centric, about books, magazines, and journals. The first big change in our lives was electronic delivery of content; for example, via CDs and online help. I saw my first Component Content Management System (CCMS) in the late ‘90s, at Xerox. At the time, a lot of customers were military or aerospace-related, using CCMS for content reuse of components across documents. Also Life Sciences companies were early adopters using CCMS and XML for translation cost savings.
Content creation and print-centric roots go back over 500 years to Gutenberg and the invention of movable type. Humanity saw huge culture shifts as print became available for the masses. In my time, it has been amazing watching traditional print media transform with adoption of online / PDFs in the 90s, and seeing it in the last decade go fully online. The changes are still in process, with emphasis now on how we use and access content online, via a multitude of devices. And we are seeing rapid change driven by the omni-channel nature of the world today. It’s very exciting!
JR: What are the most important content problems companies face today?
CG: The biggest problem is truly understanding what your global content requirements are. We live in a global economy. The majority of our customers’ revenue comes from outside North America and they need to understand how to grow revenue in emerging markets. That means having a content strategy that crosses borders. It takes localization to a much further degree – not just translation but making it useful and relevant in target geographies. Organizations in EMEA have had to deal with this for years because selling even on the same continent required multilingual communication. Now, companies in North America really need to think about this if they want to go global.
A second challenge is that companies have spent years putting content on websites (product data sheets, help docs, release notes, FAQs…) that tells customers about products and services. Their customers are using this content for purposes the authors never intended. For example, potential customers may read online user guides to make a purchase decision, because they see those guides as an authoritative source of information. So we still need to focus on the purpose of the content but anticipate its additional uses and consciously enable it for reuse. The content types are blending – customers don’t care if it’s web or structured, or if it’s intended for customers or prospects. They use it all.
The third point is content governance. Nobody gets paid in an organization to retire content from websites and other locations. A content strategy needs to include how to retire content that’s no longer pertinent. Microsoft has over 4 million web pages never read by customers but will still show up in search results. So how do we constantly keep the most relevant content visible and retire older content and archive it? This applies to all content – not just web, but also structured content. It has a release connotation, but we still have to be conscious of newer content, the need to replace old, etc.
Finally, we need to think about a customer’s contextual experience. Too many content strategies are from the inside-out: we organize and deliver content to our customers the way we set up departments within our company. We need to shift to a view of outside-in.
JR: What is content strategy and what are the most important reasons to have one?
CG: We have seen an interesting change in this over the past few years. Today, a strategy is truly understanding your customer requirements for content and then working backwards, or outside-in. For example, you see your customers start their searches on a smartphone and then they may transition to desktop or tablet device to finish. When content consumers start on one device and end up on another, our content needs to be fluid across devices. However, we see some organizations creating content silos designed for delivery to each type of device. This is very difficult to support today with the frequency of product updates. So the trend is to single-source content; author once then deliver to multiple channels. This may not be possible for all content types, so another trend is to blend classifications or facets into a single customer point of view, accessible across devices. For this, you need a strategy to support mix and match of channels, with a strong, unified taxonomy synchronized across your various content sources. Customers will then have an easier time finding content from various sources, such as videos, learning materials, knowledgebase, help and so forth.
And then there’s global! You might start in English and then have to translate – you need a strong strategy to manage the setup and costs. Many organizations have been keeping budgets thin, so we need to have improved efficiencies and automation, especially in eliminating desktop publishing. A strong content strategy can help the efficiency of your business overall and provide more relevant content for the same investment.
JR: Do you see convergence happening between the worlds of content strategy and globalization?
CG: This is one of the most exciting areas and a huge opportunity. In the past some content globalization was driven by regional offices, who defined their own strategies that did not tie back to corporate. Over the past years, translation management tools have enabled centralization of localization services, so that you can still respect local needs, but allow for a brand-consistent style managed centrally at the corporate level. Organizations are also planning for global product requirements earlier in the product cycle, with some merging localization and content teams under the same leadership. They work in the same product planning meetings, so the localization team and the writers can see each other’s requirements far in advance. The impact to source content is that globalization colleagues can make suggestions to improve source content, making it more efficient to translate. Content management and authoring systems can improve terminology and phrasing consistency to benefit localization later. This also improves customer experience with your content. So now these two teams collaborate instead of working serially. With agile product development and topic-based authoring, tech writers are now involved up front in the user stories, and localization teams are starting to get involved earlier too, for example with global requirements.
JR: What would you consider the most important elements of a truly global content strategy?
CG: The most important aspect is to understand your global audience and seek out the experts in your organization. Understand you will be writing in English, but it will be translated for global markets. Ensure you’ve set up proper rules and processing of source content to facilitate global translation, so you can catch problems early on in source. Plan for terminology and content reuse. If you go into right-to-left languages (like Arabic), how does that impact the source creation? Follow best practices to respect local cultures, for example, bold or italics may have different meanings so use an emphasis tag.
A good content reuse strategy provides enormous benefits of cost savings and consistency improvements. It’s possible to leverage reuse within your translation management system or with adoption of XML authoring and a Component Content Management System (CCMS). These efficiencies and automation provide faster delivery times for your global content.
JR: In the globalization world, we talk a lot now about segmenting for differing levels of target quality. What do writers need to know about this?
CG: Tech writers may not know the languages into which their content will be translated, but they should know the type of content and the target audience, and they are starting to understand the various translation methods and cost implications. Different content types can be translated by humans, by machine, or by some hybrid blend of the two. Machine translation is generally accepted and works well for knowledge base and FAQs, whereas brand-sensitive marketing content needs human translation. Hybrid – starting with machine translation and then a human reviews and post-edits the result – can be time saving and cost-efficient for many types of content.
JR: A common problem for both source and translated content is review. Thoughts on that?
CG: There are definitely best practices. The traditional wish has been to review the whole finished document, in context. But innovative customers who are accelerating via agile development often do not have that luxury with time constraints. They have to review without context, just new or changed topics, before completing the deliverable. Key is concurrency vs. serial to make your pressing deadlines. SDL tools support this today, and the benefit is an accelerated time to market. The evolving best practice in topic-based authoring allows you to focus on just the new/changed topics and not worry about context until final review. It’s still a controversial subject, however, as people want to see the whole document, but that is becoming harder and harder, with the pace of change and time pressures for delivering relevant content.
JR: What are SDL’s most important contributions to global content strategy?
CG: SDL has constantly been a change agent over the years transforming everything about the way we create global content – for example, with the commercial application of translation memory technology led by SDL Trados in the 1990s. At SDL we’ve learned from our customers, turning our services and best practices learnings into products and applications. On the language front, ten years ago, many regions had their own favorite boutique translator. Now centralized translation management systems have greatly improved efficiency, brand consistency and accelerated production, while still respecting requirements of specific locales and variations in languages. It delivers global reach with local touch. SDL is a leader in providing automation with content management for web and structured content, having fully integrated with our translation management systems.
What makes SDL unique in the marketplace is our breadth and that we are a global company ourselves, with many worldwide offices and thousands of employees who understand global requirements. Our skillsets are spread worldwide, so that, for example, high tech companies in North America will benefit from our EMEA and Asia presence. There is no other company that combines the globalization, the products and the content strategy expertise we do.
JR: What are the biggest changes to come in global content strategy over the next 5 years?
CG: I would say a kind of content democratization. We’re already seeing this huge change with the emergence of video. It’s so easy for anyone to make a video and post; people learn from video. Customers are creating videos about how they use their favorite products. In the world of wikis and social based networks – anyone can be an author. So the challenge will continue to be, how do you get your organization’s content to stand out in a crowd-sourced world? It will be complex to solve. And global planning with central taxonomies will be even more important. Maybe you can create a great video, but it may not apply to all regions, and the creator of the video in North America doesn’t know it won’t work in Asia. We will need to ensure our content can be seen and understood across global markets, so an effective network of global-savvy content producers is needed.
Another example: Organizations are setting up community pages and then machine translating the content quickly, for rapid visibility and consumption. The pace will continue to accelerate. As content creation gets democratized, we’ll see that specialist content technicians have tools and processes they’ve used for years that can help the larger community.
Contextualization will continue to grow as we build richer content that can be filtered to the specific needs of a user. Providing context is big with eCommerce, and is a necessity to eliminate content that is not relevant to answering a question or solving a problem.
JR: What are your top tips for what companies should do right now to improve their global content strategy?
CG: The number one thing is to plan early for global content delivery, so that it’s part of your overall product strategy. Content strategy and product strategy need to be integrated. Understand what your global markets are, in what priority, and phase them in over time. You can have a limited reach in your initial product release, but plan from the first day that you will add more languages and markets over time. Your source content will serve many purposes down the road, so plan wisely using conditional content and variables to maximize reuse. You need the flexibility to adapt to your markets as you go. You don’t need to know all the target countries but you need the ability to adapt and be nimble in decision-making.
Thanks to Chip for his comments and insights! There will be more to come at SDL’s Knowledge Delivery Summit, where Chip and the rest of the SDL content team will be hosting an intensive program of shared knowledge and best practices for content creators and strategists. Follow along on Twitter by monitoring the SDL Knowledge Delivery Summit hashtag #SDLKDS