Value In The Mix
There is no doubt that, as Patrick Spain, CEO of HighBeam Research and co-founder of Hoovers Online, muses that, "at a philosophical level, content doesn't have value. Same is true of technology. So enterprises don't want to buy empty vessel portals. The opportunity is in bundling—technology, content, and a set of tools to sift." In this view, content's value is in its distilled form; simply the right content delivered in the right way.
While repairclinic.com, lexisnexis.com, healthday.com, and elite.com offer examples of how content can be used in a bundled and targeted way, the "all you can eat" content offering still plays a role in understanding content expectations.
Mike Wing, IBM's vice president of worldwide intranet strategy and programs, warns companies "not to forget the Google phenomenon, which is definitely an issue for all intranets." He says, "Both because Google is a ground-breaking approach to search, but even more because it searches the entire Web and therefore has a much richer trove of content to mine, people have increasingly found other search technologies wanting in comparison. There are studies I've heard about that indicate marked declines in employee ratings of intranets are due to dissatisfaction with search—and many attribute it to the raising of the bar by Google."
Matthew Berk, research director at Jupiter Research, agrees saying, "Just as companies are shoveling more and more content and applications into underused portal platforms to try and get a return on investment from vendor-driven purchases during the late 90's, now content users are demanding better search of their company Web sites and intranets as expectations for search have been raised by using Google."
In Your Own Words
Taxonomy—the organization and classification of content into an ordered system—is key to the effective use of content. "Intranets and portals are intended to make organizational users more productive, and the taxonomy is vital to the process," according to content management consultant Marcia Morante. "A taxonomy provides clarity and uniformity across the organization about the language of business and content presentation." As individuals struggle to extract the exact content needed among the growing supply of information available on the Web, the importance of tools and interfaces that effectively help them locate answers to their questions is also growing. At RepairClinic.com, the consumer in need of an appliance part is offered the opportunity to narrow the search by asking questions and is also presented with the options in pictures as well as text. National brand retailers including Land's End and The Gap incorporate EasyAsk's natural language search that, according to the company's VP of marketing Kathy Ruggiero, "allows customers to answer more of their questions more quickly, reducing customer service costs and increasing average order size, conversion rates, and customer satisfaction."
To Portal or Not?
Craig Roth, a MetaGroup analyst, suggests that "a portal can add context around the information by placing it near other related information and suggesting information that may help you interpret the data." John Buskin, the editor of the Dow Jones & Company corporate portal, believes that a common lexicon incorporated into communications through the corporate portal of a global organization provides an opportunity to create unity. "A portal," he says, "can clarify a lot of business information in a complete way. It is a press conference that never ends, where the ink never dries. The written word demands a kind of reason that the spoken word does not."
But while a portal may work for some businesses, in the opinion of David Graves, managing partner of Digital Channel Consulting, "Too many portal efforts are wasted. Self-centered companies create spaces that are useless to employees. Today everybody who has a Web site is in the media business. Building a successful intranet or portal demands thinking like a media person or publisher about amassing and pleasing your audience." And it is there that content savvy comes into play.
Sidebar: Companies Small and Large Effectively Employ Content
Here are some examples of how effectively employing content has positively affected small and large companies both from the perspective of content provider and organization employing content.
Content Repairs Sales
The Internet has made "researchers" out of tens of millions of wired households across the world, as Chris Hall well knows. Hall once owned a bricks and mortar appliance repair business. Four years later, he is president and founder of RepairClinic.com, which helps 35,000 people a month repair their appliances and sells appliance parts online directly to consumers. RepairClinic.com proffers content in the form of documents that explain how to repair household appliances. They give away that content and make the money on sales of parts. With 90 employees and 150,000 available parts, the site does not charge for repair help, obtained through email, but rather earns its return on investment through the sales of parts—some costing as little as $0.75. With the increasing trend to DIY (Do it Yourself) home repair and since 75% of repair costs are labor, users who follow the content repair documents available from Hall's site can not only save money but become loyal, empowered, returning customers.
Adding Company Content
A core content value is being able to deliver appropriate content tightly integrated with workflow. The Total Search team at LexisNexis is focused on providing that capability to the legal profession. According to Joe Swimmer, the company's manager of market planning, "We heard from customers that what they really needed was to be able to apply the LexisNexis search syntax to their internal documents as well in an integrated search." But at the same time, the clients wanted to insure that internal documents did not leave the company's internal network.
When an attorney from one of the eight large law firms now testing the Total Search product conducts a LexisNexis search, the results include icons and links to related internal documents including Shepard's Signals, which are provided by another LexisNexis company. More and more law firms are focused on finding and eliminating duplicate work by accessing material-filings, analysis, internal memos, and other documents that have already been already created. "Over time, the content included in Total Search will be expanded with the addition of the Martindale-Hubbell guide to the legal profession. The search results will also include links to the attorney listing including email if that is provided. "In the twenty first century networked world it is not just the content but the authors of it who become increasingly accessible."
Content Across Outlets
Dan McKillen is president of HealthDay, a syndicated health news service that licenses platform delivery companies who offer bundled content and ASP services to hospitals. "Many hospitals use ìHospitals news on their web sites as part of a community outreach/customer service initiative," says McKillen. "They also use the news internally on their Intranets for physicians, nurses, and other allied healthcare professionals to provide easy access to breaking news like FDA actions, adverse drug reactions, flu outbreaks, news from major medical meetings, clinical trials info, and general disease prevention and management news."
HealthDay also licenses news to organizations that build disease-specific newsletters, most of them enewsletters (as a CRM initiative), and has similar arrangements in place with pharmacy benefit management firms that license their news. McKillen offers further examples of how content can be distributed across platforms saying, "Then there's Yahoo!, ABCNews.com, Forbes.com and other portals, which monetize the traffic the news brings to their Web sites. Another significant customer of ours is the NY Times Syndicate. They offer our health news and this works well for us as we don't have the big sales force to call on the volume of local newspapers as the Times Syndicate does."
With all the varied outlets for content, McKillen says that "If I looked into my crystal ball, I see a day when corporate customers will take over the filtering and distribution part and deal directly with the content providers. This will happen because they currently pay the aggregators a lot of money for technology and implementation that could be done more efficiently in-house. Content management software is so cheap now, it doesn't make sense to pay an outside company the kind of money many are paying to be Intranet Service Providers. This," he continues, "coupled with the fact that some premium content providers are pulling out of deals that aren't working, suggests some content providers of this world may find it difficult to grow their business. ISP's need to understand that content providers must get a fair price for their information or they will leave the fold."
Conflict And Coordination
The drive to integrate content with business processes is strikingly evident at Elite Information Group, a company founded in 1947 as a Dictaphone distributor, now a leading provider of integrated practice and financial management systems that serves professional services companies worldwide (including 62 of America's 100 largest law firms). Elite was recently acquired by Thomson, the content powerhouse that owns NewsEdge and Dialog.
"Three elements drive law firm profitability," says Matt Devoll, vice president of marketing at Thomson Elite, "profit margins on work done, productivity of fee earners, and the leverage that partners get by driving work through attorneys below the partner level. Elite's tools combine to allow a firm to operate more profitably—for example—through conflict checking and allowing documents to be repurposed throughout the firm. The addition of Thomson business news into our platform, whether it is access to the latest news about clients along with the client record, or as part of the conflict checking tool when new clients are being considered, increases productivity and organization profitability."