Get Smart: Architecting Content for Maximum Value

Article ImageIt sounds simple enough: We'll architect our content to maximize its value to the business. Everyone can get behind that. Of course, it's not quite as simple as it sounds. This would explain why very few organizations actually walk the talk and direct consistent attention, and investment, toward architecting their content with a view to maximizing its value. It's not that most organizations don't see the need or that they don't want to do it. It's just that it has proven remarkably difficult.

There are many reasons architecting content is so hard. One is that the tools and standards that allow us to work with the real complexities of content have only now begun to mature. Another is that the mainstream technology infrastructure has only recently become fully capable of leveraging richly designed content. As examples, the revolution sparked by social media and full-featured mobile devices has recently provided engaging new channels through which to deliver content. With these new channels enjoying high levels of media, and therefore management and attention, many publishing units have been tasked with addressing them as a matter of urgent priority. Finally, it is only with more than 20 years of experience that the community of content practitioners has established the store of lessons learned that can guide how we architect our content and the associated technologies. The good news is that these pieces are now in place, and organizations can now tackle the question of how to best architect their content assets so as to maximize the value being returned.

Content, almost by definition, is what we are trying to communicate. It is the way we deliver useful information. It has always been a challenge to design content that can play this role efficiently and effectively. It was a challenge when all we had to worry about was producing high-quality printed documents. And while we still need to produce good hard copy today, we also need to address a seemingly endless array of new and changing channels. Organizations have come to the realization that we really do need to architect our content differently for today's marketplace.

If I were to summarize in a single word how we need to design our content, I would suggest that it must become fundamentally more "intelligent." We need content that, once it has been prepared, can interact with smart automation to respond dynamically to the many different channels and contexts where it may be used. Content that has been cast into a single physical form, no matter how high its quality, will be seriously limited in its potential value if someone has to intervene manually each time a new demand surfaces. One of the harshest lessons that we have learned over the years is that automation is essential if we want our content investments to scale up to the level of usage where real benefits are generated. And as we have also learned, there is no magic in automation. If we want automation to handle wide-ranging customer requirements effectively, then we need to invest in how the content itself is designed.

It is not simply a matter of embracing a bucket of open standards, as that, by itself, leads nowhere. It is not simply a question of purchasing a given technology no matter how completely it claims to streamline all the tasks revolving around content. What is called for is the adoption of a pragmatic approach to investing in the design of intelligent content and in the smart automation that leverages that intelligence. More important still is the need balancing these investments with a continuous stream of innovations to satisfy customers' needs. Unless we engage real customers doing real things, then all of our investments in intelligent content and smart automation will drift off track. In fact, I would argue that content is only intelligent and automation is only smart when they have been grounded in actual business improvements that validate those investments.

When we survey all the changes happening in the field of publishing, it is difficult not to feel excited. Experience has shown that tremendous things can be achieved when we architect content to be intelligent and leverage that intelligence to realize escalating benefits now and in the future.