Skip to main content

Managing content with tools beyond your control (webinar)

In this episode of our Let’s talk ContentOps! webinar series, Pam Noreault, Principal Information Architect at Ellucian, and Sarah O’Keefe, CEO of Scriptorium, discuss the dynamics of authoring teams whose tools are controlled by IT or third-party SaaS ecosystems.

It’s a delicate art to get everyone to work together, fix issues, and move forward with content production. Uncover best practices and invaluable tips to streamline content workflow even when the tools are beyond your control.

After watching, viewers will learn:

  • Benefits and drawbacks of SaaS products
  • Benefits and drawbacks of on-premise products
  • Tips, tricks, and best practices to keep everything working

Related links



Christine Cuellar: Hey there, and welcome to the next episode of our Let’s Talk ContentOps webinar series, hosted by Sarah O’Keefe, the founder and CEO of Scriptorium. Today our special guest is Pam Noreault, who’s the principal information architect at Ellucian, and they’re going to be talking about how to manage content when you don’t have control of the tools. So it’s going to be a really interesting conversation today.

And lastly, we’re Scriptorium. We’re content strategy consultants who help organizations build scalable and global content operations. So without further ado, I’m going to pass it over to the CEO of Scriptorium, Sarah O’Keefe. Sarah, over to you.

Sarah O’Keefe: Thanks, Christine, and welcome, Pam. Glad to see you. Always fun to chat. And I guess we’ll just start off and say this is kind of a provocative title that you have here about tools beyond your control. So what do you mean by that?

Pam Noreault: That’s a really good question. So let’s kind of frame that up. What I really mean about that is as content teams, you don’t often control your tools. In other words, it’s either in your IT’s control or it’s at a third party vendor’s control. So it’s one or the other and you’re just kind of riding the platform.

SO: So what are the different categories that we’re dealing with here? You mentioned IT. Is that like an on-prem kind of situation?

PN: Yeah, that would be an on-prem type situation.

SO: And then you’ve got SaaS, so software as a service, third party, whatever. Now interestingly, as this poll is coming in, it looks like about 50% of the people on this call are saying that they, which is to say the content team, actually control their tools. So that would imply an on-premises solution that the content team itself controls, right?

PN: Yeah, that’s what I would think. Or that they have admin rights, correct? So there’s some sort of configuration or control that that team has access to.

SO: Okay. So let’s talk about the sort of, you know, each one of these things has advantages and disadvantages. So if we talk about the IT piece, so IT controls your tools. What are the advantages and disadvantages of that?

PN: So from an IT perspective, if you have a good IT department and you’ve formed a really good relationship with them, the pros with working with such a department is that they’re within your own company. So they’re employees that you’re always going to have access to, whether it’s via a ticket system or a Slack channel or some sort of DM communication tool. So you can form closer relationships with them and you can work with them and get to them on a daily basis. You can also maybe do some customizations if you need to because they have a unique understanding of their server environments and cloud environments that they’ve put your solution into.

Some of the not so good things, or the cons, would be if you don’t necessarily have a good IT department or you don’t have a good relationship with your IT department, then it becomes a little more difficult because then if the department’s too big or you don’t know who to contact when something goes wrong or when a solution isn’t functioning appropriately, it’s harder to get things resolved and you have more downtime. And you may also face challenges scaling up or scaling down, depending on what you’re trying to do with the solutions you’re using.

SO: Yeah, I mean I remember when the SaaS tools first came out, there was a lot of pushback on the grounds of, oh no, what if this third-party solution doesn’t have good security or doesn’t have good support or doesn’t have good this? But it wasn’t too long before people started saying, well wait, and not everybody, not all IT, but there was this sort of, oh, but wait, our internal IT actually, maybe we’re better off with a third party solution because at least they’re a vendor and we can hold that over their heads. We have no leverage over the internal IT team and we always come last in that scenario.

So looking at this poll coming in, actually about 40% of the people responding are saying that their content team actually controls their tools. We’re kind of focused on those other two, which is the IT team and the third party SaaS, but roughly 40% said their content team actually controls the tools. 35% or so are saying the IT team, 10% SaaS, and 13% are saying, what is this thing called control? So that sounds about par for the course. Okay, so let’s talk about SaaS. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a SaaS-based tool?

PN: So from a SaaS solution point of view, obviously you’re going to work with a third party vendor and sometimes you have more features and functionality available with those vendors. You have more flexibility. Obviously in most cases the security is very important to them and they do all sorts of pen testing and security analysis and they can give you all that data to present to your IT team or to somebody or your own InfoSec department. 

So they’re taking care of all of that. They’re taking care of your upgrades, they’re taking care of maintenance. All of the things that you would expect them to take care of, they have an SLA in place. And what I mean by that is a software license agreement, which means uptime is guaranteed some percentage, they have an escalation process in place. So it’s a little more rigid, a little more formal with a SaaS solution, and obviously you have a license agreement that kind of writes this all out.

But some of the cons with dealing with SaaS solutions is if you do run across an issue, it may take a lot longer for that issue to be resolved because it has to be an issue that all of their customers are seeing. You definitely don’t want to specialize or customize because if you do some sort of custom solution, it’s more apt to not being able to be upgraded. Or you run into a situation where people who did the custom solution are no longer there anymore and then nobody understands what your custom solution is, so they can’t fix it when it does have problems. So those are the things to think about with a SaaS company.

And again, always check, it’s just like hiring a new employee, Sarah. You’ve just got to check references and check support and talk to other customers and all sorts of things like that. That’s the solution, and go with what’s best.

SO: So there’s a question here in the chat, or actually a comment, which is another category that we didn’t touch on, which is the not IT and not SaaS, but rather product development controls my tools because code is taken very literally. Do you want to comment on that one briefly?

PN: Yeah, I mean that’s not, sometimes if you have very good relationships and partnerships with your development teams and they happen to control your tools, then if they’re treating your content like source code, then that’s like a bonus because that means it’s a corporate asset. That means there’s money tied to that content that you’re creating, which isn’t always the case in some companies. So that’s a good thing, in my opinion. I’m sure that there are some cons, but I haven’t quite lived in that world.

SO: So given these scenarios, and I think maybe we’re making the assumption that it’s better if the content team owns some of the stuff, but setting that aside for the moment, how do you decide? If your choices are IT versus SaaS, how do you manage that? How do you make that decision for your particular implementation?

PN: That’s a really, really good question. And so Sarah, I know that Scriptorium does this when you’re working with customers and you’re trying to help them or lead them to right solutions with content strategy. So as a department, you need to do the same thing. You need to do a grid and figure out what features you have to have versus what features are nice to have. And you need to know that and you need to, because, you know, go bare bones, keep it simple.

Don’t try to go over the top here because you’re not going to find a solution that has everything that you want, but you need to decide what are the bare bones that I need? What are the strengths of my IT department? What is their security model? If you can get all of this in kind of a grid and look at it from a high level point of view, think about it like you’re hiring an employee. I’m either going to hire my IT department or my development department, or I’m going to hire a vendor, and vet the two, vet the knowledge and the experience and have discussions internally with people that are using on-prem solutions as well. Yeah, that’s what we typically do, and then narrow it down.

SO: So we’re asking, we’ve got another poll open and we’re asking about your relationship with IT because I think ultimately that’s probably a big part of this, is how good is your IT group and can they support what needs to happen? So we’ll let people take a look at that one. And while they’re looking at that and thinking about their answer carefully, what about, you touched on customization briefly. Can you talk a little bit about the impact of customization across these various strategies or approaches?

PN: Yeah, I always find that in places. So I’ve been both in a content team and I’ve also been on the consultant side working with a vendor, a SaaS vendor. So I’ve been on both sides of that coin. And quite honestly, when you’re working with a SaaS vendor, if you’re doing any kind of customizations, that’s fine, but know what you’re getting into because a customization is just that. It’s a one-off. It’s a one-off for your company.

So you have to be aware that there might be a point of failure there. If something goes wrong, you may have to pay for that customization to be fixed. Sometimes upgrades will break customizations. A lot of times it breaks customizations. And then you have to pay for those customizations again to be fixed. So you could be paying for the same customization over and over again with a SaaS solution every time you upgrade. So it doesn’t pay you to do that. It’s costly. It’s just costly.

SO: What’s an example of the kinds of customizations that people look at? I know in some cases, I mean, I think we agree on this and we find sometimes we do have to customize for good and valid reasons. So can you give us a couple of examples of what customization is? What kinds of things would people customize, and what are valuable, good and bad customizations?

PN: I’m trying to think of a really good example of a customization. So in my previous life working with a CCMS vendor, we had a customer that literally wanted to have the option, the ability to take an entire publication and duplicate it. And that’s because they felt that this duplication was needed because then they would hand it off to another team who could take the base content and change it to suit their needs.

So rather than doing a lot of reuse and a lot of templates, this customization was duplicating base content over and over again for different parts of the world, different regions that have different laws, and that was a decent customization given that, what am I looking for? The laws and countries are different. So the content had to be adapted to those laws in that different country.

SO: Which means reuse is bad because if you change the baseline publication, it would change the regional variant, which you actually do not want potentially.

PN: Exactly. So that’s why this particular customization, once you did the copy, it severed the relationship.

SO: And I’ve seen that a lot in pharma as well, where there’s a similar kind of, nope, we’re working on a new drug and we actually do not want all of the rationale for reuse. To make the change in one place and have it cascade into all the other places, in the example where you do not want that, very bad things will happen.

I think from our point of view, the value that you get from the customization has to be greater than the cost of the long-term maintenance that you incur. And so, well, I want it because, or my old tool did things this way, so make it do it the same way, these are all bad things. And we tell people, and this sounds awful, but I’m going to say it anyway, we tell people to think inside the box, do not think outside the box. The box is the system, and it really doesn’t matter whether it’s on-prem or SaaS, but the software, whatever the software does, the performance envelope of the software is what it is.

If you need to go outside that with customizations and hacks and other things, the more of that you do and the more you get outside of what the software was intended, designed to do, the worse off you are in the long-term because you’re diverging from the core software and you’re going to introduce all sorts of maintenance problems, as you said, going forward. And the really bad thing about SaaS upgrades is that typically you have less control over them. If it’s on premises, you can say, oh, we’re not upgrading yet, or we’ll upgrade later, or something like that. With SaaS, sometimes you open your system one morning and they’ve made a change and you’re like, why doesn’t my thing work anymore? Why doesn’t my report work anymore? And it’s like, well, we upgraded. Oh, great, thanks, appreciate that.

Okay, so we asked this poll about what’s it like working with IT, and about a quarter of people said it’s great. Issues are resolved, everything is fantastic. About half said content management tools are not a priority. So if IT manages them, they are not a priority. And a solid 20% said on advice of counsel, I decline to answer.

PN: Love that one.

SO: This looks like 50% are saying not a priority. A quarter or 20% are like, I’m not even going to answer the question. And 28% said no, they’re good and everything gets resolved. So that tells me that something like two thirds or more of the people out there are saying IT, our relationship with IT and their support for our tools is not great. So Pam, what does that tell you from a strategy point of view?

PN: Yeah, I mean if it isn’t great from a strategy point of view, you ought to consider the SaaS, the SaaS products of course, if that’s the case. But for the 28% where you’ve got great support, then now you know where to go. So it’s harder when the content management tools definitely aren’t a priority.

In the case, though, if we go back to the question that said they’re treating it as a developer tool and therefore similar to code and those cases, we have our source in the developer source code tool. So guess what? That never goes down. That never goes down. The builds never fail. You know why? Because it’s crucial.

SO: Considered crucial.

PN: Considered crucial.

SO: Acknowledged to be crucial. Yeah, there’s an interesting question here, following up on the customizations. How often do you find that the customizations are real needs and how often are they just trying to keep things like they currently are or with previous tools, like don’t change my stuff? What do you think?

PN: That’s really interesting. I would say that most of it is they want to keep it like the previous tools. So in other words, if you’re getting a new tool or migrating to a different tool, it’s almost always, well, we did it this way over here, we want to do it the same. Even though maybe the new tool does it easier, better, faster, or quicker, nobody kind of wants to do that change. So I’ve found that most of them are, we just want to do it the way we want to do it. How about you, Sarah? Because you see this a lot in what you do.

SO: No, I mean I think that sounds right. It’s just that I don’t want to make changes is a real need. And the way you mitigate that is to say, “We are going to give you training, we are going to give you support, we are going to give you some grace while you learn the new tools and the new way of doing things.” A lot of times this pushback on don’t change anything and make tool A work exactly the same as tool B, which is literally impossible, is more a fear that I’m going to be expected to be immediately as productive, if not more so, in the new tool as I was in the old tool.

And that’s not going to happen. You’re always going to take a productivity hit when you first change into a new system, and people pushing back are basically saying, I know that you, the organization, are never going to give me the time I need to learn this, so I’m going to push back and say don’t change anything. And so I would say it’s a legitimate fear. It’s not like a business need. And that’s where the real need comes in. The business does not need it to stay the same, but the business does have to acknowledge that if things change, that incurs a cost. There’s an upfront training and change mitigation cost.

So I wanted to ask you about points of failure and risk. What are the biggest risks in an IT based, SaaS based, or some of these other approaches? What’s the place that you really have to look at and say, here’s where my risk is if I go with this approach?

PN: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I mean, what you really need to think about is first of all, how big is your team? How big is the SaaS company you’re working with or how big is your IT department? And with that, when you’re assessing risks, it’s even risk within your own team. If you have any kind of control over the tools, whether it’s admin functionality, whether it’s styling, whether it’s whatever that is, you have to figure out where your points of failures are. Where is it in this whole tool set and this whole solution, do you just have a couple of people that know how to do something?

And that’s what’s scary about customizations, is if you have somebody, whether it’s your IT and/or SaaS vendor, have one person do this customization and that one person leaves, then you’re out because who knows what is? So how do you mitigate that? That’s the most important thing here.

Well, one is to realize that you have single points of failure. Okay, you do. Now how do you mitigate it? And the best way to mitigate it is to get things written down. Hey, you’re in the content business. Documentation’s not a bad thing. So any time we request any kind of customization, what we try to do and what I try to do is I try to work with the vendor to make sure that the customization I’m asking for becomes a feature of the product. It is not done for me. It’s a valid customization that anybody that they sell their product to can use.

So what that means is, hey, I’m willing to pay for this feature, however, you have to guarantee that this feature is part of your product, therefore it’s not going to break on upgrades, therefore I’m going to have the documentation I need on what was done and how to do it. And we do that even with anything that we maintain within our own IT. I have who did the work, who did the install, what was the server knowledge, all of that. We document as much as we can so the next time something happens, I know who to go to or I know who the person that’s replacing. We have all that in front of me. It’s very helpful.

SO: And I guess we should clarify, when you say customization, are we talking about or do you draw a distinction between customization and DITA-based specialization? Are those the same thing or is specialization more or less risky?

PN: That’s a really good question. I think that depends on the tool, right, Sarah? If you specialize, we’re going to talk DITA and we talk specialization, some of the tools handle specializations very well. Others require all sorts of work to get the customization to work. So I guess you have to balance that act.

So typically what I like to do is I like to ask when it comes to specialization, why do you think you need to specialize? What’s the reason behind the specialization? And if the answer comes back and says, I just want to restrict the DITA tags that are available, then we start looking for alternative ways to do that. Because in my head, that’s not a specialization. If you’re just doing DITA restriction as opposed to I need special tags, then that’s different in my head.

SO: And then what about the metadata?

PN: Yeah, so the metadata is another thing to think about. Again, when you’re working with a vendor and/or on-premise, do you control the metadata? Ultimately that’s the control that you want. From a content team’s point of view, you want to be able to control the metadata, be able to swap the metadata out, be able to at least have the categories of metadata that you need.

If you get locked into a solution where they tell you you have to have all your metadata upfront and then it’s very difficult to add metadata and/or change it, that’s probably not a solution that I would look to go to. I’d want to have control of that. That’s me and that’s the team I work with, because we tend to be adding new products, new names, new categories, new all sorts of different things. It’s ongoing. And we re-categorize, too.

SO: So ultimately it’s keep it simple, right?

PN: It is, very much.

SO: And the simpler you keep it, the easier your long-term maintenance is going to be. While at the same time saying, well, if we legitimately need this customization or specialization or restriction constraint for what we’re trying to do, then let’s put it in there. I will say that for us, a huge percentage of our projects are people who are switching into structured content for the first time. And we really feel strongly that you want to start small and not do the whole thing upfront.

But again, to your point, there’s some things you have to do upfront or it won’t work in the long-term. But the thing, the content model, the installation, the configuration is going to be the smallest and simplest configuration on day one. It will never get easier or more simple than what you had on day one because people are going to keep adding to it. So it’ll grow over time. And so a lot of times we’ll say, okay, what can we launch with, what sort of minimum viable setup that we can launch with? And then we can add things as we go.

But it is so, so difficult to take things out later. And I mean, this gets out of the realm of what we’re focused on, but typically what’ll happen after six or eight or 10 years is a big replatforming. We’re going to switch from tool A to tool B, and that is usually taken as an opportunity to down sample, to take out all that junk that’s accumulated over time that turned out not to be mission critical or valuable. And so you really, really want, there’s always this tension between I want to do this and I want to get it exactly right, I want to match the content model, I want to match the configuration, I want to do all the things, but the more of that you do, the more expensive it’s going to be and the more it’ll cost to maintain it.

So what can you do to get to that optimum point of value, which is good enough to produce your content, but that last 20% that’s going to cost 80% of the implementation, how badly do you need that stuff? And if you’re regulated, you might need it real badly. If you’re not regulated, you could maybe say no, we’ll do 81% and think about the other 19% as we get into this and we discover that we were dumb and we really didn’t need it.

Okay, so how do you decide? You’re sitting there and you are faced with all these different tools and some of them are on-prem and would be IT supported and some of them are SaaS and would be external and sometimes there’s a weird intermediate thing. Maybe it’s SaaS, but your IT department owns the admin rights or something like that, which by the way, I don’t think is optimal at all. How do you decide, how do you figure it out? What’s the best solution for a given company? What are some factors you’d look at?

PN: Yeah, that’s a good question. One thing that I would recommend, it’s the companies that put together all these big RFPs, I don’t find them valuable, and that’s just my opinion, but I just don’t find them valuable. You’re better off putting a small team of key players together who understand and can write down, document your requirements, the must haves, keeping it simple, and then really looking at the different options that you have available and whether or not they meet those needs, and really scheduling demos and talking with people who use the solutions.

That’s far more valuable than you throwing over the wall a 50 question or a 75 question RFP where that SaaS vendor or any vendor that you’re trying to purchase is going to give you, try to figure out what answer you really want and give you an answer. I just find those not so valuable. And in the end, that team has got to narrow those choices down to two or three that you can really sink your teeth into, and at some point you’ve got to bite the bullet and go with something. Or not. Carry on the way you are. People do that, too.

SO: The RFPs are a really good point. We usually encourage people to do use case scenarios rather than like the RFP. Does your system do versioning? Of course it does versioning. It’s a content management system.

The better question is we need to do branching because we have a scenario where our regions sometimes introduce new features before they go into the core product, and so we need the ability to branch and publish that variant for region A, but then later we want the ability to merge it back into the core product. Please show us how you do that. So it’s a very specific kind of, we need to do this kind of reuse, show us how you do that. You really want to focus on what are the things that matter to you as an organization that are unique, that are unique requirements.

We need to author content in multiple languages. That’s not a common requirement, but when it occurs, it is a differentiator. You really want to find those issues that you have within the organization, if you have them, that are a key. And then from there you can go forward. So you’re sort of saying, okay, the RFP process is bad, but maybe we can use some use case scenarios to make that better. And then let’s say you are looking at a couple of different tools and one of them is in-house and one of them isn’t, then what do you do? You like them equally and they seem to kind of work and maybe the pricing is comparable-ish. Now what?

PN: Yeah, I mean I think at that point you have to decide, form your partnerships. So whether you go with on-prem or whether you go with a SaaS vendor, you have to have good relationships and partnerships with both. So if you have a very good partnership with your IT department, and your IT department, you trust them and the answer to the poll would be they aren’t going to put you last, then that’s probably your answer.

If that IT department is going to put you last and you don’t have a good relationship with them or you don’t have any leverage, they don’t have any escalation process that would help you should something go wrong, then maybe that also is your answer. You just have to figure out where is your strongest relationship? Where do you have most leverage? Where do you believe you have the most control, if control is important to you?

SO: So interesting question here about starting small, which I think was something that I touched on, but the participant is saying, “If you start small with the CMS, then what is the difficulty with increasing it as you learn more? Are you locked into the primary CMS at that point?”

PN: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question, and I do think it depends on the CMS. I mean, I think what Sarah meant with starting small was not start small with the solution you pick, but start small with the implementation with the solution you pick, and knowing that you can scale up that solution you pick. So at any given point, you have to think about will this tool lock you in? Because that does happen. We know it’s happened.

SO: Right. Yeah, I think that’s exactly. So A, if you know that you’re going to have to scale from, let’s say we’re going to start with 10 users, but later we’ll have a hundred or 200, then you have to pick a system that will support 200.

PN: Exactly.

SO: You’re just going to start with the little itty bitty. The other thing to consider here is cross-departmental. So I’m going to start with this group over here of 10, but I have this other group of another 10 with different requirements. So now do I just go in with the sort of primary group A and then I worry about group B later? If I do that, again, you have to make sure upfront that A and B and C and D and E and F are all going to be supportable in a reasonable manner.

So you can do your proof of concept with the smallest viable set of content model, of people, of et cetera, but you have to acknowledge that ultimately I’m starting with this tiny group, but I have this much bigger problem. And you have to make sure that at least on paper, the solution can support all of those things. I don’t think you want to start with something small that won’t scale.

PN: I would agree with that. Because then you’re going to spend more money and have to get another solution down the road or very quickly, depending on how big it does scale. And that’s not a place you want to be. You don’t want to be changing tools in two years.

SO: Yeah, I agree, and also I’ve seen it done that way. And specifically the reasoning was that the lift from mass chaos to structured content was already a huge, huge undertaking. And so they basically wanted two years to make that initial transition out of that level one zero maturity on content into more of a level two or three, we have some maturity in our content, we have some templates, we have standards, and then they were going to uplift it again into, and now we have full on structured content.

I don’t think that’s the optimal solution, but it might a necessary solution in some scenarios. So the consultant answer is always, it depends. And that was a good example where they said, “Look, we need time to get our people on board with this, and we cannot go from where we are now to a level four or five in one step. We have to do this a bit at a time.” And they were afraid that if they tried to bite off the whole thing on day one that it would fail.

PN: And I think that’s a legitimate concern. A legitimate concern for sure. And sometimes what you think you’ll need in the future, you may never need as well. So it’s a happy medium in that case. Maybe not go with the smallest solution, but go through a middle of the road solution.

SO: Who are you and are you a high growth company, or is this a scenario where you could potentially roll this thing out to other departments, let’s say, but your group, your department has a set of requirements and the enterprise, the six or eight or 20 departments would point you at a different solution? Well, okay, what are the odds that you’re actually going to roll it out to everybody? I mean, they might be pretty high. You might just be the beta tester, vanguard, whatever.

But it’s a really, really tricky question because there’s a non-zero chance that in the midst of all of this, you’re going to get bought or sold or spun off, or better yet, your vendor is going to get bought or sold or spun off. So I mean, you can plan forever, but you’re going to be overtaken by events.

PN: Yeah. Oh, I think that’s perfect truth right there. I mean, I think you can pontificate about this for a long period of time and what solution and where it is, but at some point, like I said, you can carry on like you are or you really have to make a decision. I’ve worked with people that are scared to make that choice.

SO: Yeah. So can you talk a little, you touched on relationships and I think at some point you said influence or leverage. Can you touch on that a little bit?

PN: Yeah, no, that’s a really, yeah, so influencing and gaining leverage, how do you do that when you’re not controlling the solution? You may have admin rights. But really it’s about, I think for me, what I try to do is I try to establish expectations. So really if you decide on a solution with your IT team, set the expectations with them. Here’s what I expect, here’s what I need. Here’s kind of the turnaround time that I expect as well. Get an escalation process in place. If you’re with a SaaS vendor, you’ve got a service level agreement, you need to put that in place, you need to walk through that and use that to your advantage.

And again, I just try to communicate. There’s nothing that you can do better than just to communicate back and forth, communicate your frustration, communicate data. There’s no need to get angry with anybody. I mean, I look at it that way. I get frustrated and I will say that I’m frustrated, but I also present the data behind the things that are going on as well. And that’s always very helpful. But if you’re all aligned on all of those things and you have a good relationship with whomever it is you’re working with, then they’re going to want you to be as successful as they are. So it’s a win-win instead of a win-lose.

SO: Can you talk a little bit about the archetypes of, I’m not going to ask you what your particular company setup is, but more broadly, when you’re looking at these companies or if you’re looking at the profile of a company, what are the kinds of things that lead you to say, okay, you should probably be SaaS versus the kinds of things that lead you to say you should probably be on-prem? Is there a profile of a company or of a content team that pushes in one direction or another? And is there one where you say this is obviously going to have to be SaaS?

PN: Yeah, I mean, look at the size of the team that you have. Look at whether or not you need translation, whether you have translators, whether those translators are a vendor or whether those translators are actually part of your company’s team, part of the content team. That will help dictate how many integrations do you have? I mean, is your company going to tell you that you need to integrate with your customer service ticketing system? Is it telling you that you have to integrate with your company’s search engine? The more integrations that take place, the more obvious it might be that you might want an on-prem solution, given that you would have the expertise there to do those integrations, and you’re not dependent upon a third party to help you with that.

If you have a small writing team, and typically for smaller companies, I would tell you that you don’t want an on-prem solution, that you want a SaaS solution, something simple, because your IT department’s going to be overwhelmed with taking care of other things and not your small little writing team. So I don’t know if that was helpful. That’s kind of the way I look at it, is the size of the team and look at the capability of your IT department and determine integrations and needs, use cases, like you said.

SO: Yeah, I think for us, looking at this as we come into consulting deals, I would say it’s less the size of the team and more the IT capabilities. Because when the SaaS stuff first came along, the knee-jerk reaction from everybody was, oh, totally unacceptable. We will never, this is our content and we will never put it in this weirdo cloud thing. But then very quickly it turned into we can’t get support from IT.

So this allows us to essentially offload the IT requirements onto a vendor, and it’s much, much easier to get vendor money than it is to get IT support. And that’s not a criticism per se of your IT group. It’s a criticism of whoever decides to fund your IT group. Because when they’re overwhelmed with fixing everybody’s Microsoft Office installations and making sure they stay on top of patches and things, that tends to push the content teams out towards let’s use SaaS because we’ll never get support internally.

The integration thing is really interesting, and then it depends on where does that thing live? If that in turn is SaaS, then maybe you can just SaaS to SaaS, which sounds somehow terrible, and work through it that way.

So there’s a slightly different question here in the chat around recognizing the necessity for change. So the question here is, “You end up with a lot of content in a single vendor tool that no longer fits the bill, so you outgrew your tool and you need to switch. So what do you do? How do you get your leaders to a place where they realize that the change is a necessity?”


PN: Yeah, that’s a really good question as well. I mean, at some point the tool breaks, it flat out breaks. In other words, you no longer can do what you need to do with it, so you’re delaying product releases because there’s no content, or you can’t build a help system, or you can’t publish. It breaks. So you either, if you have problems convincing leaders that you need something bigger and better, once it breaks and once you impact revenue and impact product releases, people tend to kind of wake up to that reality.

You never want to get to that point, of course. You want to, if you can, try to prove that it is going to break in some cases or keep track of what has broken, what you’re cobbling together to get fixed. Sarah, you’ve seen this in industry a lot because people really outgrow their tools, and that’s just because things break.

SO: Before I touch on that, if you have questions, we’ll have a couple of minutes to answer them. So get them in now. And I’ve got a small, not huge queue of them, so your chances are pretty good.

At a high level, you have to get to a point where from your leader’s perspective, the risk of the change is less than the risk of the not change. So in other words, status quo is whatever it is, and there’s a risk in changing. But what you have to show them is what is the cost of not changing? What is the risk of staying the same? So all the things that Pam’s talking about, our product releases aren’t working and it’s going to get worse and worse and worse, and we’re working days, nights, and weekends to make this happen, but one of these days the thing is just going to break. Or we have too many articles and no metadata strategy, and so our search isn’t working and it’s just going to get worse as we add more stuff.

We do a lot of what we call replatforming, which is we bought this tool a while back and now it’s time to make a change. Our needs have grown in one direction and the product has grown in a different direction. So we’ve diverged and it’s time to make a change, and it’s an opportunity to reset, to say, what assumptions did we make the last time around? Are those still valid? We have new languages, we have new product lines, we have new outputs, we have new content contributors, we have AI solutions that we want to bake in. We got to 48 minutes without saying AI. It’s a world record.

PN: Well done.

SO: So that type of thing. What are your new requirements and what has changed in the landscape and what do you need to do to accommodate those things? But my big picture advice is to focus less on we need to make a change and focus more on here are all the things that are broken, and therefore we need to make a change. It’s a risk thing because it always feels less risky to not move, to stay in place.

So I’ve got another question here for you. I’m just going to fire them all at you, and it’s really fun because I just ask and you get to answer. “When your custom CMS is managed by an internal product team, how do you help them prioritize features which would reduce the content team toil rather than changes which reduce the product team or developer toil?”

PN: Oh wow, that’s a million-dollar question. I need to go buy a lottery ticket, if I could answer that one. I guess all you can do is put together a list of the two sets of features and some bullets on why one is more important than the other. So you’re going to have to leverage your expertise to try to influence them to understand the impact. That’s all you can do, is impact.

SO: Show that one of them costs more than the other.

PN: Yeah.

SO: As opposed to, I like them better because I spend more time with them, so I’m going to prioritize their complaints over my complaints as a customer person. Okay, let’s see here. “I’m a technical writer,” says this person, and their manager … Oh, I know this isn’t going to go well. “My manager is the VP of marketing. TechCom is folded into the marketing department at my company.” So hi, sorry, you’re doomed. Carrying on. I’ll stop editorializing. “My manager wants the company to get a PIM, a product information management system, and a DAM, a digital asset management system, but doesn’t know anything about structured authoring for technical documents. What are some ways to educate managers about structured authoring?”

PN: That’s a really, that’s yeah, I like that question.

SO: Where the manager is the VP of marketing.

PN: Right, right. So you’re looking at it from a marketing point of view, which makes it difficult. I think you have to go at it from a revenue point of view. In other words, it’s all about money in businesses. So anything that you can put in place that says if you use structured content, this is kind of the money that you can capitalize on, whether it’s reuse. If you’re doing translation, it’s like a no-brainer. You can educate on the structured content because of the reuse. So making translation cheaper to do.

But I do understand with the PIM and the DAM, those two things are very important to marketing managers. So you also have to look at your content as part of the solution, whether it’s technical or not. It has to be part of the solution. So if you can say that if it was more structured, perhaps the marketing team could use it in their kind of different marcom data sheets and whatnot. I’m trying to think of a reuse capability there. I don’t know, Sarah, what do you think?

SO: Yeah, I mean there’s a couple of levers here, but it’s a hard problem because a marketing VP is going to be focused on marketing things. So probably your best path here is, I mean, first, I agree with the efficiency argument. You argue reuse, efficiency, better, faster, cheaper translation, automation, those kinds of things. You can then roll that into a time-to-market, better content. Our technical content supports presale, right?

Because there’s a lot of evidence that people do their research and they look at the technical content before they make a buying decision. So if your technical content isn’t up to snuff, then you’re going to have problems selling your products, which is the thing that your marketing team cares about. There’s also, you can argue internet presence and SEO and keywording presence and those kinds of things, but ultimately, marketing cares about consumer engagement, time to market, resources to support visibility and viability of the products in the marketplace.

So your best way to get to this is to say less, hey, a structured authoring is cool and we should do it and more, hey, all these marketing problems that you have, we can help address if we go into structured authoring. And then you kind of connect the dots on that. It’s a really, really hard thing to do because most marketing content is sort of the antithesis of structured. Data sheets are a good example of something that’s more structured, and also sometimes technical marketing, technical white papers, but it’s just really hard.

So in terms of resources, there’s a huge amount of stuff on our website, including some business case discussions and some discussion around content ops and why it matters. So you might want to go down that road and see if anything helps.

Okay, I’ve got time for one last one. This is another influencer question. We have a lot of how do I get influence in order to make the right decision or help the company make the right decision questions, which I think points at certain kinds of issues. So the question is, “What is an effective method for influencing tool decisions primarily in the hands of other departments? Our marketing team has been given control.” Marketing again. “Has been given control of choice of help content presentation tools, but have not considered content creation and updating. This caused a serious problem that they recognize, but have still not included me in the process to choose a new solution.”

PN: All right, so that one’s tough. I would get a seat at the table. Whatever you have to do, get a seat at the table and just say, “I just want to sit in. Let me listen, let me understand.” Try to get a seat at the table, and that’s your best foot forward. Offer to help, offer to be a player, a team player. You’re not trying to impede process. You are just trying to listen and learn and understand and offer to whatever they get, you can at least help do training or something. So any way to get yourself in that door, get that foot in.

SO: I think that’s right, especially if you’re an employee and you’re inside the organization. As a consultant, I’m going to walk in and say, “This problem is costing you X dollars, and you need to make sure that all your stakeholders are involved when you make these kinds of decisions.”

Pam’s advice is almost certainly better for your specific scenario because it can be risky to do what consultants get to do from the outside, which is walk in and say, “You people have a problem,” right? I’m allowed to do that. I’m even paid to do that. But the real answer here is what is your social capital within the organization and how can you leverage it to do exactly what Pam said?

Okay, Pam, thank you.

PN: You’re welcome.

SO: This was really fun and really interesting, and I think a lot of good insight. And judging from the questions that are coming in, people are, I mean, they’re worried about this stuff and they’re worried about not just that-

PN: It’s a legit-

SO: … that decision, but even just getting to the point of making the right decision with the right people involved. So Christine, I’m going to throw it back to you. I think you’ve got a couple of announcements, and thank you all. Contact information is in the attachments if you need anything. And Pam, thank you so much.

PN: You’re most welcome.

CC:  Yeah, and if you really enjoyed this webinar, actually both Pam and … Wait. Oh yeah, there we go. Sorry. Flashed the wrong slide for a second. Both Pam and Sarah and our chief operating officer, Alan Pringle, are going to be speaking at LavaCon. So if you’re planning on attending LavaCon, there’s a discount code to get 10% off your registration. If you weren’t planning but you’re interested, definitely go check it out. That’s also in the attachments section, so you can get some more information on that.

And lastly, thank you so much for being here. Please rate and give feedback for the webinar. If you have any feedback for us, we really do find that helpful. Also, save the date for our next webinar, which is July 17th. And thank you all for being here.

SO: Thanks, everyone.

PN: Thanks, everybody.