Welcome to The Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize and distribute content in an efficient way.
In episode 27, we discussed the myth of uniqueness, or, the “we are special” syndrome. Unique needs of published content are not always the best criteria for determining content processes.
Bill Swallow: Hi everybody, I’m Bill Swallow and I’m the director of operations at Scriptorium. Today I am here with Alan Pringle who is the COO.
Alan Pringle: Hello everybody.
BS: A common concern that we hear from companies is that they have a unique or very industry specific need, and they need to have a very unique solution or industry-standard content strategy solution to support that need. While it’s absolutely true that the content they deliver and how they deliver it may be unique or may need to be done in a very specific manner, do they necessarily need a custom content development solution or a custom workflow? Alan?
AP: Well, I’m going to be the consultant yet again in this podcast and say, “it depends.” There’s several aspects you have to look at but there is one fundamental thing that pops into my mind immediately. And that is you shouldn’t confuse the specificity or the uniqueness of your subject matter that you’re working in or the types of delivery formats you have with the process for developing content. One way to kind of illustrate this is you can use a typewriter—yes a typewriter from the 20th century—or a word processing program if you want to update things up, update things to the digital age.
AP: So you can use a typewriter or a word processing program to write a novel or to type out the specifications for a product or create some marking literature or whatever. So that one tool can help you write the content for all of those different things. Now, you may need to present those different types of content in a different way but at the core, you’ve still got this program or this device that helps you string together words to form sentences, paragraphs and whatever else. So that’s one way of looking at it.
BS: Very true. But when we get into the whole “we are special” mindset, what are some of the things that come into play that kind of cause that mindset and have people go down that road of, we’re special so we need this very special solution.
AP: Well, one of them, and I touched on that just a few seconds ago, is subject matter. You’re writing about a very, very specific particular thing or subject matter. For example, you may be writing about very specific finance related information or legal information. In those cases, that is fairly specialized. Medical, that’s another one very specialized. That’s one thing that can cause people to think we are unique. Another aspect and you’ve kind of touched on this already too, I believe, in your intro is the delivery format, the output. What is the format that the content is going to be in?
AP: Sometimes there are very, very specific requirements and they may be driven by regulation, for example, that … For example, like PDF must be laid out in a very particular manner for nuclear regulatory content. That’s one example I can think of immediately. So you’ve got both the subject matter is one aspect and then the output format, what it kind of looks like, is another angle that can make people think, “my stuff is too unique to use a standard process.”
BS: In addition to having those specific formats and layouts that are required of these regulatory agencies, you probably also have a lot of cases where the content needs to be approved by certain governmental authorities or industry authorities before it can be published and so forth. I can see how you do fall into this mindset of “this content is very specific, very unique and we can’t just use anything off-the-shelf to produce it.” With that in mind, what are some of the things that companies can start looking at on the content development side of things and the workflow and processes side that may be applicable to them even though it’s not necessarily an industry standard by their term?
AP: One way to approach these special needs or unique needs is, can this stuff be templatized, can it be setup with, for example, structured content so you are addressing those very specific needs the same way over and over again. It’s easy to fall into this trap of I am special, therefore, I … It’s an anything-goes kind of situation, it really is not. You need to be following things very specifically especially if you’re writing highly regulated content, there are very specific parameters that you need to follow. And one way to help enforce those parameters is to use templates, to use structure, I’m sure there’s some other ways too. Basically, have technology help you reinforce all of the things that you perceive that make your content special and do it in a way that is as efficient and repeatable as possible.
BS: Right. And many times I do hear from companies that they’re looking at what their competitors are doing with regard to content development and content distribution. So they’re looking at … They’re looking at their competitors and seeing, they’re all using this same system or they’re all using this same framework for developing their content, therefore, we have to do that too. And it might be a case where that system or that framework might be 10, 15, 20 years old and could be held together by duct tape and string on the IT side just to keep it running. So at what point in and in what ways should companies start looking to kind of sever themselves from these older processes that may not hold up to modern needs?
AP: I think you’ve already laid out a pretty good case. I mean, money and time are very important and I don’t care what kind of organization you are, there are limits to how much money and the level of resources that you have. So, at some point when these processes become so custom, so manual that it just becomes unsustainable. And there’s also the angle too if you’re talking about tools based on technology from 10, 15 years ago, what if a tool vendor goes out of business, what if they are acquired and a tool is discontinued. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of, “this tool is going away,” that being the thing that forces your hand. That to me, and I know what happens, but I would prefer to be ahead of the curve and not be forced by tool going under to change my process.
BS: Very true because you may have this special tool and maybe have some rolling updates every once in a while from that company but if those updates cease then you run the risk of antiquating your own system as operating systems, server demands and other things start snowballing over time. You might not be able to eventually run the software on a particular computer.
AP: Right. And the operating systems change and now there’s this whole divide about hosted solutions, cloud-based solutions versus installed on premise type solutions. That kind of throws another wrench into everything too. And in the day of increasingly geographically distributed teams, that plays into it too. Offices may not be as traditional, they used to be everybody’s in one place, that also was going to play into this idea of specialness, uniqueness as well.
BS: Very true. Looking at the unique needs versus some of these potential systems limitations over time, what are some of the things that companies can start thinking about? I know you had already mentioned that you could type either a novel or documentation on the same typewriter or the same word processor as an example, but what are some of the things that companies can start looking at to kind of sever the notion between … Or sever the notion that workflow must be unique because needs are unique.
AP: That’s a tougher question and it really … This is where having a third party come in, here we go, hire a consultant, yeah we said. To have someone come in and help you look at things with a more objective point of view to help filter out the things that are more common to the content creation, management and distribution process versus things that indeed very specific to what that particular company or organization is doing. And here’s a good example of this that I’m thinking of in particular. We have two clients one of whom is in the medical field and another is in the financial field. Both of these clients, they both have the subject matter experts who contribute content on a part-time basis. These are not professional content creators, professional authors. They are people who are subject matter experts in their respective fields and they offer information to these organizations and turn it in, for example, in a word processing document, a word document.
AP: What’s interesting to me is that even though both of these organizations are creating completely divergent different content—one is very specifically medical, one’s very much into the finance world—they still have the same exact problem of getting those Word documents from their subject matter experts into their publishing systems, which were also pretty different, for what it’s worth. But they still had that same exact core nugget, that problem and they’re trying to figure out ways to integrate in that content that is coming in from these subject matter experts who do not want to be bothered with learning some high-end authoring tool. They’re very comfortable with Word, that’s what they’re going to use and frankly these organizations don’t want the subject matter experts, their document processing skills are not what’s important. It is their brain, their knowledge about the particular subjects.
AP: That’s where I see an overlap that maybe these two organizations wouldn’t have really thought about. Because why would you think about an accounting organization if you’re in the medical field. And a consultant can help you kind of pinpoint those commonalities and say, you know what, well I know a company that addressed it this way, that’s where the third viewpoint really comes in handy, I think.
BS: That’s good point. And likewise, it’s not necessarily just being able to bring in that content that they’re developing in let’s say Microsoft Word or sending it via email in an email message, but also you also have the same problems, I think, regardless of what industry you’re in with regard to qualitative assurance of the content and being able to do those reviews efficiently. You also have the same problems when you start realizing that you have a lot of the same content and you’re duplicating it maybe 10 to 100 times throughout all your publications and discovering that they’re not all exactly the same. Or when you need to make a change that you are suddenly making changes in 100 different places. These issues definitely are not unique to any one particular type of company or industry or what have you.
AP: They’re universal. They absolutely are. You and I have been at this particular line of work for a very long time and it is always … It’s interesting to me to see how such different completely different industries have at the root identical challenges when it comes to maintaining their content. It really is, it can be surprising.
BS: I guess to address some of the commonalities that are there, I think it’s probably best for companies not to necessarily just look… We talked about the pitfalls of looking at tools first to formulate a solution but I guess to take a step back and look at all of the workflows that are in place and all the pain points that companies are facing before even trying to figure out what tools, what systems, what publishing mechanisms do we need.
AP: It can be very easy to think… You get so caught up your own systems, your own processes that it kind of insulates you into thinking that you’re the only person facing these particular types of challenges. I had really come up against this with someone doing home repairs on my house. I’m having some bathrooms renovated right now and the contractor I’m working with, he was explaining some of the challenges he has with estimating projects, working with more difficult clients and things like that. And here I’m thinking, we have the same job basically. He’s using physical tools—saws, hammers, tile saws, whatever—and I’m using more digital tools but we are facing some of the same exact kinds of customer challenges and issues. So, it made me realize, you know what, we’re not that different, I’m not that special. Scriptorium is not that special. That sounds horrible. That’s not very good marketing, is it?
BS: Alan’s bathroom is not that special.
AP: Right. But it really has driven this whole kind of thing we’re talking about home to me. It’s easy to get caught up in your own stuff and that’s when having a third party come in can really help you a whole lot. And so you don’t basically buy into your own hype.
BS: So no navel-gazing.
AP: Yes. Pretty much, yeah.
BS: I think that’s probably a pretty good place to leave it then. Thank You, Alan.
BS: Thank you for listening to The Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, please visit scriptorium.com or check the show notes for relevant links.