Content That Travels Well: The Global Content Management Challenge

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Connecting Content
Once the language barriers come down, the next question is—what to do with all that information that comes flooding in? If an American country opens its first Asia-Pacific office, it has to accommodate a larger, unified content repository that employees in both offices can access easily. And if a website launches its first European version, it has to accommodate a database with different address formats, languages, and measurement systems. The global content hierarchy spreads horizontally past the siloed information residing in one office’s CMS to include versions in Spanish, Korean, or other languages, and it spreads vertically to account for the increased volume of content constantly streaming in from around the world. And wherever the content is hosted, it needs to be accessible to the right people at the right time—even if it’s 3 a.m. where you are.

It seems like a conundrum—besides being bigger, a good GMS tool needs to be more nimble and adaptable. A number of GMS products are web-based, to allow anytime access from a universally accessible entry point. They’re also designed to serve as either extensions or features of regular CMS or to fit on top of an existing CMS. Freeway, for instance, can integrate into any standard CMS, or it can stand alone as a web application.

XyEnterprise’s Contenta is an XML-based CMS also designed for a high-traffic, multi-office, multi-national content flow. “From an architectural perspective, we offer thin, web-based clients that allow remote users to fully participate in the content creation and delivery,” in addition to a full-client solution for in-house content needs, according to Mary Parsons, director of marketing communications at XyEnterprise. A system with heavy traffic, like an editorial server, needs to take into account the way content moves—not just how it sits on the digital shelves.

For some companies, a good global policy means centralizing information as much as possible. Avaya, a business communications company, used Interwoven’s CMS to shrink 880 unmanageable regional websites into three regional standards serving as the basis for 25 country-specific sites. It had struggled to maintain brand consistency through its vast international presence; by consolidating sites and moving product data to a single global repository, Avaya was able to achieve unified feel and information without sacrificing global presence.

Mirror Image’s Global Content Caching tool, on the other hand, deals with the increased external traffic by decentralizing information among remote servers to make hosted videos or dynamic content available for web distribution within minutes. Streaming video deals with heavy traffic spikes, and on a global scale, that can overwhelm even the biggest bandwidth. Global Content Caching can distribute content among a series of smaller, strategically located networks and repositories to limit server overload. It’s also capable of localizing services based on individual IP addresses. That can mean deciding which server it would be best to bounce the stream to, or even whether to show the Mexico or Italy soccer match when the page loads.

Some products, like Xerox’s DocuShare, turn a GMS into a collaborative platform by incorporating Web 2.0 tools across the system, like a company-wide wiki where users can contribute their own expertise to piece together a whole product picture. “Wikis are an interesting way to allow rapid convergence across cultural values,” says John Gonzalez, Xerox senior product line manager. “The wiki provides ways to self-correct and get to a common understanding in terms of product features or collective ideas.” DocuShare also allows employees to attach RSS feeds to content within the system to receive real-time modification and workflow updates.

Finding One Format That Fits
“We create the biggest challenge ourselves as vendors by not speaking a unified language,” says Giunti Labs North America COO Stephan Thieringer. Thieringer’s company specializes in customized elearning management for a global workplace, and he also contributes to the European Union’s Prolix Project, a research and development project aimed at creating a unified, integrated learning network that manages employee training by tracking and storing data about individual knowledge patterns and skill sets. He advocates the adoption of international elearning standard Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), which relies on complex sets of data that structure real-time learning sequences while recording user progress and response.

To Thieringer, widespread, international SCORM adoption adds value to the elearning process by making it a comprehensive, consistent process. “It’s not about how sexy your technology is, it’s about how I can give you as a learner the greatest amount of information in the shortest amount of time.”

Cultural barriers stand in the way, though. “The willingness to adopt technology is a big component of accessibility,” says Thieringer. For instance, Americans use mobile technology very differently from their European counterparts and are less willing to sacrifice data privacy for the Prolix Project’s vision of an international elearning standard. While SCORM adoption is one component to bringing countries together into a unified system, Thieringer says that it’s just one instance of how format standards can work globally.

Another standard being pushed in the GMS market is XML. Several widely used content globalization tools, like XyEnter­prise’s Contenta and Xerox’s DocuShare, leverage XML to create and label content. The portability of XML is ideal for global offices that need maximum flexibility in the content flow. A more specific XML-based architecture, DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture), is also used to help create the complex taxonomies of parent and child documents when multiple versions are being created and maintained simultaneously.

“While we endorse and promote the use of XML, the reality is that many of our customers—particularly in globally diverse deployments—have to deal with myriad types of content,” says XyEnterprise’s Parsons. “The more diverse and distributed the user base is, the more likely it is that the CMS will need to manage a wide variety of structured and unstructured content.” Even if a global standard takes hold, there will always be varying formats to accommodate. Little details like language encryptions vary between single-byte (such as English) and double-byte (such as Japanese) within files. A GMS needs to allow for variations while managing conversion to a unified, usable format for company-wide use.

Going Global
“You don’t want clients adapting their business to your technology, you want technology to adapt to the business process,” says Thieringer. A good GMS, like a CMS, is designed to allow the content to shine, not the system. Analysts and experts agree that content globalization is easiest when creators and information architects structure their data and networks with worldwide distribution in mind from the outset. Establishing a reliable and consistent translation process, leaving room for both horizontal and vertical scaling, and creating content in a consistent format can all smooth the transition, but no solution fits all situations. Most experts see the future of GMS in hybrid models that tailor elements of scalability, flexibility, and portability to each individual client’s needs. There’s a whole world of opportunity in today’s global market; a smart GMS strategy can make the content feel at home wherever it goes.

Companies Featured in this Article
Giunti Labs
Mirror Image
The Well Project
Trados, Inc.

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