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January 23, 2023

Who is Scriptorium? (podcast)

In episode 135 of The Content Strategy Experts Podcast, Sarah O’Keefe and new team member, Christine Cuellar, talk about who Scriptorium is and how we use content to optimize your business. 

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Sarah O’Keefe: 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 this episode, we’re talking about who we are and how we use content to optimize your business. And I’m joined by our newest team member, Christine Cuellar. Hi everyone. I’m Sarah O’Keefe. Our host today is Christine, who has just started as our new Marketing Coordinator. So of course we put her to work right away. Welcome to the team Christine, and guess what? You’re in charge of this podcast.

Christine Cuellar: Sounds good. Hello everyone. I’m excited to be here. Since I’m new, I’m going to be asking all the newbie questions. So I thought this would also be an interesting podcast for our new podcast listeners. Sarah, I’ll go ahead and kick it off with a basic intro question. What started Scriptorium?

SO: Well, canonical answer is I was annoyed by a layoff. So a million years ago, I worked for a software company that did the canonical hockey stick growth from zero to 60, from 80 people when I started to 500 people 18 months later. And then that company with about four others got acquired by a larger company. And in the process of sorting out all those companies that the mothership parent company had acquired, in the process of that assimilation, many of us got laid off and we were all a little cranky about it. And I decided that if executives were going to make dumb decisions, I could be the executive making dumb decisions. And so basically I was angry, and here we are 26 years later.

CC: That sounds great. And you have an article that goes more in depth on that story as well. We’ll go ahead and link that article in the show notes. So what does Scriptorium do?

SO: That is…

CC: A big question.

SO: I know you think I’d have it figured out by now. But we are interested in content and technology and publishing, and specifically we’re interested in product and technical content. How do we take that information that is so often overlooked and under-invested in and manage it, produce it, do things with it in such a way that we can maximize its value for our customers? So we are interested in taking interesting technology and applying it to content so that we can perhaps automate content development or automate content delivery or improve the publishing process or do multi-channel kinds of things. All those buzzwords that you hear these days we’re interested in how do we make the most out of the investment that you have to make in technical content.

CC: And what’s the scope of our work?

SO: We start typically with an assessment or an analysis or a where are you now? What’s working? What isn’t working? Where are the pain points? And then work our way from that to what are your business needs? What are you trying to achieve? Do you have problems with people calling tech support with basic questions that are or should be in the documentation, but instead they’re making an expensive phone call? Do you have problems with translation, localization with people who would prefer your content in their local language, but you haven’t made that investment because it’s so expensive to translate or localize. So part A is what are your business needs, what are the problems you’ve identified? And part B is how do we develop a solution that leverages your content to fix that? And then I guess part C is we actually build the solution.

CC: Wow.

SO: So some really, really common things here are people saying all our stuff is in Word and it’s not working. We can’t scale it, we have a problem. Some huge percentage of our work is actually structured content. So that’s definitely a point of emphasis right now. That’s not where we started because 25, 6, 7 years ago, structured content had less market share than it does today. But that’s a common thing that we hear is that people have identified that structured content will address some of their requirements, and they need us to help them get there from whatever system they’re in right now. And then I think a key point is that we do not have software. We are a pure services company. And in addition to not having software in the sense of having a product that we sell, we also don’t resell software and we don’t accept referral fees from the software vendors in the space.

CC: Great. Thank you. And thanks for those examples too. Those are really helpful. So what kind of implementation work? You mentioned that briefly. Can you expand on that a little bit?

SO: A typical project for us is somebody who has decided that they need to improve the maturity of their content development processes, move it out of a word process or unstructured, sort of flailing at it, and just throwing bodies at the problem in order to make more and more and more content. And instead design and then build out a system that is more efficient, that leverages reuse, that leverages formatting, automation and all the other cool stuff that we can do. So when we say implementation work, what we’re talking about is that we’ve been through or you’ve been through as the customer and have said, this is the problem. Here’s the proposed solution.

And now we need to do things like pick a content management system, convert all the content from whatever format it’s in now into future state content format, get it moved in, stand up the system, configure the system, get all the people, the authors, the content contributors, the reviewers, the approvers moved into the system, move the content itself, and then go to production. So when we say implementation work, we’re talking about the process of actually building out or configuring the system that’s going to support all these things for you.

CC: Great. Thanks. And you mentioned earlier on that one of the first parts of the process is to just identify some pain points, figure out what’s going on in the organization that needs to be addressed. What are the most common pain points?

SO: I think the number one issue that we see is scalability, as in we can’t scale. We are being asked to do more and more formats. We are being asked to do more and more languages. We are being asked to do more and more content variance because our products are complex or we do customer specific information. So a given customer gets a custom version of the product, that type of thing. Scalability, especially scalability in localization, I think is the number one issue that we run into. So that looks like somebody saying, we know our process isn’t great, but it works okay because we only have five languages, but now we’ve been told we’re expanding into the European Union and we’re going to need 30. We simply cannot take the current five language inefficiencies and multiply by six to get to 30 languages.

There is no way. We have to automate, we have to refactor, we have to reuse because if we don’t do those things, our costs are just going to skyrocket. And maybe more importantly, our time to market. We can’t get to market on time in all these languages in our current process. It just piles, delay upon delay upon delay. So scalability is a big one. Now, related to that, we see things like multiple incompatible content creation systems that don’t talk to each other, but yet need to share information in some way. This is really, really common after a merger. Because company A had system A and company B had System B, you put them together, they can’t talk to each other, but they need to because the customers now are joint customers. From my point of view as a customer, I don’t care that you were company’s A and B, you’re now company merged. Company C.

And I demand that when I go to your website, it looks like a single company, and you can’t get there because these two content creation systems are just not talking to each other. Now, having said that, when I say A and B and two content creation systems, what’s actually far more common is that it’s more like five to eight. It was two companies, maybe it was three companies.

CC: Wow.

SO: But five to eight systems that simply do not talk to each other in any way, shape, or form. Happens all the time because old company A, they had a different merger five years ago and they never did the work. And so they’ve never pruned and it just piles up.

CC: So it just piles up.

SO: And you get this just, it’s technical debt to a certain extent. It’s content rot. You can call it whatever you want, but it’s a mess. Inside of that, it doesn’t require multiple systems, but duplication and redundancy of content. Content is expensive to develop, expensive to manage, and expensive to translate well. And so it’s not good to have multiple copies of the same thing. And it’s especially not good to have multiple copies of the same thing that say two slightly different things for no reason. Happens all the time. So scalability, systems incompatibility, which then blocks you on the things you need to do with your content flowing back and forth, and duplication, redundancy. Those are three things where it’s actually pretty easy to get a hard return on investment.

Some really solid numbers that show if we clean this up, things will be better. In addition to that, we’re seeing a lot of demands now for content integration. The E-Learning or training group is sourcing content from tech docs. They can’t do it well because their learning management system and the tech docs content management system refused to talk to each other, but they really do need to integrate that, and then they need to flow it over and link it to marketing content. And it can’t be done because all these systems hate each other. That’s becoming a big issue. And there’s some really interesting solutions coming on that, but that’s where we are with this. So if you’re looking at those first three issues, if you’re looking at formatting automation, scalability, content creation, duplication, we actually have a calculator for that on our website that lets you get at least a first cut at what this is going to look like.

CC: Great. And we’ll go ahead and have that in the show notes as well. So why content strategy?

SO: It is of course an overloaded term. I look at it as thinking about how you manage information across the lifecycle within an organization. How do you create, how do you edit, review, approve governance, which I know is a dirty word, but when you create content, typically you have to delete it at some point. For the most part, it doesn’t live forever. Some content does live forever and explicitly needs to live forever. But how do you do that? How do you first make sure you have the right information in a given piece of content, and then how do you get it where it needs to go and manage it and update it and translate it and foster it throughout the entire life cycle? So content strategy to me is the overarching plan. And it’s the people, the processes and the technology that you use within that plan to do the things you need to do. So you’ve got your business needs, business requirements, and then the content strategy that provides the solution or the plan that gets you to meeting those requirements.

CC: So when and why should someone, any of our listeners, when do they know it’s time to contact us?

SO: Well, everybody should totally call us immediately. Everyone. No. I would say it this way. If you are in a situation where it is pretty obvious to you sitting inside your organization that the current approach is not sustainable, you can’t hire the people, you can’t scale up because you just have to keep adding people because you have all these terrible processes that take up too much time. You have too many manual workarounds, too much copy it over here and then paste it over here and then spend hours and hours reformatting it to get it into wherever, that kind of thing. If you’re frantically running in place just to keep up or even not able to keep up, it might be time to take a look at whether better systems, better, more mature content life cycle, better, more mature content strategy can get you to where you need to go.

And I would say that in the big picture, people call us when they reach the point where they look at this idea of doing some sort of a transformation on their content and… Because it’s going to be painful. I’m not going to tell you, it’s going to be painful. The fear of doing that is less than the pain of staying where you are. And we’ve done a lot of these projects and we’ve done all sorts of fun, successful things, but ultimately people stay with what they have almost always too long because it’s comfortable. We all do this. I’m not pointing fingers at anybody other than maybe myself, but we all do this. We’re like, no, this is good enough. And then at some point you realize that you passed okay and good enough two years ago, and it is time. And that is the point at which you should probably reach out to us.

CC: That’s great. Well, thank you so much Sarah, and thank you all for listening to the Content Strategy Expert Podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. If you want more information, visit or check out the show notes for relevant links. And we’ll see you next time.

SO: Thank you, Christine. Welcome aboard.