How-to guide offers tips for content contentment

When people hear the word “”content”” they often think of what’s on a Web site. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Every bit of paper, every ad, every manual, every press release developed anywhere in a company projects a message that needs to be accurate and consistent, regardless of where in

the organization it was authored.

That’s no easy task, especially if the material is created in what the authors of Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy call “”content silos””: areas within a company that don’t necessarily communicate with each other or share what they author. For example, a product design document may go to both marketing and training. Each of them develops materials based on the document, but say things in different ways. All of these derivatives have to be checked and managed, and perhaps translated for distribution — an expensive and time-consuming proposition.

What if, instead, a set of common elements was created, which could be combined as required to form whatever was needed? Wouldn’t that be faster, cheaper, and more accurate?

Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy is all about building such systems. Authors Ann Rockley, Pamela Kostur and Steve Manning of the Toronto-based Rockley Group go through it all: Why you should consider a unified content strategy, how to justify it (how many tech books have you seen with a chapter on return on investment?), and how to implement it. In its six sections and 565 pages, the book starts by defining a unified content strategy and finishes with a series of checklists that help you navigate the process.

The book is written for people who know nothing about formal content management, though they may be content managers or information architects or authors. IT folks and business managers will discover food for thought as well.

It starts by talking about the philosophy behind the Rockley Group’s unified content strategy, and shows how to calculate the savings it can generate in dollars, time and opportunity. It also explains things that the strategy can’t help.

From there, it heads into the realm of the content audit, showing how to evaluate what already exists, and the processes that create it. Then you get into information modeling — the formalization of the structure of the content — and metadata and workflow design.

Part IV gets into tools and technologies, where the authors not only discuss criteria for systems, they list specific questions you need to ask vendors when you’re evaluating products for your own use.

Appendices A through D are must-reads as well. They provide checklists of tools, vendors, and procedures necessary to create that unified content, and also talk about the realities of writing for multiple media, including the Web, wireless devices and cell phones.

I think one of the most valuable sections is near the end of the book. It moves away from technology to talk about how the new way of working will affect people. “”Identify the pain, issues, and consequences”” reads one section heading, and we’re taken from there through the causes of and possible solutions to that pain. People hate change. People who have worked alone sometimes fear collaboration. They may feel threatened by the notion of unified content, or feel that their creativity is being stifled. Unless those fears are successfully addressed, the best strategy will fail.

Physically, this is a rather fat book, but for good reason. The publisher used a decent-sized typeface and sufficient white space to make it extremely readable. Some of the tables are a bit dense, but the organization is textbook-like, with summaries of the highlights at the end of each chapter, an extensive glossary and a twenty-seven page index.

This volume should be on the bookshelf of every manager or author who has to cope with any sort of content, whether or not they’re even contemplating a unified content management strategy.

Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy. Ann Rockley with Pamela Kostur and Steve Manning. New Riders Publishing, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2003. $62.99. You can read sample chapters, and try out the ROI calculator at http://www.managingenterprisecontent.com

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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