Building the business case for content operations (webinar)
Organizations are recognizing the need for a strategic approach to content creation, management, and distribution, but content operations require upfront and continued investment. In this episode of our Let’s Talk ContentOps! webinar series, Sarah O’Keefe and special guest Mark Kelley discuss how to build the business case for content operations.
In this webinar, you’ll learn
- Why you must understand the connection between the proximity of content ops to revenue
- How to position your business case for maximum success
- When to consider the role of generative AI when seeking funding for content ops
- The business case for content operations (white paper)
- ROI calculator for content operations
- AI in the content lifecycle (white paper)
- Content transformation, 2nd edition (book)
SO: Hi everybody and welcome. A special welcome to Mark Kelley who is the Head of Growth at Oshyn. And there’s Mark. Hello.
Mark Kelley: Good morning.
SO: I invited Mark to come onto the show because I wanted to talk to him and to our audience about what it looks like to build a business case for content operations. Most of us sit inside these more technical roles and every so often we have to go in and we have to do businessy things, but we’re not necessarily totally comfortable with that. And Mark is one of those people who understands the content universe and has a really good grasp of what it looks like to build these business cases and get funding and work through all of these questions. So that’s what I want to focus on today is how do we talk to the people with the money about how to get the money so that we can do the cool things? And I guess the place I want to start with this Mark is, how do you define content operations for the context that you live in?
MK: Thank you, Sarah. Good morning everyone. So content operations to me … Well, let me just gloss over the academic definition being the people, process and technology and support of all things related to the content enterprise to get it created and published and managed and so on. To me, for the purpose of this discussion, I think the key message that I want to get across about content operations is that I view it as a business function that in my experience and in my view, is becoming more and more of a strategic imperative for enterprises who want to compete and win.
And what I mean by that is that any enterprise that publishes content has some form of content operations. For some, that could be a really robust, mature content services organization that has clear executive-level sponsorship, it has really tight governance, well-documented procedures and unified content models and so on. And then on the other hand, there are some enterprises whose content operations reside within one or a few superhuman content authors who are doing the best of their ability to react to demands that are coming in for content and standardizing as they go.
In my experience, the organizations that have the most robust model of content operations are those in regulated industries where they’re compelled by governed bodies or by the government or other standards to invest in robust content operations. But what I am seeing and what I have seen over the many years of working in this space is that more and more as the digital economy expands and as the demand for content increases and accelerates in that expanding content universe, more organizations are having to turn to investing in content operations to keep up to meet the expectations of customers, of end users, of employees and other stakeholders across all of these different touchpoints. I think we’re all aware of the content proliferation out there. Most organizations continue to be in a reactive posture when it comes to being able to create and distribute content that allows them to meet their business objectives.
In my view, it’s becoming more of a strategic imperative that for folks who want to compete, they have to look to content operations and make it more of a strategic business function. So that’s what content operations is to me, Sarah. And I think one thing too to mention as Sarah had said, my background is being an executive and being in sales and working with enterprise clients to help them put together plans for digital transformation and customer experience initiatives that most always involve some component of content operations, the implementation of a content management system or a digital asset management system and the processes that wrap around it. And that’s really the perspective that I want to share today as we talk about what are some of the things that I see in working with executives across functions in an organization that have allowed me to partner with them to spend hundreds of thousands, millions, sometimes tens of millions of dollars over several years on these transformation initiatives that involve content and content operations.
SO: And I think it’s important to talk about this because the sales piece is essentially a prerequisite. I mean we can argue about what are the technology solutions, what is the best technical way to address this problem? I have scalability issues, what do I do? But if you can’t sell that project inside your organization or if it’s me, if I can’t sell that to my customer, then the project doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter how great the idea is or anything else. If we can’t communicate that in language that executives understand, which ultimately is this will either reduce your costs or increase your income, those are basically the two choices. And I did want to highlight what you said at the beginning here, which is that everybody has content ops. It’s just that some organizations have good content ops, some organizations have 30 people toiling away inside some terrible Word files and copying and pasting things all over the place and working very inefficiently. That is content ops, it’s yucky, but it is content ops.
So to you, Mark, you have this great visual of how you put this together and what it looks like to construct a business case. So I wanted to ask you about that and what it means to go into an organization and say, “Hi, we want you to do this project for 100,000 or a million or 10 million.” What does it look like to go in and understand the levers that you have to make that happen inside a given client scenario inside a given organization?
MK: And if we can pull up that content, I will address it here. I think it’s always helpful to obviously see how an individual, team or an individual enterprise tackle the issue of getting funding and getting support for content operations. The reality is that what works for one business does not necessarily work for another business or for your business because businesses are created differently. They’re dynamic, they are always changing, they are full of politics and they’re full of different personalities. And to build a business case, it is not an academic exercise in which you have a fill-in-the-blank form and you just write down your thoughts on an academic and rote way. It is a sales process to build support for content operations. And so what I wanted to do with this slide here is in coming to this call, I created this slide to basically be a starting point for the folks who are watching and who are considering how are they going to position content operations within their organization to think about what are some of those levers that they could be pulling based on the unique circumstances of their business.
And so what is on the screen here is not a universal model that fits with everybody, but it is a starting point that as someone’s considering their business, as they’re considering approaching leadership, as they’re considering approaching perhaps just other folks within different parts of the organization about this concept of maturing content operations within the enterprise, what are some of the key points that they want to be hitting? And the first bifurcation of this in that green horizontal bar is thinking about content operations for your organization and for the organizations that I work with, I’m always trying to get a sense of how close is it to the revenue-generating aspects of the business? Is it viewed by leadership as a mechanism for enabling sales, for creating competitive advantage, for improving conversion rates within whatever the goal is of that enterprise to try to transact online or to transact offline?
And how does executive already view content? Is it over on kind of the right-hand side of this screen where we’ve got some aspects of value that are closer to top-line growth and revenue generation within an organization? Or is there already a view within the enterprise that content operations is more of a cost burden and it’s really only a place that they’re trying to extract operational efficiencies, or they have to meet compliance requirements or customer service is not viewed as a strategic differentiator in the market, but something that has to be done and they’re just trying to meet this kind of minimum bar? Every organization already has a preconceived view of where content fits in. And for the folks on this call and for thinking about the business case for content operations within your organization, I think it’s important first to take stock of how is content operations currently viewed?
That’s point one. Where are we today? And where does the funding come from? And who are those folks that believe in it? And why do they believe in it? And it may be that having that starting point, it’s kind of like just fine and you want to double down on that. So perhaps content operations is really viewed in the lens of how do we invest in operational efficiency? And I’m in an organization that really values operational efficiency and we’re always trying to trim costs and that’s how I’m going to go and kind of further build the case for improvements in content operations within my enterprise. Or perhaps there’s a view that content operations and even customer service is more to the right side of this chart where customer service is a differentiator in the market.
And so my view in working with any enterprise is to understand what’s the current view of content? And then as we think about as folks who work within content operations and we’re wanting to get projects funded and we’re going to want to get executives, when there’s limited resources to divert money and energy into our projects, I always think about what are some of the levers that we can pull to have a discussion about the value contribution of content operations to the organization. And it is usually not enough to zero in on the technical aspects of information architecture or the technical beauty of unified content models and so on.
But we want to pull as many of these levers as we can and the most impactful ones that we can when having a discussion with other folks within the organization, either horizontally or vertically within the organization, and think about for my business and for where it wants to go based on its strategic objectives, how do I pick a few of these components or many of these components to build a business case beyond of course just kind of like that technical aspect of the benefit of content operations.
So that’s one way that I’ve tried to at least on this slide kind of put down some of my thought process and many years of experience of working with different organizations across verticals to think about at one point or another, it’s some combination of these pieces that are the reason that organizations choose to invest. Content operations is either going to help them grow and there’s some really key points that we can zero in on that are going to show that content operations has an impact on the business and it is going to improve our ability to compete and to grow top-line revenue. And also I should say content operations is a place that we are going to invest and it is going to help us achieve some operational efficiencies. It’s going to help us improve customer service, it’s going to help us move KPIs like improving self-service for example, for aftermarket customers.
So hopefully that helps just kind of paint a picture of how this could be used to be thinking about your own organization and to be thinking about the impact of content operations as you consider when and where to pick the battle to try to get more funding and support for content operations within your organization.
SO: And I think the discussion about culture and priorities is so important because when you look at this once upon a time, I went into an … This was quite a while ago, but we went into the organization and we spent a long, long time building out a case for, “We can format this more efficiently, we can save you a million dollars a year in formatting costs because what you’re doing now is terrible and whatever the opposite of automated is.” So they were doing a whole bunch of stuff in InDesign that was, I mean it looked nice but it took forever and it didn’t scale and they had lots and lots of languages and it was just a nightmare. So we carefully constructed this business case that was all about operational efficiency. We can cut the costs of this formatting piece and I’ve never forgotten the meeting where we showed up and presented this thing and said, “And therefore you’ll have your ROI in 12 months or 18 or whatever.”
And the executive who was evaluating this who was inside the engineering organization said, “Okay, but yeah, fine, whatever. I don’t care. What I need is to get my content localized faster.” That’s the only thing that he actually cared about and he was willing to spend umpteen dollars to get the localization delay down from, well, okay, at the time it was nine months, which was kind of a lot, and all he wanted really was to get it down to maybe six months. That was his goal, which hearing this today, you’re thinking, well, I mean that’s really not challenging. But for this particular organization, just getting a quarter meant that they could realize revenue in global markets and non-US, non-English markets a quarter sooner because they could get to market there. All they wanted out of us was, “Can you get it from nine months to six months?”
Now we said, “Well, we could pretty easily get it down to three months.” And they were like, “Great, where do we sign?” And I should clarify, the pitch was actually being done internally by an employee. I was involved but this was a, we are trying to do an internal project to make this happen, and at least initially going into that meeting, we had the wrong priority. I mean we had a justification, but it wasn’t the one that resonated with the person who was actually going to sign off. So it’s not even, how do you build a business case? It’s how do you build the right business case? Because if you build the wrong one, they’ll just walk away.
MK: Yeah, 100%. I’m sorry to interrupt you there, Sarah, but when you look at these components, I mean you are right in that all of them matter to some extent within an organization, but most enterprises are going to have some kind of strategic pillars that they’re focused on in the next 1, 3, 5 years. And if one of those pillars is entering new markets, then focus the case around entering new markets or if one of those pillars is on providing the best customer experience or the best membership experience that there is, building the business case. All that matters is kind of laddering up to those strategic initiatives and doing so in a simplified way that as the story gets told again and again and again because as you’re building the business case for content operations, you’re not just going to be able to tell one person and get it done. Most likely it’s going to require working across different functional groups, but then also they’re going to have to relay why they’re prioritizing it up the chain through their organization or to their managers.
And so it is critical that that reason, that big reason, just like you mentioned with that example is not lost. There’s a telecommunications client that I worked on that was really focused on customer self-service, but the main pain point that they were trying to solve is that their internal call center was using one set of documentation to help support clients. But then there was a different set of content available online and there was friction happening between the call center rep and the client who were looking at different content about how to solve a particular issue that they were having.
That was the main headache that really got the attention across units, across business units, and across groups to invest in breaking down some of the content silos and looking at common information architecture and common content models. So it is really important to think about laddering up to those strategic initiatives and you could use one or as many of these positioning bullet points as needed to ladder up to that bigger picture. And that is so hugely important to make sure that your purpose aligns with the purpose of the organization to get content operations more attention than some other competing initiatives that are trying to do the same thing.
SO: It is truly, truly appalling at how many projects we’ve done where the starting point was the content in tech docs doesn’t agree with the content in the support docs and or the learning content and or other content. The marketing team is using different terminology from the tech com team. So we talk about the same product but we use different words. It is one of the most common problems that we run into and it is just horrifying because what does that say to your customer when the internal, from their point of view, your telecommunications company is a single organization and you say, “Oh, well these different departments, they’re siloed” and they don’t care. The customer is like, “Dude, I just want my phone to work or my router or my whatever. And over here you called it a router and over here you called it, I don’t even know.” And just awful. And then they’re cranky and angry and then they don’t buy your stuff anymore and that’s bad in the long run.
MK: It is, and that ties back into the opening statement that we find, well-defined content operational models largely in regulated industries where folks are operating with heavy compliance requirements from the FDA or the FTC or the FCC, and they’ve been compelled to invest in these content operational models. I see the same thing happening when it comes to companies that aren’t operating in those spaces, but it’s not entities that are forcing them to comply. It is heightened customer expectations. They don’t care about your internal dynamics or your internal issues. They care about the moment for them in terms of interacting with the brand. They want to know that they’re having a positive experience and that the brand has done everything that they can to ensure that they’re a valued client.
And it’s not just consumers that have these expectations, it’s employees, it’s end users in the B2B context, all of us are having these heightened expectations. Not just for the concept of the personalized experience, but we are expecting to be known and that what we want, we want now and we want it quickly and we don’t care that internal politics or content silos have gotten in the way. So that’s the compulsion that I see happening in the marketplace where any organization that does want to compete and that wants to continue to win has got to look to even some of the legacy work that’s been going on for decades and technical publications and so forth, adopting some of those practices to create a content operational model that allows them to compete and meet the requirements of those stakeholders, whomever they may be.
SO: Yeah, I want to talk about what it looks like to launch the sales effort essentially for the business case. But as a side note, these silos, we look at them, we’re like, what in the world? And I think ultimately the reason that these silos and these contradictions exist has to do with the fact that back in the olden days, and by this I mean before digital content and the web came along, it was perfectly possible to silo your customer in that the customer would only see, let’s say the sales content, pre-sales, and they would only see the technical content post-sales. And you could basically control that because you had this content on paper and we’re shipping it to them. It wasn’t until everything went digital and it’s all sitting there side by side that it suddenly becomes very apparent that there are conflicts and contradictions there.
And so the power has shifted from the content producer, the people who generated the paper and the books and shipped it or said, “Oh no, we don’t provide that until you buy,” to the consumer who is now looking at it and saying, “Well, I’m just going to go look on your website and if it’s not there, I’m not buying your stuff.”
So the business case. So you go in here and I think one of the key things is that what does it look like inside an organization? Where do you start? So you have to match the goals, but how do you do that? How do you figure out the goals of that company? How do you figure out what the company wants? What are their top goals?
MK: So as an outsider looking in and most of the time, at the start of a discussion, I’m not privy to the internal information that an organization may have because I’ve spent all of my career as a consultant and working on the agency side. So there are publicly available documents that perhaps you’re in a position even within the organization that you don’t know what are the big strategic imperatives, but there are documents such as the 10K for example, especially with publicly traded companies or big publicly traded companies, they have to publish certain key components of their strategy and their competitive set and what they see as threats in the marketplace and where they see themselves going in the coming years. That’s a tremendous place to start. If you feel like you’re totally in the dark, that is content at the highest level that can be accessed by anyone publicly, not so much for private organizations, of course, because they don’t have that reporting requirement.
But that is a place to start that allows you to just wrap your head around some of the business terminology and the way that executives are talking about the business and where they see those key pillars of their strategy in the coming years. Within the organization, let’s just say you’re a content manager and you’re spending your days working with the content. You don’t necessarily have access to or come across the opportunity to hear what are the strategic initiatives. So start the dialogue I would say with someone more senior, with your own manager, with other mentors within the organization to get a sense of what is the broader purpose of the company? A lot of us working within large organizations of 10,000, 20,000, 100,000 plus folks, we just got to view our own function as the operation of the business, but it is simply a key component to a much larger machine that is out there operating and going to market.
So it is important to just, if you don’t have that information, if you can’t go get it off of the drive or if you can’t attend any kind of presentation where senior leadership is talking about their initiatives, you do have to organically go out there and pull it back and understand what does this business want to accomplish? And how can content operations help them get there? And what are some of those key levers that need to be pulled along the way to generate more discussion? I think it’s important to not walk into discussions with a focus on the technicalities of content operations we’ve talked about already on this call. Understand and be able to say, “Hey, the organization at a higher level is aiming for delivering the best membership experience that we can. Let’s [inaudible 00:29:54] association.” It’s totally paramount that they want to deliver the best membership experience and they view learning management and on-demand learning as a revenue driver going into the future. And this is an area where the company’s going to be investing.
There’s a clear story to tell about how content operations might ladder into that type of strategic initiative for an organization trying to provide the best membership to its association and trying to better enable learning management. I keep saying learning management, but on-demand training, on-demand learning as folks are going towards certifications. That was a huge driver of a large transformation project we did with a professional association that had a key pillar of their strategy was to deliver the best membership experience and they saw a huge component of their revenue growth and ongoing training and certifications for that membership base.
SO: Yeah. Oh, sorry.
MK: I was going to say-
SO: We like to make fun of CEO town halls because usually they’re pretty high-level and kind of content free. Yay, go team. However, when your large company CEO says, “Well, we’ve decided that we want to emphasize the European market this year and we really want to grow in that space,” and you happen to know that you’re not doing localization, then that is going to be a driver to invest in that area because it turns out that when you don’t localize your content, people don’t buy in local markets.
Similarly, when the high-level goal is digest these four acquisitions that we’ve made, and you happen to be aware that those four acquisitions have eight different content platforms all mutually incompatible, that’s going to give you a lever to say, “Well, if we want to cross-sell, we’re going to need to do some integration work so that there is again a unified reasonable customer experience.”
As you said, the SAC documents are useful and some of these high-level, these are the strategic initiatives for the organization. Okay, great. How does that play into what I’m doing with content and what are the obstacles in my world to delivering on those things? We’re going to go into 50 new markets this year and it’s like we have no capability to do the translations. None. So what’s that going to look like? So I think it’s that type of thing. So you identify these sort of high-level top goals and then the next thing that happens, Mark is like a competition essentially … Project, and you say, “I need funding for this because it will advance these goals” that you mentioned in your town hall/10K. What happens in that sort of competitive phase?
MK: Yeah, I mean in the competitive phase, especially in 2024, I think it’s important to mention that in my view, 2024 is not necessarily the year of radical transformation. I don’t think many executives are going to have the stomach for it. They’re not going to have the capital for it. So I think that in the immediate sense in terms of that competition, having a story that ladders up to the strategic initiatives is hugely important. Having a simplified story, also hugely important, and a de-risked method and process for how you’re going to achieve the outcomes. So you’ve got all sorts of competing initiatives across the enterprise and not everybody can win. In my experience, the ones that do win have clear alignment to the overall goals, have a relatively simple and understandable message about what the benefits are for the organization to sponsor the project, to carry it out, but also a de-risked methodology for how you’re actually going to realize it.
Because you can understand the outcomes, but if it is a high-risk project and it reeks of risk and it reeks of getting bogged down in internal processes or if it’s bringing in technologies that the organization has no hope of really being able to manage and to make the most of, the project is likely not going to get funded. So it really comes down to having the alignment, a simplified story that its folks are talking about it as people are carrying it further and further along in the budgeting cycle, it doesn’t get cut because it’s confusing or it doesn’t get cut because it’s high risk. I think that those are really critical things to focus on now because in 2024, funds are likely tighter for most organizations. I think we saw on the poll that what? 14% of folks are expecting more … To address the growing demands, but 57% are going to have to work with … 8% still [inaudible 00:35:00] sure.
So there is not this kind of overwhelming amount of capital to throw at these problems. I would advise folks to at least for this year, for thinking about maybe the project, keep it narrow, keep it simple, and make sure people know that there is a path to getting there that is not rife with risk. Because high-risk projects that could blow up in people’s faces, that could go overboard on budget, they could overrun budgets but could also cost jobs in the process if some director has this … If they bat on some 500,000 or 5 million project that tanks because of these risks they didn’t fully assess and now they’re out looking for a job in kind of a difficult market. Nobody wants that. Not now. There’s not the stomach for it. So hopefully that gives some kind of ideas about how to try to position your story for winning when it comes to competing for the limited supplies of money and resources and attention to tackle these projects.
SO: And I 100% agree with the risk question. I would only add to that then in addition to talking about how we’ve set this project up in a way that helps to de-risk it, and the number one recommendation here is always start small. Do a pilot project, do a prototype, try some things out so that you can see if it’s going to work, if there is risk there before you invest the big money.
But additionally, I think it’s really, really important to talk about the risk of not doing anything, the risk of inertia, what does it look like to not make these fixes? And sometimes that’s, “If we don’t fix this sooner or later, the FDA is going to … We’re going to be in big trouble because we’re making a lot of mistakes.” Or “We are not going to be able to sell into this market because our numbers say that if you don’t provide local language to this specific market, people won’t buy, or we’re limiting our market to the people in that particular market that happen to speak English as opposed to their local language.” And that may be okay as you’re kind of sticking your toe in the water maybe. But the issue of risk management and what it looks like, there’s always a bias towards not doing things. It always looks riskier to take action and move forward and do stuff.
As a side note here, I did have a question about content ops and ROI and I would say our ROI calculator, which is in the resources would be a possibility there, but it is mostly focused on automation and efficiency because that’s the easiest place to find ROI numbers. We will have a competitive advantage is really, really, really hard to quantify in a concrete way. So we’ve focused on some of that low-hanging fruit and hopefully that’ll help the person who left that question and anyone else out there that’s wondering about the same thing.
So you’ve touched on 2024 a couple of times and you’re thinking tighter budgets, don’t go in and ask for a billion dollars. And it looks as though as you said, our polling people totally agree with that, that they’re all saying, “I’m not going to get big budgets this year. I’m going to have to work with where I am.” So what does that look like? I mean just sort of getting slightly more specific, what does it look like to do an incremental or a small project rather than a big one? What’s an example of that?
MK: Again, on a … As an executive and as a sales leader, that’s how I want to answer the question, which is as you think about organizations and how they fund projects and how I’m looking at it, I mean I make my living working with the organizations who get their projects funded, and can bring in outside help and outside consulting. It’s really … For me to know that I’m betting on the right horse and the right initiatives. And when partnering with folks to build up the business case for content operations.
One thing to be aware of is that any organization of any notable size is going to have spending thresholds within their organization that allow a person to greenlight a project without going to the next level. It could be for some $50,000, the next level up within an organization, they could spend 100, the next level up 250, 500, million, you get the point. When you think about taking on an incremental project, I think it’s important to think about how many yeses do you have to get to get that project greenlighted. And so when you think about the scope of a project, the bigger the scope usually, of course the bigger the cost and the more sign off that’s going to have to happen and potentially kick off these complex RFP processes that all sorts of red flashing lights are going off in procurement that they’ve been advised to not spend on big capital initiatives and it’s just going to get kicked back.
But usually within organizations, you can find pockets of money that are relatively smaller amounts to fund at the start of an initiative that either gets you perhaps all the way to what it is you needed to accomplish or get you on the path to proving out a concept so that you can free up more money and then more money. I think that’s a critical thing to think about and it’s something that I think about when working with a particular stakeholder is how much money is it reasonable for them to go find to help improve the position of their team and their operations today? And if that’s $100,000, then what project fits in that makes the biggest impact, provides the most value, ladders up to those strategic initiatives, and moves this organization further forward into being more proactive as it relates to their content operational model and being more mature?
There will be some organizations in 2024 that go big and they decide that they’re going to invest heavily in this space and they’ve got the stomach for it, or they’re in a position where liquidity is not an issue and they’ve got all sorts of confidence in their future. Others just the reality is that there’s some nervousness out there, that they’re not going to want to take those big swings. So framing up smaller projects that can get approval at a lower level within the organization but still have a meaningful impact on what it is you want to accomplish, I think it is an important lens for looking at which project is right to try to tackle it 2024. When I look at it from a sales perspective of trying to get organizations to develop initiatives that can ultimately be funded and be completed by a combination of internal and external resources.
SO: And it’s frustrating because on the one hand those things, and on the other hand, well we really, really need to fix the silos, and the conflict amongst all these different departments that are putting out content with little or no attention to other departments and therefore have all these weird problems. I mean, there’s some issues that are truly enterprise-level, are going to require enterprise-level investment to fix. But to your point, so you sort of get pushed back down to, “Okay, well let’s look at this at a departmental level, let’s get our own house in order and then we’ll go negotiate with the other group and see if we can bring them on board or get them into this world or sort of put that all together.” But meanwhile, the risk, there’s the risk again, is that they went off and did their own departmental solution and now you have two competing silos each with some investment and each tuned to be optimal for that department and therefore, never the two shall meet, or the five or whatever.
So I really struggle with the content silo question because I can see the value of unifying all those things, but I think the reality is that when each silo, marketing, tech comm, learning, even UX product content, knowledge bases. When each one of them reports to a different C-level executive who has different budget and different priorities, that ultimately means that if I want to do a unified content project across the enterprise, I’m going to have to get the CEO to approve it because the CIO, the CTO, the CMO and the C whatever O all have their own priorities. So do you have any solutions here? That’s a big question.
MK: It is a big question. Some of the things that I would just say may seem like they’re setting the bar low in a sense. It’s kind of more like for the audience that I think is on this call. It is also about managing the expectations of the reality and what you’re likely to encounter working with higher levels within the organization about where they’re willing to invest.
Now that being said, in my own experience, anytime that there’s been an opportunity to really break down the silos upon content organizations, it has always required strong executive support of someone, not just to support an initial project, but to have the vision for what it looks like on the other side of that project from an organizational change perspective. Meaning that there may be a new VP of content services that is put in place as a part of this project that now all teams [inaudible 00:45:07] to this person who’s making the final and overall decisions as it relates to governance, as it relates to which projects are getting funded for enterprise-wide content operations or to the standards, and who gets to decide what those standards are going to be. If the ambition is there within the organization and content operations can be impactful enough on whether it’s top line or bottom line impacts within the organization. If that story is there within your organization, then absolutely find executive sponsorship.
And if that person is not accessible to you, then it may be that you need to start that discussion and kind of rally the troops and get some cross-departmental buy-in. Someone has to champion it to ultimately bring this to light with an executive that has not thought about content operations potentially really much at all in their lives. The good thing is that the advent of, I shouldn’t say advent, but the popularity of things like gen AI that are more and more showing up on the scene, there are executives starting to talk more and more about content, and “Wow, how powerful these tools are and how do we incorporate this into the business?” It is absolutely possible to get attention and funding even in a time where there’s some hesitancy among most enterprises to spend big.
It all depends on your own organization, but if you’re going to go that route, you will waste so much time without finding that executive sponsor that is going to help you drive through the project. But then also help with the vision of an organizational change and transformation that’s going to happen as a result of this big project. Otherwise, it’s just going to all fall back apart and go back to the way it was where everybody’s calling their own shots.
So I would say build the story, build some of the key components of the business case, start getting folks to believe in it more broadly, and then use whatever allies you can internally if it’s not you being able to do it directly to get that type of executive sponsorship. The telecommunications client that I mentioned earlier, we were working across eight to nine different groups who could have all had competing interests across different business lines and different parts of the customer value chain. And as a result of that project, there was a new VP installed who would sit on top of the content services organization and govern these groups that were once dispersed and it was still, it wasn’t perfect. But she could then provide at least some sort of alliance among these groups to adhere to a set of standards and governing principles and could call the shots when it came down to disagreements or to figuring out which platforms are we going to go with for unified content management. So those are my thoughts on that, Sarah.
SO: So I have good news and bad news on our poll. The good news is that the poll respondents agree with you and me that 2024 is not the year of major investment in new content technology. The bad news is that they think there’s not going to be any investment in content technology. This is evenly divided between no, we are not investing, and I’m not sure. So the most optimistic group is, well maybe possibly, but I doubt it. So that’s somewhat distressing. I did want to talk about the AI elephant in the room, which you touched on briefly just now. What does that look like? What does it look like at this point to include AI in your content operations, in your content strategy? And where do you see success there? Where do you see the most successful initiatives or possibilities or ideas in terms of getting these various AI tools into the content workflow?
MK: I’m glad we went 50 minutes without actually mentioning it. We did break and it’s hugely important, but it’s like we’ve all heard so much all the time about assistive and generative AI and how it’s going to transform the world. And I think that when it comes to building the business case within an organization, there’s a couple of realities. One is that AI is having a moment for sure, and executives and business leaders are wondering how does it impact their business across many things, not just content, but all sorts of aspects of trying to gain a competitive advantage or somehow transform the organization. So the discussion is happening, and you might be able to get some attention by mentioning AI as a part of your talk track, but it’s going to have to have some substance behind it because I would say most executives eventually see through the shiny object when it comes time to write the check and they’re like, “Wait a second, why are we actually doing this?” And so I kind of view it in a couple of ways.
First of all, I guess I should say we’ve all seen the headlines as well where generative AI and content publishing is a bit of a loaded gun and many people have picked up that gun and injured themselves as a result of moving too quickly with this technology and adopting it without the right governance model in place, and without the right operational model in place. You just have to go do a search online to figure out some of those entities that have run afoul of their customers or ethical standards even, or found themselves in gray areas because of adopting this technology too soon too fast and without a plan.
When it comes to content operations, I see kind of a bifurcation of AI and how it could eventually help business cases. One is if you’re in that situation where you are focused on operational initiatives and you’re focused on cost-saving measures through content operations, then generative AI to an executive at least, I think starts to take more of a view of how does this replace human capital and how do we do more with the same amount of people or potentially with fewer people? And it’s not necessarily anything to be afraid of. It’s just more that’s how the world views automation and artificial intelligence as replacing human capital, especially if it’s like, “Hey, we can do things cheaper, we can do things faster.” There is that lens in which maybe AI does make sense to mention within your business case because if we can bring these technologies in and streamline content creation or if we can help with even simple things like auto-tagging and so forth, then that’s a benefit and a place that we can safely bring AI into the organization and make use of it.
On the other hand, there’s also obviously opportunities in more of the revenue-generating aspect to use artificial intelligence to increase the competitiveness of a company. And to say that because of artificial intelligence, not only can we speed content along, but we can increase our ability to get to market faster, or we can create all sorts of variants of content assets, or content that are going to allow us to deliver on that personalized experience at a greater level, which is going to endear ourselves to customers to help improve conversion rates. Whatever that conversion rate metric is. I see that there’s a lot of ways to weave it into a story.
I think at the end of the day saying AI is not going to be enough, at least when it comes to the folks who are going to have to write the checks for initiatives. And it’s still all going to have to kind of ladder up to what is the enterprise trying to accomplish and does taking potentially a risk on something like artificial intelligence, how does it benefit the organization and what are the benefits of bringing it in? How are we managing the risks of it?
And the other thing is that all the platform partners are talking about it, so there’s no way to avoid that discussion, when every CMS and CMS out there is talking about how they’re AI-enabled. So it’s definitely a thing, but I think that there’s a lot of intentionality coming, not coming. It’s already here about which projects get funded. We don’t have a whole lot of extraneous resources to spend. A lot of companies are still strapped for human capital due to pandemic-era hangover and tight labor supply in certain markets. So it’s obviously going to be hugely beneficial, and I see all sorts of opportunities for leveraging AI as it relates to content operations, weave it into a business case. I would not make it the business case.
SO: Yeah, that’s an interesting point because it seems like right now if you say AI, people will just write you a check. So for the audience, if you have questions, we have just a couple of minutes to potentially answer some of your questions, so drop those into that questions tab.
On the AI point, I think that for me, it’s been helpful to categorize the tools into two different buckets. One is sort of authoring support. So if you think of a spellchecker or something like that, it’s that type of thing. It’s going to help you, it’s going to maybe help you do your outlining, it’s going to rearrange some things, it’s going to make sure that your tagging is valid, it’s going to maybe help you pull out some metadata and keywords and things like that. So that’s kind of a, I’m writing, but I have this tool that helps me write and it helps me write better. And I don’t know that we think twice about using a spellchecker these days and early, early on, is using a calculator in math cheating? Well, probably not unless your goal is to memorize your multiplication tables. So that’s kind of authoring support on the backend.
And then on the front end there’s this question of can I use AI to extract useful information out of my content universe? And that’s where people are doing cool things with chatbots and interesting stuff. So I see potential on both sides of that. There’s also, as you said, there are huge risks here, especially when we’re talking about content that is either regulated and or has impact on health, life and safety. So when you’re writing a procedure on how to use a medical device and if you use the medical device incorrectly, somebody is going to be injured or killed, that’s bad. You want to get that procedure right. And so looking at it from a risk management point of view, it seems pretty clear that risk there outweighs, “Hey, let’s let the AI just write this task. It’ll be great. What could go wrong?” Well, what could go wrong is that somebody dies. So maybe let’s not do that. Mark, did you have any final points that you wanted to wrap up on as we are running out of time here? Any last words of wisdom?
MK: I think it’s been a great discussion and we’ve hit some of the main points that we wanted to hear. I think the thing that I’m most excited about, I’ve spent the last 10 years of my career focused on customer experience and digital transformation, mainly working with marketing and communications teams. And in meeting you, Sarah, even a couple of years ago, I started to discover more of this technical publishing world that had been around for decades. And I realized how many of the principles in more of this pure publishing background and technical documentation and so on could be applied to the customer experience challenges that I was seeing, mainly working with the front of the house.
And I don’t view this as this kind of world as marketing content and marketing operations versus technical content and technical operations and so forth. There is a huge opportunity for folks trying to deliver compelling experiences for all sorts of user groups to look to, what I discovered is this decades old world in technical publishing where so many things like modular content creation and unified content models and unified information architecture structures and so forth. All of these things are going to be needed in order to deliver on the expectations of content across all of these channels and the expanding economy, this expanding digital economy. So I think all of those skills, and even with the advent of AI and all of this, there’s just so much opportunity in the content operations and the content publishing world in the coming years.
SO: Yeah, and that’s great. Well, I want to thank you for being here and for coming in and sharing your perspective because I think it’s super-valuable to look at this and talk about other kinds of content and the commonalities and the differences. And with that, thank you, Mark. I’m going to throw it back to Christine, who I think has a couple of final items to wrap us up here. And thank you everybody.
CC: Yes, thank you so much. And if you have a chance, please go ahead and rate and provide feedback for the webinar. Like we said, that feedback just really helps us out. So thank you for doing that. A couple of upcoming webinars. Our next show is going to be March 13th at 8:00 AM Pacific, 11:00 AM Eastern. So be sure you save that date. And then in May, Pam Noreault is also going to be joining our show, so be sure that you stay tuned on our newsletter or the other resources in the attachments tab to hear more information about our upcoming webinars. And thanks again for joining us for “Building the Business Case for Content Operations.”