The New Rosetta Stone
Finding Unity in the Content Experience

I often try to simplify things which aren’t simple. But I’ve learned over time that certain universal themes tend to run true. One of them is the 80/20 rule—if you can solve the “80” part with a common solution, then the “20” part is a heck of a lot easier to manage. More on that later.

Back to over-simplifying: When I spoke with Howard Schwartz, senior vice president of content technologies at SDL for this article, I immediately tried to categorize—“pigeonhole” was my term—what SDL’s market position is, exactly. “That’s a good question,” he replied, “because we didn’t think the market segments—the pigeonholes—of the past properly addressed the ways in which organizations truly need to deliver information.

“We came out of the localization field, but we saw that globalization and content management were really part of a single stream. It’s the same process to update customers with information across both markets and languages,” he explained.

“The touchpoints for customer engagement are many. Companies need to think about all those touchpoints at the same time. How do you do that? Keeping communication localized is key to synchronizing the customer engagement. The trick is to have a consistent message, but one that also can vary by market and locale,” said Howard.

I describe it as both a “macro” and a “micro” problem. At the macro level, businesses need to behave globally by providing language translation, addressing cultural demands, adhering to business regulations and so on. At the micro level, businesses need to normalize their content at the source in order to create a common version of the truth... a lingua franca.

Looking at the same problem in a different way, you have the internal challenge of maintaining technical documentation, training materials and other operational content in  a way that can be shared and leveraged across departments and business functions. And taken yet another step further, those various touchpoints where your customers engage also demand a similar cross-fertilization of content.

SDL sees it all as the same problem viewed through different lenses. It’s kind of profound.

The Content Rosetta Stone
It also begs the question: What are you gonna do about it? Frequent KMWorld readers know this question: Can the content management challenge be met by a single solution? “That’s the mistake many organizations have made,” said Howard. “Our answer is no. We think there needs to be a best-of-breed integration of many solutions.” And it makes sense: Structured and unstructured content is being mass produced every minute of the day by any number of business applications, ranging from Microsoft Office tools right through to ERP systems and transactional applications. They are, I would argue, by definition NOT manageable under a single system.

Here’s an example Howard shared: “In certain technology markets—and increasingly even in consumer markets—something like 80% of customers buy without ever touching the product. But they do download the technical documentation before they purchase. So the intersection between that front-end Web experience and the back-end documentation now has to be a seamless customer experience.”

This seamlessness is based in large measure on the ability of the various content generators to agree on a common language. This is where standardized content-creation tools such as DITA (read more about it in Howard’s article) come into play. Knowing that content generation will ALWAYS come from mixed sources, if you at least agree on a standard baseline, you have a far greater chance of achieving the goal of cross-fertilization. This is my version of the 80/20 rule at play; it’s as though there’s a new Rosetta stone that reveals the unanimity of the content, rather than its diversity.

The implications for the organization are enormous. If technical documents can be easily translated to the Web, for instance, then that static set of PDFs can become a self-guided tour through problem self-resolution. Fewer calls to the call center; better customer experience; and, oh, by the way, part of the “self-guidance” can be tweaked in such a way to urge the customer to upgrade or make a new purchase. Value creation plus cost avoidance is within reach thanks to an emerging common content-creation language. Now take it a step further: If everyone is publishing with the same tool, there’s no reason not to invite the community of users to generate content in the form of responses, criticisms and shared advice back into the newly enriched content cycle. It’s exactly the kind of closed-loop cycle that has always defined what we have been calling knowledge management since the early ‘90s.

It’s kind of exciting to see it finally arrive!  

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