Content reuse: How do you recognize redundancy? (webcast)

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How do you recognize content redundancy? Chris Hill of DCL and Alan Pringle discuss content reuse and share some great insights about managing reuse as part of your content strategy.

“You are going to be reducing your localization costs, because every time you reuse and reduce the amount of source content, you are doing the same exact thing in every language that you’re translating to.”

–Alan Pringle

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Transcript:

Marianne Calilhanna:     Hello, and welcome to the DCL Learning Series. Today’s webinar is titled “Content Reuse: The Easy Way.” My name is Marianne Calilhanna, and I’m the Vice President of Marketing at Data Conversion Laboratory. I’ll be your moderator today. Just a couple of quick things before we begin. This webinar is being recorded and it will be available in the on-demand section of our website at dataconversionlaboratory.com. Second, we invite you to submit questions at any time during today’s presentation. We’ll save 15 minutes at the end for your questions. We have two industry experts with us, so this is your chance to ask them anything.

This webinar is brought to you by Data Conversion Laboratory, or DCL as we are also known. Our mission is to structure the world’s content. DCL’s services and solutions are all about converting, structuring, and enriching content and data. We’re one of the leading providers of XML conversion services, DITA conversion, SPL conversion, and S1000D conversion. If you have complex data, content and data challenges, we can help.

I’m delighted to introduce our panelists today. Joining us, we have Chris Hill, Technical Product Manager at Data Conversion Laboratory, and Alan Pringle, Chief Operating Officer at Scriptorium. Alan, can you tell us a little bit about Scriptorium? And Alan, if you are speaking, we can’t hear you.

Alan Pringle:     Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?

MC:     Now we can hear you, yes.

AP: Okay, good. Our focus is on optimizing product and technical content. What we’ll do is come in and do a content strategy assessment to see how well a company’s content is supporting its business goals, and localization is often a big part of those goals. After we make recommendations, we will provide them in a report, and we will also come in and do the configuration and the implementation on the solution that we recommend, and then offer training and continuing support on those toolsets.

Chris Hill:     All right. Well, I’m Chris Hill, as Marianne said, with DCL. And, um, so the title of today’s webinar is – it includes “The Easy Way.” So, Alan, computer-based publishing has made things easy, but I think there’s a – pretty much everyone knows how to reuse content. We were given the ability early on to copy and paste, and, boy, that’s easy. I just take the mouse, highlight what I want to move, put it in the new document, done and done. It couldn’t be easier.

AP:     Right.

CH:    How do you feel about that? Is that really easy?

AP:     Well, I would say, I could say that it’s fine and we’ll just end the webcast now, but that’s not what we’re here for.

CH: That’s correct.

AP:     But you’re right, it’s everywhere. And you know, even with the earliest word processing, copying and paste, it’s built into a lot of operating systems, you know, even on our phones. So, yes, it is easy in the sense it’s ubiquitous and it’s everywhere. But you and I talked about this in a Scriptorium podcast a few weeks ago, when we were talking about reuse. When you start doing all that copying and pasting over and over and over again, you start creating a lot of different versions of the same thing. And all of a sudden, it’s kind of like death by a thousand cuts. You have got all of these layers and versions of things, and think of all the energy and time it takes to manage and think about all of those things. And all of a sudden, all that easy copying and pasting is not so easy anymore. It’s just absolutely unsustainable at that point.

CH:     Right. All right, so if we look at the next slide, we get some ideas of, you know, why we’re doing this reuse. So I think an important thing to do is to step back as you look at your content management strategy and say “Why are we wanting to click copy and paste?” or, if we’re in a more sophisticated system, “Why are we moving to a system that allows something a little more controlled?” And so, obviously, you know, I think a big starter point there is saving time. It’s quicker for me if you’ve already written something that’s good, and it’s about one of our products and I need to write something similar for another product, it can save a lot of time if I can either copy what you’ve done and maybe make a few edits, or even just copy it and leave it as-is. That obviously is really quick, at least for me, the author. And then also, presumably, if you’ve done a good job creating accurate content, presumably all of the copies that I spawn will be accurate as well. But I know there’s, besides convenience and accuracy, there are some other reasons why we might be interested in looking more at how we do reuse. Maybe you have some other examples of things that we want to do.

AP:     Absolutely, and they’re a little bit downstream from the authoring aspect. It’s more the reader, the user, that starts to come in play here, and business goals too, I think. A big one from my mind for reuse, a big reason for wanting to do it, is to present a unified customer experience. When your customers or potential customers are looking at your content, they’re getting the same information maybe from different parts of the website or maybe different departments within your company. I don’t think it does any company any favors, especially for a potential client or customer, to find conflicting information on the website.

And when you’re reusing, you really start to minimize the risk of that happening. Another big part of this, and this is more from a cost-savings business point of view, is localization. If you are localizing from your source language and you reduce the amount of source content you have by reusing, you can extrapolate out. You are going to be reducing your localization costs, because every time you reuse and reduce the amount of source content, you are doing the same exact thing in every language that you’re translating to. So there’s, you know, the customer experience side and then there’s the more business cost-saving side where – two really good reasons why people look hard at reuse.

CH:     Yeah. And I think too, to emphasize or at least build on that, that first point too, even if you’re not localizing, there’s a cost to maintaining every word that you write. And –

AP:   Exactly.

CH:     – over time, let’s say our product changes and we have to update the documentation, well, if we’re reusing pieces of content, when we do those updates, we can say, you know, “Let’s make sure the instructions for X, Y, or Z are correct and very accurate.” And if we do that once, if we’re reusing those pieces in intelligent ways, those changes are automatically reflected everywhere. Whereas if you did a brute force copy/paste, you do it once, then you got to search around or try to remember who has copied this where, where can we find it? And again, suddenly that whole lifestyle cycle and that easy copy/paste becomes really, really hard.

AP:     Exactly.

CH:     So, if, you know, and even with our powerful search capabilities, search is so much better today than it was historically, it’s still really hard to know what to look for sometimes, if I’m trying to, say, update a procedure for doing something that I’ve explained in a bunch of documents. So really you’re now looking at the idea of developing a strategy around content, about starting to say, “How do we want to reuse so that we can track all that reuse? So we can keep track of where everything’s gone and what’s being used where?” And that’s really where a lot of these technologies start coming into play. So maybe you have some examples of some of the tools and technologies that you’ve found help to address all this tracking and the lifecycle.

AP:     Sure. You can start even on the authorizing side. There are authoring tools that have built-in ways to reuse content, whether it be a word, a paragraph, or whatever. A lot of desktop publishing and help authoring tools on their own have that. So that’s a smaller place to start, doing that consistently, using that authorizing tool consistently across all your authorizing folks. But then you can step up from that and then get more into the management, like you’re talking about, a content management system that will manage all of the components, all the little bits and pieces of your content.

And then you can, you know, pull those and reuse and keep track of the versions, which is, you know, particularly important, for example, if you’re in hardware or software and you need to keep older versions of your content and still have that for customers, having that source content managed, where you can manage all those different versions, but not have separate files for every one of those, that’s the kind of thing a content management system can help you with as well. Also, there are workflow tools, and that helps with reviews and other things, too. It can also be useful in helping you get a handle on reuse as well.

CH:     So, yeah, and I think these tools really are all about – they give you a lot of pieces to work with. But I know if I was to go out and just buy one of these content management systems and start it up here on my computer for my, let’s say, my home content management system, I probably wouldn’t immediately be going, “Oh yeah. Now I’m reusing and everything’s hunky-dory.” I think there’s a lot of reasons for that. But you really need a plan and you need to know how to use these tools, which is where I know organizations like Scriptorium really come into play. So maybe you can give us some tips. Or, you know, “How do I even get started? How do I figure out what it is I need to do and which tool I might need to pick?”

AP:     Sure. What we generally do is we will work with the client to do a content audit. And that is generally part of a larger content strategy engagement that we have with the organization. What we do is we take a look at the company’s business goals, the overarching business goals, then look at the content and figure out: How is the content supporting those goals? How could it be improved to better support those goals? What we want to do is take our knowledge of all the tools that you’ve just mentioned and the processes, and we’ve been around for a while, since 1997, so we’ve worked with a lot of these tools, know the ins and outs, and when they’re better fits for some organizations or others. We want to take that knowledge we have of those tools and pair it with that client’s deep domain knowledge. They know about their products. They know how their content is put together. They know where the things are working really well and when they’re not. What we want to do is integrate those two bodies of knowledge, their domain knowledge with our knowledge of the general publishing content tech stack.

And then once we do that, we’ll have a collaborative effort where we do identify those things that aren’t working so well, come up with suggestions like the tools you just mentioned, say, “This is how we think we can fix these things and here are some tools that can help with that.” And then we kind of lay out a roadmap for them. And then if they want help with that roadmap, implementing it, we’re glad to do it. I think the important thing here is whenever you work with someone else, you really need to have and create that back and forth collaboration.

Otherwise, really what’s the point? You need both of those kinds of mindsets to come together, to get those kinds of answers, to really dig into your content, look at, you know, more specifically, look at where reuse is being done correctly. There may be things you’re doing right now that are great and they need to be preserved as you start looking at moving into another tool set. So, it’s not always a – you don’t have to make it all about the negative things, is probably the nicest way to say it. You need to take a look at what’s working and be sure that you account for those things when you do start moving over into a new tool stack, because that’s a very daunting thing and you don’t want to lose sight of things that are indeed working.

CH:     I think that’s great advice. And really I’ll emphasize, I’ve been in different aspects of the content management world in my career. I’ve been both on the content creation end and now work on the other end. And one thing I have noticed is it’s very hard to stay an expert on what is the current best practice or how, what are the best tools out there. So even though you might be able to internally find one person who can become an expert on this, today it’s very hard if it’s not your job to stay abreast of what’s going on and keep the momentum going. So that’s, again, where at least staying a part of the bigger community, attending webinars or conferences, and then engaging with companies who specialize in this and have experts that stay abreast of it, I think, can be really valuable.

AP:     Absolutely. You should never expect, if your domain is content authoring, content creation, it seems unreasonable to expect you to know about all of the tools available to you, especially if they are based on a technology you’re not using yet. There’s a huge mismatch there. And that’s where the consultant is helpful because, like you said, that is their job. That is what they do. They work with these different tools. They know what’s good, what’s bad about them, and what’s a better fit for you. So you’re right. It’s a matter of taking a look at this large body of tools, and that on its own can be very daunting if you don’t have a guide to help kind of figure your way out through all those different choices.

CH:     And then, I know another thing you mentioned at the beginning, and I want to dig into a little bit, is really understanding or doing that content audit. So one of the things your expert, no matter who you find, is not going to be initially super well-versed in is your content.

AP:     Nope.

CH:     They haven’t been writing it. They don’t know what your business goals are. And so, those are things that you as an organization have to then bring to the table. I know it’s difficult even in an organization to do a content audit. I mean that’s hard to do sometimes even on my own desktop. I remember things I’ve written a few months ago, but I’m a pretty busy person and very quickly I only have the vaguest recollection of where I’ve written something or what it was. And again, you can use that search and replace and kind of poke around my hard drive and have a look at what I’ve done. Those are all certainly ways to do that, but I think one thing that also an expert can help guide you on is bringing in some techniques and some tools to do a more comprehensive audit to figure out where you’re at today. Maybe you can talk a little bit about how you guide people through that process.

AP:     Sure. First of all, the back and forth discussion is still important. You cannot just select tools and it will magically fix everything. There does need to be some baseline back and forth. And I do think it’s important, especially for me being, as a consultant, to kind of say this and emphasize it. It may be tempting to just throw everything over the transom and say, “I want you to handle all this, make it go away.” That is not in your best interest because of that domain knowledge that we’re talking about.

As part of a content strategy assessment, part of a content audit, you need to be present and available and part of the conversation. It will benefit you, because that way the consultant can then turn around and say, “Based on what you’ve told me about how you put your content together, maybe we can develop some scripts and maybe do some kind of regular expression work to kind of dig around and bind things in your source files,” or we might recommend a more comprehensive solution because there are tools out on the market, including yours, and what they’re there for is for this very thing, to dig in to content, scan a content set, and say, “This is where we’re finding reuse. Here’s a sort of a fuzzy match on reuse. Here’s where stuff is exactly matching.” There are tools out there that can do that for you. But before you get into that, it’s good to set up some baseline discussions and then have the tools come in after those discussions.

CH:     So as Alan mentioned, we do, at DCL, we’ve developed a number of tools that we’ve used, and we happen to have productized some of them. One of our major helps along these ways that we use internally and then we also offer externally is what’s called a Harmonizer report. And what this tool really is for is to do some of that stuff that Alan’s talking about. It goes in and pull- you know, it can take any source files, so if you’re using Word or you’re using FrameMaker or InDesign, or you’re publishing web pages for your content, it can ingest all that stuff together and it throws them all into a big bucket and looks for all of the redundancies throughout the content. And so, it’s really looking for what kinds of things are either exactly matching and where, or what kinds of things are close matches. So where have you written content that’s similar to other content that you may or may not know about, or where have you copied content and it’s propagated throughout the organization and maybe took on its own forms as people made edits to it over time?

So Harmonizer is a tool that we provide that I think is useful for either giving you that high-level view. So a lot of people will just use it to get an idea of what’s the extent of the problem. How big is the iceberg under the water there that I’m trying to deal with for redundancy? So it can give you that big picture. And it can also give you, if you’re wanting to get into the nitty-gritty and say, “Here, editors. I actually want you to clean up the content, make sure everything is the same wherever possible,” they can go through the report paragraph by paragraph and clean things up if that’s the goal. So really that tool evolved as part of our work. We do conversion work and a lot of other aspects of the production details of getting to this new reuse model. But Harmonizer was one of those tools that we needed internally to be able to get that big picture view and a detailed view of reuse potential in content.

We also have developed other tools. We have a tool called Chronos, which analyzes documents across versions and looks for changes in content over time to recreate authoritative versions at certain points in time. And, you know, a lot of those really fall into – you’ll find that in legal publishing and in areas where there’s a lot of liability or requirements to be able to recreate a document at a given point in time. So that’s just an example of two of the kinds of tools that we grew internally at DCL, because, again, we have done this work over and over and over for lots of clients, and over time, we were able to invest and develop tools. A single entity would have a hard time developing that tool because it takes years to get it to the point that we have it, and you would only have one example. You’d have your own content. Whereas we have thousands of examples that we’ve run through Harmonizer just in the last few years.

So those are just some examples of how that happens. If you wanted to know more about any of those tools, I’m always happy to set up demos, of course. So you just call us. We’ll get you set up with a demonstration and even a sample if you wanted. But I want to kind of move on and talk a little bit about, once I figured out, okay, I’ve got all this stuff, it may be all over the place in different formats, and now we’re going to start consolidating this. So I’ve had my audit. I kind of know what’s out there now. I maybe brought in my experts. I’ve got Alan at my side. What am I going to do next? How do I start acting on this?

AP:     A lot of times, at least in my experience, this kind of work often leads to a change in tools, it often does, or the platform you’re using. And we see a lot of people moving to what I’m going to call smart, structured content, where you’re tagging content semantically and you’re adding in intelligence, but you’re not doing that for formatting purposes because formatting is a whole separate layer. It’s applied later. This is usually XML-based content. So what we do is, we take a look at, like I said earlier, we need to take a look at what we thought was working well in the previous system and we need to find a way to port that over into the new technology stack. But we also need to take a look at the things that weren’t being done as well, and, like, for example, the redundancy that your Harmonizer tool may find. We need to figure out a way to basically pick the gold source for that, the source of truth for that, and then figure out the reuse around that redundancy.

So I’m going to be the total, total consultant in here and say it really depends what happens, because it’s unfair to say this applies to everyone. A lot of times people will end up sticking with their same toolsets, but what they will do is optimize and fine-tune how they’re using it. So it really depends, especially if you’ve already moved to a smart, structured platform. A lot of times it will be a situation where you will basically up your game. You have us come in to fine-tune things. So it really depends on what’s going on, but it’s going to usually involve, in some way, a tool change in general, whether the way you’re using what you’ve got now or moving to a whole new authoring and publishing stack altogether.

CH:     And most organizations are trying to do this while they’re continuing to perform their day job, which, again, is another reason why you need help oftentimes with this. You usually don’t have the luxury of having a dozen people with time on their hands sitting around the organization just waiting to fill the rest of my day with research into how to maybe up our content game and increase efficiency and how we’re producing our content. So that’s where, again, bringing in that external party is sometimes critical to making any kind of move.

AP:     Yeah. The idea of companies maintaining a bench of people with these kinds of skill sets, it just doesn’t happen anymore. For several years ago, I went in with one client and we ended up doing some fairly complex work for them that involves some pretty heavy-duty programming, and I said “We’re glad to teach your folks how to do this,” and she said “Absolutely not. I do not want to give my people these skillets so they can turn around and leave me.” So the idea of having this deep bench of folks to do this kind of specialized work, they rarely exist anymore, and if you do have these resources in your company, you have no idea how lucky you are and you need to take advantage of them.

CH:     Yeah, for sure. For sure. So as we start to bring in these new tools or processes for our existing tools, and as we move along this process, you know, getting the consolidation in place is great, but we have to keep this going after Alan leaves. So maybe you can talk a little bit about how we make this sustainable over time. What do we do once we’re on our own at an organization?

AP:     There are two things that come to my mind immediately. First one is content governance. Basically, you need to have rules about how you go about creating content, and this case, we’re talking about reuse. So you need to lay out and document best practices for reuse, how you do it in your tool set. And it could be an extension of your style guide, if you have one of those, or however you want to do it. But you do need to put in place real guidelines for how you need to do this stuff, and as you bring on new content creators and new people into your business, you need to be sure they have access to that information.

And what’s good about bringing new people on sometimes is they may, from a past job, look at what you’re doing and say “Hey, have you’ve thought about that?” So they’re like a mini consultant in that regard. So keep that dialogue open and be open to changing your guidelines because they probably do need to evolve. Another thing you can kind of rely on in regard to kind of keeping things the same is if you have adopted a content standard, because that content standard is going to usually dictate: this is how you, these are your reuse mechanisms that we’re giving you to play with.

And that kind of fits hand-in-hand with the content governance. You take what the standard gives you, figure out what works for your reuse cases, and you probably have all different kinds of reuse, and then you need to document them. In addition to documenting that stuff, there’s also software that can help enforce those things. There are things you can do with authoring tools that kind of force your hand and guide you in how you do things, and then there can be workflow systems that kind of check things to be sure that content is validating and following the best practices in regard to how you’re semantically tagging your content.

CH:     Yeah, I’ve worked with some of those systems, and I remember when I first was working in this industry how surprised I was at some of the tools that existed. There are whole categories of tools. When I was just creating a small manual for a small company, I had no idea what people had out there that could really help me with that job, and, you know, it wasn’t until I actually entered the industry on this side of the equation that I started to see the full breadth of what was out there.

And again, I think that’s a place where you bring in that expert to help me navigate this and figure out, oh, hey, there’s a tool to help you with this, or there’s a technology or a strategy that you can use to address this requirement. And then that kind of fast-tracks you down that road so you don’t have to sort of reinvent the wheel on your own, which, again, I think is really important. Now as I identify all these new tools and approaches, there’s a temptation to think, well, it’s going to be cleanest if we just get rid of everything that’s on the hard drive today and move it all over and we’re done. Right?

AP:     Magic!

CH:    That sounds great. It would be great if the elves would work overnight doing that for me –

AP:     Exactly, yeah.

CH:     – but typically we don’t see that. We don’t see a do-all-at-once. Everything’s changed tomorrow and we’re in a new world. So maybe you could talk a little bit about legacy content and what I’m going to do about moving over, again, while I’m keeping the lights on with our day job of actually putting content out the door.

AP:     Sure. And once again, I would go back and look at the overarching business goals, because that’s going to help drive some of these decisions. You don’t want to make these decisions in a vacuum. If you are a company dealing with product content and you’ve got a release coming up soon for one of these products that you were thinking about moving over, I don’t think it’s probably in your best interest to try to shove that content into a new authoring and production process right before you’ve got this huge release coming out. Don’t do that to yourself. A phased approach is often the way to go. And again, I’ll be the consultant. It depends. You need to look at your schedules for your products. You need to look at the priorities. You may have some folks fairly far up your food chain, C-level folks, saying “I’m really interested in seeing what you’re going to do with this product line, with the content, how you’re going to improve it.” When you start getting input like that from that level, even if it’s not necessarily, shall we say, fact-based, but the fact that it’s coming so far up the food chain, those opinions become facts to you fairly quickly.

So you’ve got to pay attention to where those requests are coming from, the priorities of your management, and kind of look at the more day-to-day things. What makes more sense to move now? Because maybe there’s not pressure on that product line, and it could be a good test case, test bed for you to see how things move over so you can smooth out the process for the next product that comes along, that needs to be moved over into your new tool chain.

CH:     And I think what you’re implying or what I’m hearing between the lines – Alan has built in several comments here that come from hard-won experience. And I know that because I’ve also been down some of these roads before. And, you know, he’s seen a lot of the mistakes that can be made and had to clean up some of those mistakes after they were made, and knows the implications of a lot of the decisions that you make early on.

And again, I can’t emphasize enough that when you’re trying to move to a new process and take advantage of a new kind of “easy” in your world, it’s really important to know all of the implications down the road as much as you can. And again, bringing in someone who has seen many, many examples of this is invaluable because you don’t know what you don’t know. And so, when you’re trying to make a decision about do we use product feature X or Y, or do we use authoring environment A or B, if you’re trying to make that decision from your current world, it’s really unreasonable to expect that you’re going to know for sure that you’re making that right decision.

AP:     Absolutely. It is unfair because it is not your job, necessarily, to have experienced all of these toolsets before, whereas a consultant most likely has touched those tools and can give you that insight that you’re talking about.

CH:     And we all know, I think, now – I know 20 years ago, when I was in the software industry, I used to look at the lists of feature, bullet point features, and you go, “I’m comparing product A to B. Here’s all their feature lists. Which one’s longer?” and “Oh, that one’s probably better.” We kind of know because I think we’ve all been burned on this, that that is not always the case and you can’t just weigh things feature by feature by feature and look at a bullet list to know whether the experience is going to work for you.

So, again, you’re talking about an entire environment of creating content, and that involves all of your organization, really. It touches everyone who has any role with the content, and it’s really critical to, again, bring in someone who has that broad view and can give an overarching look at both the tools and then merge that with your understanding of your organization. So, and this really does become a cyclical thing. One of the things that I think I heard – we did a DITA Day last week, and one of the messages I heard over and over throughout, from some of the people who have experienced this, is that you’re not done. There is no “done” to this process. This, content management, is a process. It isn’t a destination. You don’t suddenly say “I’ve picked all the tools. I’ve moved to the system. Everyone’s working. We’re done. We don’t have to think about it anymore.” The way you use these tools can continue to evolve over time. The technologies change over time.

So it pays to really go into this with your eyes open, that this will be a cyclical thing. Maybe I’ll want to run a Harmonizer report after a year down the road and just see: are we doing reuse as good as we could or are we missing? Are we still doing a lot of copy and paste? Even though you move to one of these structured authoring environments, that doesn’t mean you can’t copy and paste. It gives you tools that are alternatives to that, but I still have gone into organizations where they’re basically making the same mistakes, in a new world with new tools, that they were making before. And again, those are the pitfalls that you need to watch out for and preferably plan for ahead of time.

AP:     Absolutely. I have seen what you’re talking about: people who want – this is usually content creators who are very vested in the way they have set things up – they want to basically duplicate the same exact experience in the new tool set. The problem with that is, is that really supporting the company’s business goals or is it supporting your goals? And that’s something you really have to weigh very carefully when you start thinking about moving to new tools.

CH:     So I want to touch a little bit on the legacy content, because that is always a weird area to deal with. It’d be great if you could move to the new content management system, train all the people, and they just start writing the new stuff. And we’re like, well, maybe we don’t have to worry about anything we’ve produced. We just keep those old PDFs, leave them on the website, and that’s that. There probably are a few lucky people out there who work in companies where everything’s shiny and new, but I think that’s the exception.

So let’s talk a little bit about that legacy data, because am I going to bring – spend years going through the entire legacy repository and bring everything over? How do I decide where to draw that line of: do I just leave it as-is and say “Okay, we’re not going to touch it. It’s okay for now”? Maybe you can give us a little bit of your thoughts on how to handle this legacy stuff.

AP:     Sure. It’s a prioritization that you have to do here. There’s going to be some very old content, maybe for older products, if you’re selling hardware/software, that you may never move. There’s no value in moving that content over. There may not be a lot of stuff in it that can be reused in the newer products, for example. So you have to kind of weigh things. There may be some legacy content, you ARE going to say, “You know what? We’re going to keep that as it is. We’re not going to really move it over.” But then you start looking at things and the calculus changes where you do start to have to move things over.

And then all kinds of factors come into play. Again, what are your product release deadlines, if you’re talking about product content? Do executives have certain things in mind they want to see first? Are there any easy wins? This is a good example of that. Do you have content in your current publishing system that is very templatized and is very well-tagged? Because if it is, that generally means it’s going to be easier to move over into a new publishing and authoring system.

So think of things like that. It’s, like I said, there are so many factors here, and you’re also going to have some files that are going to be so absolutely awfully put together that it is going to be a bear to get them converted over to whatever it is, and a good example of this is a Word document where every single line is tagged with the normal format, the normal style, and then overrides have been applied to create the appearance of a heading or a bullet or an indent or whatever. That’s kind of your “This is going to be harder to clean up. Let’s call in an expert” sort of situation. And you need to kind of weigh: how messy is this? Because that does come into play about how easily it’s going to move over into your new system.

CH:     Yeah, and I think we see this all the time, being in one of our main functions. We provide conversion services where people will bring us those Word documents and say, “I want these tagged as XML.” And, you know, like you mentioned, if everything is just the normal Word style and then somebody’s changed the font, or if 80% are using styles, but 20% are hidden in there with headings that aren’t really tagged as headings but look like they are, you can have, by all appearances to the finished product, everything looks fine, but when you dig into those source files, you start to realize you’ve got bigger problems. I see a lot of things on this table, or on this slide, the different formats that can give us headaches. I don’t think we have time to go through all of these, nor would it be very exciting, probably, to a lot of the audience. But, again, it gives you, I think, a sense of some of the gory details that come up that you wouldn’t necessarily know about or even think about when you’re thinking of the problem you have internally in your company.

Have you really thought about or run into all these problems? Probably not, because you probably haven’t been moving all your content around between formats. But someone like Alan or I, we look at this and go, “Oh yeah, we’ve seen all these things.” We know all these things can – any one of these things can totally sideline a conversion process for a time and can present big challenges. So, again, being able to go in with eyes open requires this auditing of your legacy data to really understand: how big is it a problem to bring it over? And then that will weigh heavily on whether I bring this over or not, or how I bring it over. You know you still have, and I always remind people, at the end of the day, you still have copy and paste. So if maybe you have some horrible legacy content that you don’t even have the source files for – I worked with one company, all they had were PDFs, and they were so messy under the hood that it was impractical to bring them over. But what they did is they, literally, when they needed to reuse something out of the legacy, they created a new thing in their new system, and the authors would go refer to the old PDF. I don’t know if they were highlighting and copying or what they were doing, but they would use that as their template for creating the new stuff.

Now that doesn’t seem like that automation or that magic “easy” that we’re talking about, but it certainly is a lot easier than trying to do this for thousands of pieces of legacy content, 80% of which I might not need to bring over to the new world. So, again, what “easy” means in these cases varies a whole lot, and it’s really important to get that big understanding of what we’re dealing with in legacy content. You can’t just look at the printed page and go “This is going to be easy.” It may look easy, but you never know until you actually look at those source files.

AP:     It’s all relative. Absolutely.

CH:     So I don’t know if you have anything else on this, but we can move on and maybe just summarize. We’re getting, we’re close to the end, and I’d like to leave a little time in case we have any questions.

AP:      Sure.

CH:     But you know, you don’t have to go it alone. I think going it alone with – unless you have the most simple “I have one document I’m maintaining. I’m doing it in Word today. I’m going to move it over to something else tomorrow,” that might be easy enough to do on your own. But, you know, nobody comes to me with those problems. I think Alan would reiterate the same thing. So, again, it’s not all just about hiring someone. It’s also about maybe encouraging your people to be part of the community. There are content management communities out there that you can reach out to, and conferences that you can attend. What usually happens though, is you’ll go to these conferences and you’ll find out that there’s still a huge amount of choices and options and tools and capabilities, and again, you need to start looking for your own experts to help you navigate this process.

Alan, do you find that most of your clients – do they come to you cold? Do they come to you from these communities? What do you usually see?

AP:     Yes. Both.

CH:     Both.

AP:     Both. It is a situation where I think a lot of times scale has a lot to do with it. If you’re talking about an enormous body of content versus the few Word files that you’re talking about, the math on that is completely different, and that’s when people realize this is something that needs to be done at scale. It’s not a one-off thing. The fact that they recognize that is good because they’re showing some degree of business understanding and business sense. One thing that really concerns me, especially when you’re talking about bigger kinds of engagements, moving to new tools, this idea that “I must do it all myself,” that’s very dangerous.

I think that’s particularly dangerous on the conversion side. I can – it’s not unusual to have an executive say “We’ve got all these content creators. Just make THEM do the conversion. Why not?” That can cause an enormous change management headache from my experience, because you don’t want an author and content creator’s first experience with a new way of doing things to be something so rote and manual and sometimes gross, especially if the files are badly tagged, like we talked earlier.

So you really need to do some pretty heavy-duty thinking and analysis on what the true cost of having someone do that kind of work is, and it may actually be cheaper to have professionals do it and hand it over to an agency like DCL, because if you lose your top performers because you’re giving them this work, that’s a huge blow and it can be very hard to calculate how big of a loss that could be, just because you thought you could get this done quick and dirty with the resources that you already had.

CH:     I worked with one company a number of years ago in a previous iteration of my career, where they actually were doing that exact process you just talked about, and their entire content team resigned by the end of the process.

AP:     I believe it.

CH:     It wasn’t that they – they had their initial reluctance. There’s always going to be a reluctance on the part of the people when you say “Hey, I want you to learn a new tool.” But not only that, when you then tell them “Oh, I want you to sail a new ship tomorrow. But, by the way, you’re going to have to shovel coal in the engine room for a week to get there,” that really is, I think, demotivating, and it’s interesting you bring that up, because I hadn’t thought of that in years. But it was a complete example of that extreme version of what you just said, where you totally demoralized your team so much that there was no energy or desire to even stay at the company, let alone use some new tool set. down the road. And you don’t want to be in that position, I don’t think, no matter how you feel about your staff. I don’t think anyone has staff that they want to expose to that kind of experience.

Well, I will say that there’s plenty of expertise out there in the world. So seek it out. At least talk to people before you try to do this. There’s companies like Scriptorium and DCL. We’re two of them, but there’s a whole community out there that have been through this before. We have experts who are out there and available, and they’re made available because we know that you can’t maintain your own bench staff, as Alan said earlier, of experts just waiting around to do this work. So Alan and these types of experts can really help you find your way through this process to a truly easy content reuse. And again, easy is in the eye of the beholder. What is easy today may be a nightmare tomorrow. So, again, bring in those people who can help you know what you’re doing now. Did you have anything else to add, Alan?

AP:     No. I’m interested to see if we have any questions out there.

CH:     That sounds good. So, Marianne, maybe bring in some of our questions from the audience.

MC:     Yeah, we do have some questions. And I love that, Chris: “Easy is in the eye of the beholder.” Okay, so how do you deal with pushback within your company for those who are set on reuse only with a copy-and-paste sort of move? How do you bring those folks into this new way of doing things?

CH:     I don’t know, Alan. You probably dealt with resistance.

AP:     Yeah.

CH:     Everyone deals with resistance.

AP:     Well, first I want to know why, what the objection is, because you need that communication. I want to hear why this group or this person wants to stick with the copy and paste. I want to know the reasons, because there could be some very good reasons in there. Then I would also take a look at – again, you’re probably sick of hearing me say it – what are the company’s overall business goals? How does the way they want to do things fit with those goals? If there’s not a connection between those two things, then I think there’s some thinking there that may need a little bit of correcting, for lack of a better word.

CH:     I think that’s indicative. The question itself is indicative of a disconnect between the goals of the author or the person that’s wanting this copy/paste functionality and the goals of the organization. Oftentimes what you’ve done when you hear that question is you haven’t really communicated the benefits of these systems properly to all the levels of the organization. So I think the question itself hints that you have a communication issue that you should be trying to address internally. Does everybody understand the big picture? If my job is to do authoring and I don’t really deal with the fallout down the road of something, I might not have any reason to see why my copy and paste isn’t perfectly fine, because it’s fine for me. But if I am one of those people who’s dealing with revisions down the road, so, you know, I will understand, hey, copy and paste is easy today, but expensive tomorrow.

So if you can find those places where the pain points actually touch those individuals, that’s great. Otherwise, you need to bring your organization together so that everyone understands whose pain is being handled where, and why is it that this one person doesn’t understand maybe the bigger picture. And if that one person doesn’t understand the bigger picture, I guarantee you there’s a bunch of other people throughout the organization who probably don’t understand the bigger picture. So, again, you have to work to get the whole organization understanding the benefits.

MC:     All right, another question we have: in what areas might an organization save money with effective content reuse? Maybe there are some areas where you’ve seen some cost savings that you could speak to.

CH:     So I know at DITA Day just last week, we had several organizations talk about, first of all, speed of revisions. So it can accelerate your, the speed with which you get the documentation out. So instead of taking months, it might turn it into weeks or something like that to do a release. So that’s a big one that I know people like. One of the challenges with that is that, initially, whenever you change tools, you’re going to slow things down a little bit. There’s going to be some headwinds while you’re making the change. And so, it’s really important to keep that in mind, that we’re going to take a small step back so that we can take three steps forward next year or what have you. So that’s one I heard pretty loud and clear. Alan, you mentioned translation. Maybe you can talk just a little bit about that.

AP:     That was on the tip of my tongue. Localization is a huge part of this. Companies are now – everybody wants a global reach. They want customers from all over to maximize the company’s income. That’s what a company is there to do, to make money. And you can do that by having more customers. If you can get to a point where you are doing simultaneous shipments of the product across the world with the accompanying documentation, that’s a big deal. You think about it. If you cut that window of time, say it’s two to three months before, from the source, let’s just say it’s English – it’s not always English, but say the source English comes out, and then three months later, two or three months later, you have stuff come out in other languages in other regions. What if you depress that to a month? What if you made it go away altogether? Reuse can be a huge part in getting that to work. It is not the only thing, but it is a big player in really compressing that window and getting close to simultaneous shipments.

CH:     I think, too, one of the less tangible ones is agility and flexibility. One of the things that I’ve noted in some organizations is they’ll have product lines and they’ll be thinking of expanding the product line. So they’ll think, you know, “Maybe we need to offer some variations on this printer” or whatever it is I produce or make or I’m documenting. I’ve actually been in organizations where we’ve had to say “You know what? We don’t want the overhead and the cost of maintaining a whole other set of documentation,” and the documentation team says it’s going to take them six months to put out a new manual for this new thing, even though engineering, maybe, can get it ready next month, and by then, we don’t know. So it’s one less piece of – one less impediment to that process if you have an agile documentation team that can quickly produce variations of documents. And that’s another thing that this reuse can do. It can allow you to rapidly assemble the variations without having to recreate the entire set of documentation. I don’t know, Alan, did you have any other immediate examples we can take? There’s lots of little things.

AP:     No, your point about being more nimble is a very good one, and it can be hard to quantify that. But the fact that you could assemble something without recreating it all over again, that’s a really big deal, especially when you’re dealing with slightly different models of the same product.

MC:     Right. Chris, what’s with all this imagery, this plant imagery, in these slides? Is there a meaning behind that?

CH:     So, well, some of the meaning, I think it’s, it’s, you know, we’re really talking about a growth and an evolution and an ecology, a content ecology. So we’re really talking about creating and treating your content management not as, again, just something that’s a tool or a single thing, or a single person that’s writing the documents. You’re really talking about a living ecosystem where all the aspects of your organizations feed into the environment. And when you start looking at content management in that way, I think you start to see how to approach these things and to bring in all the people throughout your organization to deal with this.

MC:     Right. And the gardener in me recognizes that these are plants that are easy to grow and can make your space a little lovelier. So with that, you know, content reuse as well.

CH:     That’s really good. I am not a gardener. In fact, I have cats that eat every plant that I bring in the house. So I don’t know what’s easy or not for plants.

MC:     Easy is in the hands of the gardener.

AP:     It’s all relative.

MC:     Well, gentlemen, thank you so much.

AP:     Thank you.

MC:     This was a really great conversation. Thank you to everyone for attending this webinar. The DCL Learning Series comprises webinars such as this, we have a monthly newsletter, and our blog. You can access many other webinars related to content structure, XML standards, and more from the on-demand webinars section of our website at Data Conversion Laboratory. Thank you so much to our partners at Scriptorium. We hope to see you at future webinars. Have a great day, everyone, and this concludes today’s broadcast.

CH:     Thank you.

AP:     Thank you.

About the Author

Alan Pringle

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Content strategy consulting. Content operations. Eating (preferably pastries and chocolate). COO at Scriptorium.

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