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Don't Start With Technology

by Ann Rockley

I've seen dozens of companies waste hundreds of thousands of dollars because they chose their management tools before they had a clear understanding of their business needs, information life cycle and content.

One telecommunications company I encountered - let's use the pseudonym "Telset" to protect the innocent - purchased a Web content-management system, yet it hadn't gathered requirements from training, documentation, marketing or any other department. The system soon proved inadequate for the customer-support process, and the company faced a difficult choice: spend $300,000 customizing the product (with iffy chances of success) or buy a second, XML-based enterprise content-management system for $250,000.

Find out where it hurts. How can you avoid this kind of costly mistake? Start by identifying the pain points. Talk to management and everyone involved in the content life cycle to identify the real problems.

Telset learned that Web site content was updated well after marketing campaigns were launched, so customers would often find old or no information on new products. Intranet content also was out of sync, so call-center staff frequently found out about campaigns when customers called in to ask for more information. Customers were frustrated and sales were lost, but technology alone wasn't the problem. The company needed to redesign its content-development process first and then choose a technology that could support an integrated approach.

Know your flow. Content is developed in many ways within many different departments. It's important to talk to everyone (or at least representatives of each group) involved in the content life cycle: authors, reviewers, translation/localization staff and content publishers. Look for ways to keep what works and to eliminate or minimize the problems.

The marketing department at Telset passed completed print brochures and newspaper ads as is - Word and Quark files - to the Web team and call center and expected the content to "get out there" correctly. Print materials were treated and managed as records, but the company had no way of recording "snapshots" of its Web site - a potential compliance risk. The company needed to manage multichannel content, interdepartmental workflows and legally significant business records, yet these capabilities weren't available in the Web content-management system it purchased.

Get out the microscope. You need a deep understanding of the nature and structure of your content. Audit the different types of content and digital assets you need to manage, determine whether you need to manage whole documents or components of documents, and look for opportunities to reuse content.

Telset discovered that a lot of content could be reused, though not at the document level. Component-based management was needed to reuse product, price and program description information across print and Web media.

Look for a better way. Once you know your business issues, life-cycle gaps and the nature of your content, you're ready to design better processes and make the right technology decisions. Between process changes and new tools and technologies, design better processes to address as many pain points as possible.

Telnet ended up choosing the $250,000, XML-based management system so the marketing department could create content within componentized forms. This granular content will be used to create Internet and intranet content, brochures and print ads, so the call center will have appropriate training documentation before campaigns are launched. Once marketing content is approved, product data on the Internet site will be updated automatically.

Don't make the mistake of letting technology dictate what you can do with your content. By analyzing your content and envisioning better processes first, you can define the functionality needed and make an informed technology selection.

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