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April 10, 2019

Full transcript of Building a business case for structured authoring (podcast)

Bill Swallow:            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.

B. Swallow:                In episode 49, we discuss the value of structured authoring and building a business case.

B. Swallow:               Hi everyone, I’m Bill Swallow and I’m here today with Stephani Clark of Jorsek, the makers of easyDITA. Hi Stephani.

Stephani Clark:         Hi Bill.

B. Swallow:               Today we’re going to talk a bit about structured authoring and the value it brings and building a business case for it. So, jumping right in, where do you start when evaluating the value of structured authoring?

S. Clark:                    Well, I think that the first things you have to understand are, what are your current costs? And then you need to also understand where you can actually gain some savings or efficiencies or cut some of those costs. That’s where you’re going to really find that figure that you’re looking for when you’re trying to demonstrate the value of structured authoring and put together, ultimately, a business case and prove the ROI to it.

B. Swallow:               Looking at the current costs, what type of costs are you generally looking at?

S. Clark:                    You have the cost of your current technical documentation team. How many people do you have? What are you paying them? How many hours do they spend on different types of activities? I also like to look at whether you have any learning and training content that you might be able to pull in. Also, how your support personnel is used. If they’re contributing to content or if you think there might be a way to actually offset some of the cost of support by delivering content in a better way.

B. Swallow:               Okay. In looking at that, I guess you’re taking a look at the general cost of doing business today and looking at what you’re trying to do in the future. Where do you start finding these opportunities for savings?

S. Clark:                    Well, it varies a little bit business to business. But, typically, when you’re implementing a structured authoring solution, you’re going to look for savings in reuse, in publishing. Maybe in the review or authoring process, if there’s any efficiencies there. Oftentimes, if you’re translating, there are a lot of savings to be had in translation. And you might be able to find some other areas as well. We often like to look at ticket deflection depending on the type of implementation. That can be another savings area.

B. Swallow:               One thing that we generally try to talk about as well when we’re talking to our clients is about what we call content velocity, or the amount of time it takes from starting to develop content to being able to publish it. Being able to reduce that overall time span.

S. Clark:                    Yeah, definitely. I’m sure you probably look at things like reduced time to market, if that’s a factor, as part of that content velocity, correct?

B. Swallow:               Absolutely.

S. Clark:                    Yeah.

B. Swallow:               So, looking at these current costs and, I guess, the future goals, how would you go about aligning that?

S. Clark:                    If you have a good ROI calculator to work with, that’s a good place to start. I know Scriptorium has a good one up on their website I sometimes point people to. We’ve also developed an ROI calculator. There’s a whole bunch of them out there. I think that that’s a good place to start with the actual calculations. But, the thing you want to keep in mind throughout the whole process, in my opinion, is consistently looking at what’s good for your business and where the value lies. Whether that’s something that you’re calculating or if it’s a value to the company in another way. Consistently keeping your eye on that ball, demonstrating that value.

B. Swallow:               Absolutely. Looking at your team as well, is there value in them continually manually formatting things or manually updating things in multiple different places? Or is their time spent doing something else in addition to just developing the content? Are there things that you just haven’t had the time to get to?

S. Clark:                    Yeah, definitely. I like to start with getting that baseline of, how are people spending their time now? We use a productivity tool to track where our time is being spent internally. There’s a lot of free tools out there. But we ran a survey, and you mentioned time spent copying and pasting. I think we found, of all the respondents out of a 43-hour work week, people, on average, were spending two and a half hours just copying and pasting or looking for content. That’s where you’re really going to start to find the value is just by getting some of that baseline information. It quickly becomes evident the areas that you don’t want people to be wasting their time doing those types of tasks.

B. Swallow:               Wow, that’s crazy. Just copy, paste, copy, paste.

S. Clark:                    Yes, yes. Not the best use of a tech writer’s time, if you ask me.

B. Swallow:               No. You start looking at your overall costs and you’re looking at the types of things that you want to accomplish by moving to a new way of doing things. You’ve built up a bit of a foundation for a return on investment. How do you go about building a business case for that?

S. Clark:                    Once you’ve identified where your savings opportunities are going to be and you’ve been able to quantify some of that, I think you start to build some of the story around that. Part of it is, here’s where we can save. Here’s how much we can save. But also going back to demonstrating value. Here are the goals of the company for the next few years and in order to accomplish these goals, it’s very important that we implement this type of solution. Just keeping that value at the forefront of the conversation. As you’re looking at the calculations and all the numbers, you also have to be able to really tell the story of why this is important.

B. Swallow:               And with regards to value, can you give an example of what you’ve seen used to kind of make that case?

S. Clark:                    Yeah. My favorite kind of case is one where we have localization because localization is very costly and quickly pays back. So, I’ve had customers I’ve worked with that they went in and calculated, “okay, we can save $2 million in year one on localization.” That makes a really easy case because as soon as you look at the $2 million savings and then you look at your cost of implementing a structured authoring solution. It very quickly becomes evident that your payback’s going to be there. But I’ve also seen a lot of cases where they might have a different set of priorities. So, another customer is looking at globalizing their product and they want to start delivering content in different languages. Or, another one has acquired another company and they are looking to streamline their documentation processes and combine the collective knowledge of those two organizations. So, there’s all kinds of different ways that companies might demonstrate that value. It’s going to be somewhat specific to what your company’s goals are, what your team’s goals are, and also, where you can find some benefits and opportunities for savings.

B. Swallow:               Talking specifically about looking at the big picture, I know that a lot of people who work within documentation teams and so forth, they have a very strong grasp of what the requirements are to get the job done. I guess, to put it very basically. How do you recommend people start bringing that bigger picture view into their teams? And how would they go about doing that in a way that they can then talk about value with, let’s say, an executive who’s holding the money purse?

S. Clark:                    I think that it starts with your team. You need to have the whole team on board with the overall vision. Once you start talking about that in your regular meetings with your team members, oftentimes I think you’ll be surprised to hear some of the great ideas that can come from the team on other ways to benefit from a new approach. I definitely think it’s a good place to start.

S. Clark:                    But as you work your way up, I suggest you need to be preparing for this well ahead of when your budget is due or when your upcoming fiscal year starts. I recommend that you’re starting to put that case together at least six months before you’re getting ready to go and actually pitch it to the people that hold the purse strings. To have all of your homework done when you go into that meeting. You can talk about value and these big picture ideas, but you also have to have some information to back that up. I think if you go into that meeting with both of those things, with the demonstrated calculations and ROI as well as the bigger picture vision that you and your team have worked on as far as what you can do to really drive documentation forward in the company, then you’re aligned for success, hopefully.

B. Swallow:               Hopefully.

S. Clark:                    Hopefully. What do you typically suggest going into that meeting? I know that can be a scary thing for a lot of people.

B. Swallow:               Yeah, it can be. I think the number one thing to remember is that your grasp, especially if you’re working in, let’s say, a technical writing role, your grasp of where that value is, is going to be very different from what your target audience’s grasp of value is when you have that conversation about getting funding for this type of stuff. You may be looking at things from, “oh, we can maximize reuse, we can automate some stuff, and we can build multiple different outputs.” Looking at things from a nuts and bolts angle is not the way to go about it because the person who’s going to make the decision that, “yes, you get this chunk of money,” is more interested in the higher-level benefits.

B. Swallow:               So, this means that if you’re going to be able to reuse content, what does that mean from a business perspective? How does that help me sell into a particular market? How does that help me realize revenue sooner? So, looking at it from those lines. Not being able to say, “this makes my job easier,” but be able to turn that on its head and say, “this allows us to do more and to be able to address a lot of the larger, bigger picture items that the business is worried about.” Focusing on that reduction in time for production. Focusing on that expansion into multiple languages with minimal extra effort, or with minimal extra cost. Those things really start raising eyebrows. But talking about, “oh, this makes my job easier. I can now write a manual once and then reuse a bunch of different pieces and put things together as we need to.” People who are worried about the business angle are going to say, “okay, that’s great, but how does that help me?” So, you have to be able to keep that in mind.

S. Clark:                    Yeah. You make a really great point there. I like to sometimes use a method called the so-what method. When I’m working on building a case for something, say I look at it and I say, “okay, I think we can save 30% of the time that is currently spent on formatting our published outputs.” And then you ask yourself, “so what? What does that mean?” Well, that means that 30% of the time that the team is spending now can be spent on other activities. So what? Well, we have this directive to do this. So what? And on and on. I basically sometimes will just ask myself, “so what?” Until I really distill it down to the point of “oh, here’s the value.”

B. Swallow:               Yeah, I’m almost reminded of when my kids were little, constantly asking me, “why?” Every time I give them an answer. They just wanted to keep knowing, “why? But, why? But, why?”

S. Clark:                    Oh gosh. I’m in that boat now. I’ve got the three-year-old at home. I’m adept at answering questions about all manner of three-year-old inquisitions.

B. Swallow:               But I guess that really solidifies the so-what model for you.

S. Clark:                    Yeah. I mean, I just keep going. His is “why?” In this case you could ask, “why?” I guess, but I ask, “so what?” Basically, what does this really mean in the larger scheme of things?

B. Swallow:               Cool. Well, thank you Stephani for joining us today and talking about building a business case for structured authoring.

S. Clark:                    Oh, it’s been my pleasure, Bill. It’s been great chatting with you about this.

B. Swallow:               If people want to reach out to you for more information, how should they contact you?

S. Clark:                    They can check out our website at My email is stephani (dot) clark (at) jorsek (dot) com. Or, they can obviously contact us through our website as well.

B. Swallow:               You guys are going to be at DITA North America as well, right?

S. Clark:                    Yeah, I’m excited. I will be there.

B. Swallow:               Cool, looking forward to seeing you. Now you have a different talk going on there, correct?

S. Clark:                    Yeah. I’m giving a talk with one of our customers, F5 Networks, on how they got away from the SME PDF review. So, we’re excited to go present that case study.

B. Swallow:              Excellent. Yeah, we’ll be there as well. I believe Sarah O’Keefe and Gretyl Kinsey both have sessions going on, on the first day of the conference. We’re going to be set up. We’ll probably see each other both on the trade floor at some point. I think we’re also hosting an ice cream social on Sunday before check-in. So, if you’re attending DITA North America, look for an email coming out, or you should have had it by the time this podcast comes out, with a coupon for free ice cream.

S. Clark:                    Always love free ice cream.

B. Swallow:               Great, well-

S. Clark:                    Well, I’m looking forward to seeing you there.

B. Swallow:               Yeah, same here.

S. Clark:                    We’ll have a booth as well if anyone wants to come by and get any more information.

B. Swallow:               Excellent. Alright, so hopefully we’ll see a bunch of people there. Thanks again, Stephani.

S. Clark:                    Alright. Thank you, Bill. You have a great rest of your day.

B. Swallow:               You too.

B. Swallow:               Thank you for listening to the Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit or check the show notes for relevant links.