On-Demand Webinars

DCL Learning Series

Content Standardization and Structure: Is It Really Worth the Effort?

Webinar Transcript

Marianne Calilhanna

Hello, welcome to today's webinar. This DCL Learning Series webinar is titled "Content Standardization and Structure: Is It Really Worth the Effort?" My name is Marianne Calilhanna, I'm the Vice President of Marketing at Data Conversion Laboratory, and I'm here just to review a couple quick housekeeping tips before I introduce our fabulous panelists, who will answer this rhetorical question. First, the webinar is being recorded, and you can access the recording of this webinar in a couple of days on our website at dataconversionlaboratory.com. Second, please feel free to submit any questions or comments throughout today's program, just as they come to mind. There's a little box in the webinar panel, you can just jot down your thoughts. We love hearing from you. Next slide, please. 


So. I had so much fun speaking with these two panelists, as we put this program together for you today. Two industry experts in the areas of information architecture, content structure, digital transformation, and so much more, as you can see from here. Welcome, David Turner, Digital Consultant at Data Conversion Laboratory, and Regina Lynn Preciado, Senior Content Strategist at Content Rules. We're happy to have you here today. 


David Turner

Well, thanks so much. 


Regina Lynn Preciado

Hi.

David Turner

Are you ready for us to get cranking? 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

I'm ready. 

David Turner

Well, let's take it away, then. All right. So I guess first of all, I should probably just give a quick bit of background about myself. I've been working with XML content technologies for a number of years. I'm based in the beautiful suburb of Sachse, Texas, and I work for Data Conversion Laboratory, or DCL, as we're also known. Just quickly about DCL, our mission is to structure the world's content. So the services and solutions that we offer are all about things like converting, or structuring, or enriching content and data. We are definitely one of the leading providers of these kinds of services for both XML, for DITA, for S1000D, for structured product labeling, or SPL, conversion. If you've got complex content, data challenges, obviously, we'd love to help. So, there's DCL. Regina, why don't you tell us about yourself and Content Rules?

Regina Lynn Preciado

Sure. I'm Regina, and I am the Senior Content Strategist with Content Rules. And we are – like, where do I even begin? We are the only end-to-end content services provider in the world. Thank you very much. We've worked with DCL for a long time, and what David did not mention was everyone at DCL is completely awesome. So, I mean, just go with DCL. So, anyway. So we work with content strategy, global content strategy, content optimization, content development, writing, editing, illustrating, and content transformation, which is the process of, gee, moving from unstructured to structured contents. What do you do with all that content that you and your company have created over the past hundred years? So we are experts in those areas. We've helped a lot of companies get from here to there. So we're very experienced with the part in the middle, where people start questioning, is this even worth it? So, that's why I'm here today. 

3:59

David Turner

And what she failed to mention is that everyone at Content Rules is also awesome. So –

Regina Lynn Preciado

It's true. 

 

David Turner

We do love working with them. Great partner. All right. So as we were putting this together, I got to thinking, I've seen you and Val do a bunch of webinars through the years, and I know we've done a bunch on this business case. So I thought maybe we might try something a little different, if that works for you. And – but first, let me actually just give the business case, so that we don't leave anybody stranded out there who maybe hasn't heard it. So when we're talking about this business case around content standardization or content structure, we're talking about, kind of, this, this sea change, if you will, in a number of industries due to a lot of different trends that we could spend the entire webinar on.

There's a movement in writing going from creating these long form documents, and a focus on that, to instead creating and managing and storing reusable content chunks or content components, things that can be combined and recombined in different ways, so that you can have dynamic delivery, and for different users on different devices, you can do things on demand. Anyway, we're going to talk about a lot of these things, and we're going to talk about benefits to the business and other things. But I thought maybe we should define a few key terms first. So Regina, I'm going to get to put you on the spot, since you're the real consultant here. Walk us through these definitions here that we've got on the screen here. We talk about structured content, content components, content reuse, content standardization.

Regina Lynn Preciado

Right. Yeah, so about 10 minutes before the webinar, David told me I would be on the spot to define these things. Yeas, so – only worked on it for 20 years. So, when we're talking about structured content, we are talking about, typically, very modular content that we create according to a set of standards, so that everything is interoperable, meaning everything can work together. You can mix and match your building blocks of content into various content experiences, which could be something as dynamic as a completely personalized journey across the web, or it could be something as old school as a big long document. But you can make those same contents deliverables out of your set of content building blocks.

So the structure of the content is to provide sort of the specification for your content. The components are your building blocks of content that can be mixed and matched into anything you need it to be. Content reuse is: you write the content one time, you make that building block one time. You don't have to reinvent and have a bunch of redundant duplicate content getting in the way, when you have really good content reuse. All of this is based on standards the same way we use the metaphor a lot of: you can go out and buy any kitchen faucet that you want, and it's going to fit on your pipes, as long as everything was built according to the standards.

David Turner

It's a bit of a paradox, when you think about it, right?

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes. 

 

David Turner

The more that you want to personalize content –

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes.

 

David Turner

...the more that you have to actually standardize it. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes. 

 

David Turner

When I think about structured content, the example that comes to me is, someone once said to me, when we look at a document, we as humans, we natively see the structure, we recognize whether it's by a unique typeface, or a color, or the way something's broken out –

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Right, right.

7:58

David Turner

...we recognize that that's a title, and we recognize that that's an author's name, and we recognize that that's a header one and a header two, and we can recognize all of those pieces. But the way I understand it now is that machines don't necessarily see content the same way. So we have to tell them, and the way that we tell them is through these tags, this structure, these hidden components that are kind of behind the scenes that just say "Hey, computer, that's a heading one. Hey, computer, that's a paragraph. Hey, computer, that's a sentence we may want to reuse," depending on how granular you want to get with it. So that's what I think of when I think of this. Certainly, content reuse, I think about, people have told me they've gone and they've changed some piece of legal in their content, and they go out to fix this in their documentation, they think "Oh, my gosh, I've got 27 products, and I've got 37 variations of every one of those 27 products, and every one of those documents has this legal jargon in it. How do I find it? How do I get it?"

With content reuse, it's a matter of making the change one time and pushing it out. But with the old ways, it's, well, not so easy. In any case. All right. So, lots and lots of benefits when we talk about this. Typically, when we're talking about the benefits like this, we're talking about benefits to the business, or you might hear us talking about benefits to the industry, or, rightly so, we focus a lot on benefits to the customers. I think for the business, when you look at moving to content structure, you certainly make your writing processes a lot more efficient, you make your business a lot more responsive to things like regulatory change.

I think there's benefits to the business and industry when you start focusing on standards, because now you can focus on things like best practices, you can have shared innovation, you start to use standard content models, you can have shared toolkits, all sorts of things like that. And then of course, for customers, they like having personalized content, right? They like having a great content experience. I tell some people just the difference can be: think about when you try to look at a Word document on your cell phone, or a PDF document on your cell phone. And you're pinching, and zooming, and trying to get it over here like that. And then when you have a more mobile-optimized experience, what a difference that makes, right?

So being able to have the structured content does all that. Of course, right there in the middle, you've got some benefits that really affect everybody. You've got lower costs, which are certainly good for the business. Lower costs tend to be good for the industry, and tend to be good for customers, because they can pass that along. You've got increased safety, which may seem a little unusual, but, I know you've done a lot of work in, like, life sciences, pharmaceutical. How has structured content sort of helped to increase the safety?

Regina Lynn Preciado

Oh, wow. Well, you know, in pharma – saying "pharma," safety data, obviously, is a giant piece of what pharma companies have to research and figure out and have data on. And then they have to communicate all the results of all that research and all the trials on how safe is the drug, and how safe is the person taking the drug? Et cetera. So, the data doesn't necessarily change when you're writing up the report on your clinical trial, or you are explaining to physicians how safe the drug is, do take it with this, don't take it with that, that sort of thing, or even communicating with patients. So the data is the same. I'm extremely simplifying here, for the two or three of you out there that work with me in pharma. It's very simple here.

12:09

But – so the content itself, carrying that information all the way through an entire body of work that doesn't create ambiguity. Wait, over here, it says, another very simple, take with milk. Over here, it says never take with milk. Now what? What do I do? So having that consistency across the body of content. We're all a lot more aware now of pharma and safety through the COVID vaccines and everything that's going on in the world. So I think more and more, there's scrutiny and visibility on safety as an example, but having the content be consistent throughout the body of what you're saying, so you're never giving mixed messages, and you're never directing people to do – maybe it's a machine, maybe it's software. You're never directing people to do a different thing here than there, when it should be the same. So, we talk a lot about consistency as a benefit, but I don't think we always remember to connect it to why as a consumer or a customer, or even internally to accompany the not mixing your messages, even as you're mixing and matching –

David Turner

Oh yeah. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

...your content is so important. The more people you have creating the content, the more ways you are combining that content into documents, websites, mobile experiences, online help systems, feeding it to your AI to deliver it dynamically to whoever needs it at the time, the more that consistency piece becomes super important. 


David Turner

Yeah, absolutely. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

I'll step off my soapbox now. I didn't know that was in there ready to come out, but it was! Sorry!

 

David Turner

You think about it, when people rely on these copy and paste methods, before too long, the content is bouncing to start to look a little different. When somebody makes a change, maybe to a drug product. I can only imagine the lawsuits that may have happened when one particular document didn't get updated, because somebody didn't get to it. There's a story that we tell internally, where we were working with the Air Force, and somebody had gone through made a bunch of change to a document, and it was all about turning the dial clockwise. But in all the documentation, they got it right, except in one, where they had it turned counterclockwise. Now, fortunately, we were able to surface that before the content actually got published. But think about the damage that could have caused there.

 

I'm also thinking about the speed to market here. People think, well, what impact does content really have on that? I think it has to do with the big changes that need to be made. Again, a pharma example. If a product is going to market, it's constantly undergoing change. It should go through the clinical trials processes, it should go through the labeling, health regulations are changing, you're trying to make content changes. If you're having to go and pick around and find all those places to fix things, that's going to slow you down before you can get everything registered and get your product out to the market. So a lot of times, getting your content done more quickly will help you to get registrations done more quickly, and will help you get your content to market sooner.

Certainly, there are definitely a lot of benefits here. Let's walk through a couple more here. So we talked beforehand about – some of these benefits are short-term, some are mid-term, some are long-term. Talk a little bit about some of this, as you see it. I know you've done a lot of different implementations.

Regina Lynn Preciado

Mm-hmm.

David Turner

I'll just leave it open-ended to you here.

15:51

Regina Lynn Preciado

Right. So getting back to that question of, is it worth it? So one of the situations I see that question coming up is when a company – you know, and kudos to them for just forging ahead. But if they didn't start with defining their success criteria, and put in some interim milestones of what's a win all along the way, that's where it's really easy to lose track halfway through of, why are we doing this again, and what happened, and we changed this, and we bought a new system, and it's making us do that. So we talk about these short-term, mid-term, and long-term benefits. That in the short term, for writers, it really does help you. No matter how much you want to resist it – "Ahh!" – which I often do myself, it does help refocus us on the purpose of the content, who we're serving, the message we need to get across, regardless of whether it's technical documentation, or marketing, e-learning, just learning support, all of it.

Any type of content, what is the goal of this content and its purpose, helps us get faster, because we don't have to keep rewriting, copy, paste, duplicate, rewrite, manage it, change it everywhere, we don't know what it is, and we get to that interoperability, which I've been practicing saying out loud, where you're getting that all the content, because you have some consistency now, you can reuse content, and it's going to flow smoothly for whoever is reading or watching or experiencing it, because you have made it so that everything can stand alone, and therefore everything can work together. By everything, I probably mean most things. Some content might get left out of this. But you're looking at right away, even if you don't change tools, even if you're mostly working with old processes, you can write to the best practices, or you can create any type of media to the best practices of structure and see these wins early on.

 

The business gains of the midterm are probably the more obvious ones for selling to the company that you need to make some investment in moving to structure, and that's where each release gets faster. The first time, maybe not. Everyone's changing, everyone's trying to master the new way. But by the second, and definitely by the third release cycle, you've got that faster completion of everything, you can improve it as you go, you see the cost savings now, you're starting to earn back already, the cost of if you bought a new system, the content's more accurate, gets your translations more accurate, everything just gets better in the midterm. And then for the longer term, I get this question a lot in the past couple years, well, can't we just get AI? Can't we just have the artificial intelligence do it?

The answer there is yes and no. You have to train it first, and the most efficient and best way to train an artificial intelligence system is to give it a lot of structured, standardized content. So all along, you've been getting your content better and better, faster and cheaper and more accurate, all at the same time, and that's better for the company, and it's better for the customers, but now you're also ready to enter into a future of – we use a lot of examples for AI, what it can do with content, so I'll leave that one there or I'm going to take up the rest of the whole half hour. But that's also going into – even if you're not going all the way to AI, you can get greater automation. You've got the content structured, you can start marrying it with data, you can start pulling things together. Look at all the dynamic experiences we expect.

 

Today, if you're just looking at weather, here in northern California, we're looking at fires, we're looking at the AI of – see, there I am again. Looking for this, and doing this, and doing these models, and trying to predict something, and then pulling the content together in an automated way to let me know, within three seconds, the information I wanted when I open the app. That can't happen if you don't go back to the structures and those short-term benefits.

20:16

David Turner

Right. So I would say, just to summarize, to those of you out there, if you haven't seen kind of this presentation before, there is a business case to be made for some short-term advantages. As you move to this, you certainly do get some short term benefits. Cost savings is probably not one of them immediately. But ultimately, as you start to move into the next iterations, you're going to start seeing those cost savings and those time savings, you're going to see the accuracy, and you're really going to see it accelerate pretty quickly. And then long term, the benefits for AI personalization, it's just huge, it's just huge. But again, we're talking about this a lot from the perspective of the business, how they're going to save money, and the customer's going to get more personalized content. But Regina, as you know, where the rubber meets the road on these kinds of projects is most often the writers. You have mentioned the writers here briefly, but I want to focus on them for the next half, this – is it even worth it, I think, is the question that a lot of the writers are asking, right?

Truthfully, it's the writers that can make or break the success of these kinds of projects, you know? So about this time, as they're hearing all of these benefits, I think you start to see some writers that are just wondering maybe, what's in it for me? I can see what the benefits are to the business and the customers, but you're asking an awful lot of me. I think they'll start to wonder what that impact is going to be. I mean, after all, most of them, I think, probably thought when they started their writing career, that this is what the typical tech writing day or medical writing day might look like. Was that your thought, as well, when you started out as a writer?

Regina Lynn Preciado

No comment. [Laughs]

David Turner

But honestly, instead, writers tend to spend their days doing a lot of things besides writing. They're having to mess with fixing formatting, they're having to write down the places to make a change, they're having to copy, paste and tweak, and copy, paste and tweak, and copy, paste and tweak. And it really creates a lot of hassle. So, you know, I think if you ask most of your vendors who go out there and try to sell tools and technologies, they'll tell you that the pushback that they get on these kinds of initiatives tends to be the writers, because the writers are already feeling overwhelmed. They're not getting to write, they're frustrated with how these things happen, and so it gets them crazy. So I guess an easy way to put this would be, technology is easy, but people are hard. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

"Coming out next year from Val Swisher and Regina Preciado at Content Rules..." Oh, no. We're recording this!

 

David Turner

I was just going to say –

Regina Lynn Preciado

We all know what "next year" means on a book project.

David Turner

I was just going to say someone ought to write a book, but I guess someone already is writing a book.

Regina Lynn Preciado

I'm going to get my AI to do that.

 

David Turner

Oh, that's hilarious. So, well, since you are an expert in this, and since you do have some ideas coming out, why is this kind of change so hard, and why – and would you agree that the writers are a pretty critical component of it? 

23:52

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes, the writers are a very critical component of it, which gives writers more visibility, with all the pros and cons that come with having more visibility in a company. And when it's successful, it's on the writers to remind the company that it's successful because of the writers. People don't immediately necessarily go there. They do when we work with them. And you're not wrong. I mean, if the writers – I mean, we've failed at this before, yep. Almost everybody has, to one extent or another, some experience of trying to change something. Now, often, it's like in the olden days, we change templates, and things like that. We also don't remember that if your company is old enough, then you've probably already made a big change from print to HTML, for example. But we all take that for granted.


But in some of the other areas, I think we can recast these – I don't want to say that these are not true. I think it's an immediate – we're too busy, writers are so busy, they're overloaded, they're being asked to do more and more and more, and they also know, yeah, the promises of structured content will be able to deliver more, you know, without quite as much churn to make it happen. But getting from here to there can be really overwhelming. And if it's not done well, if it's a project that's guided by best intentions but not best practices, not proven methodologies, not a step- by- step identify all along the way, what is our priority? Are we just trying to get faster? Do we need to cut costs? Are we trying to go from no translations to 50 languages around the world?

Like, whatever your main business goal is, this project needs to support that business goal. It's not structure for structure's sake, and I think writers get put in this a lot, around, we have to buy a new system. And we heard DITA XML is a good system, so let's do that. And the company itself doesn't know to do a little bit of planning, so that the whole thing goes faster and smoother. And that can help address these concerns that writers have. Let's not make it more complex than it has to be. For example, if it's going that way, you've – pushback's the right thing to do, needs to simplify. But...

David Turner

I think two different companies are in different places. Sometimes you deal with people who've been down the road of structured content before, maybe they've worked with DITA or some other format of XML in the past. You've got others who have heard of this, but they don't really know. So they go and they do a Google search, and they pull up an XML document, and they pull up, and they see all of those tags, all those things that really, people aren't intended to see. It's the kind of stuff that the computers are supposed to see, and they immediately say "No, no way."

Regina Lynn Preciado

Nope. 

 

David Turner

"That's not me." So you can really kind of see. And then frankly, I think we see writers way too often have things pushed off on them. They seem like the easy people, and it can be really frustrating. So anyway. I think we're going to hit on these four things individually here. But I wanted to first just talk a little bit about the heart of the writer. And when I say I want to talk about the heart of the writer, I want to let you talk about the heart of the writer. So I'm going to share this next slide here. We've put together an idea of some things that, in general, authors love, and, in general, authors hate. Help us to understand the heart of the writer, as they look at these kinds of initiatives and just their projects in general. 

27:54

Regina Lynn Preciado

Okay. So this "The Writer" we're talking about is a composite of thousands, probably, now, of – or at least over a thousand of writers I've been one of or worked with over a long time, and generally, even the most technical of technical documentation specialists, there's a creativity in there. Now, I've just heard half the audience go "What? No!" but it's true. People do like to be valued, they like to make a difference. When you get to the point where you don't feel like your writing is valued, or that it's not making a difference, or the writers are just getting blamed for everything, then it's not fun anymore. We don't love that. And we want the content to say the right thing to the right person at the right time. That is a thing that as a professional communicator, we want to communicate.

And therefore, what gets really frustrating is if you're wasting a lot of time. There's a meme that goes around about a person who accidentally summons a demon because all they were trying to do was make the bullet lists line up in a word processor. 

 

David Turner

[Laughs]

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

You've seen that cartoon. So, struggling with annoying technology things like how hard it is to just log into the server, just dumb stuff like that. But anyway. So we don't like doing the same thing over and over and over again, which may lead to some of that copy, paste, and then tweak, because you can't help it. You look at the words, you're like "Ah, just this one little change," you know. On the other hand, doing something new, just for the sake of doing something new, you know, a lot of us are skeptical about that. Even if you really like doing new things, you want to do something new just because it's fun to do something new, if it's not the right thing to do, then it's a big waste of time.

So, I think, as a writer, sometimes fooling around with formatting for a while can actually give your brain some thinking time to process what you should be writing. I think sometimes it's not really realistic to think you're going to go to the office and turn on the computer and spend nine hours in a row writing great new, creative, special, perfect content. It's just that that waste over time of duplicating and redundance, and trying to make it publish, and creating the PDF, and then realizing, oh, you forgot to accept track changes, and so now you have to go back, all that kind of stuff that is not a use of the job.

 

David Turner

Honestly, you can get caught up in the whole fixing and formatting. Sometimes that can actually move over into the "authors love" category, right? There are some writers out there who I think they really do love that, they love trying to make things format right, and they love going in and checking, and they love that whole idea of editing things down. But maybe management doesn't love that they're spending all of their time doing that. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yeah. And there is something, if somebody is really – turns out they have a real love for the look and the feel and the formatting and the graphic design (two different things), all of that, there is a role in structured content for building out lots of those designs –

 

David Turner

Absolutely. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

...and design templates and keeping them up-to-date and optimizing them for understanding, and when one person has both skills, writing and design, or if they're really, at heart, more of a designer, there is a role for that as well. But the idea that we're going to keep doing a "save as" on a document, and then just updating the parts that are different for some different purpose, that's just not, that's just not the future of enterprise communications. 

 

David Turner

Yeah. And I sort of laughed when I saw here, duplication of effort, that authors hate duplication of effort, unless that's the way they've always done it. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

You know –

 

David Turner

Because if you've always done it that way, we don't mind. 

 

32:01

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yeah. It doesn't feel like you're duplicating effort when you take something and revise it for your purpose. So that's the thing that's hard, is that mind shift to, we are a writer writing for customers, and all the content needs to fit its standards in its structure, so that it can be used throughout. So that shift of writing for reuse, writing, so the content delivery can be automated and assembled, it does mean people have to let go of some of the choices that we might make. On the other hand, taking away a lot of those duplication of efforts, it's not like – unfortunately, it's not like you get to fill the time with sitting around eating chocolate, it's, now you have – there's new content to create, and there's new content experiences to put together, and there's new things to do with the content that you never had time to get to before. So by leaving the reusable content as it is, and focusing your creativity on some of the other pieces of creating a body of work is what this move asks of content creators.

David Turner

Yeah. Although as a side note –

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Go ahead, go ahead. 

 

David Turner

Well, I was just going to say, as a side note, if anybody is aware of one of those jobs where you can get paid well to sit around and eat chocolates, feel free to email me at dturner at dclab dot com. I might be very interested in that position. In any case, there's a question at the bottom here of the slide, and it says, how does content standardization help authors spend more time doing what they love and less what they hate? Instead of just throwing that out there as a question that we'll just answer, I want to answer that by going back through the four things that we saw before, the four statements that they made, and I want to try to reframe those in the idea of how content standardization and structure can help.

 

So, if I click over to the next slide, the first one is, "I don't have time for this." My response when I hear that is, really you don't have time to do it the old way. I spoke to somebody in pharma labeling not too long ago, and he was saying they were interested in trying to identify where their reuse opportunities were, and we were going through using our Harmonizer solution. So I said, "Well tell me – talk to me a little bit about, what's your business case for this?" And he said, "Time to market." I said, "Well, what do you mean?" And he said, "Well, after project Warp Speed last year, there's this new feeling that we can get drugs out a lot faster than we ever did before. And so there's this new pressure to find wherever we can to reduce waste. We just realized that anytime that there's a change in our labels, that our writers are having to go and find all of the places where these problems are.

So it was taking – a small change might take six months for them to identify all of the places where they had to make the change. I thought, yeah, six months, that's crazy. So anyways. When I read your recent book, the example I saw on there was the washing machine example, and I thought that was just perfect. So if you would, walk us through the washing machine example, and I think it's going to help people understand why – they might not think they have time for this, but why this is actually going to save them a lot of time in the execution.

35:52

Regina Lynn Preciado

I don't remember the washing machine example. Did I write – oh, I did! No. Just kidding. So yes, the washing machine example was something we picked in our book, which I have right here, The Personalization Paradox. And we were talking about how many companies have a whole line of products that are very, very similar, and a lot of the content for them is the same, with some differences about whatever is unique to that product. And the old way of doing a "save as," making a duplicate of the manual, and changing just the parts that are different, or adding things is – it's fraught with peril. You could miss something, you could accidentally use the wrong model number, you could make one minor little change that actually makes the customer unable to use their new machine.

And so it's, actually, David, it's exactly what you were saying in the labeling example, that by not doing modular, structured content with reuse, and only adding in the content that has to be added, and only that new little content getting approved and looked at, it's just so much faster and more accurate when you do it in a structured way, and this old way consumes a lot of our time. I think it's hard to keep up with your current deadlines, and be in a transformation project at the same time, and that a lot of the "I don't have time for this" comes from an unrealistic expectation that, oh, we just buy a new software, and poof, now we're in a new thing. There's some planning that has to be done, there's an investment up front. Because writers are right, they don't have time for this. They don't have time to do it badly. 

 

David Turner

Right. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

But, when you do it well, "do it" meaning the move from unstructured to structured content, you do regain time that you then redirect into more valuable efforts. 

 

David Turner

Absolutely. Maybe it's not a short-term benefit, but maybe it's a mid-term benefit before you start to really realize that. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

There's ways to keep up with current deadlines and go through –

 

David Turner

Absolutely. I will just say, there's a couple things that you should always think about, if you're managing teams of writers, to try to reduce the amount of time and get them to the benefit, first of all, is to find good consultants, so that you're not just buying a technology and applying a problem. You really need to work through this in the right way, so that you don't spin your wheels. And then second of all, I'd say, get the content right. A lot of people go in, and they figure, oh, well, I'll just let my writers clean up all the content after we convert it to DITA. We'll get them to all clean it up. If they're having to clean it up, that's just going to really bog things down. So find a good content conversion partner who will help get that cleanup done for you, so that your writers can run with it and actually start to get those time benefits. Were you to say something there? I'm sorry. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

I was not. 

 

David Turner

Oh, I thought –

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

That was good. Well said. 

 

David Turner

Well, let's go to the next one here. So the next statement was, ah, "this is too complex." I get it. I understand. I understand why it's complex, because a lot – like I said, a lot of times people look over, and they see all these XML tags, and they go "Oh, there's no way I could do that." But a lot of times anything is new, you'll hear people say, "Oh, yeah, yeah, I could never do that." I used to work with a bunch of guys that – we had, like, a complex pay system for salespeople, and those sales people would say, "Oh, I can't do that." But they would manage the most complex fantasy football league information.

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes. 

 

David Turner

And gambling pools, and it was just – it was amazing, all the things that they could do with numbers, these people who just couldn't seem to figure out the compensation system. And I know, notice, adults are like this, but those younger people in my house will look at things and say "Oh, yeah. I can't really do that." But yet, every new social media platform that comes out, they are instantly an expert at, every new video game, they pick up and play without ever touching a manual or trial –

40:24

Regina Lynn Preciado

You know why? Because they're not trying to deal with some long, stupid document, when all they really need is the one thing that says what's the cheat code to skip level one because I'm tired of level one? 

 

David Turner

Exactly. So I understand there is complexity to this, but I think, first of all, you know, the – if you hire the right consultants, they can help you with that. Secondly, if you can get the right tools in place. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes. 

 

David Turner

I know I was blown away when I moved from the world of creating my XML in Notepad ++, to starting to use tools like Fonto XML, which, I think we got a screenshot here of Fonto XML, that really guided that authoring experience, and basically just said, yeah, you put this here, put this here, put this here, and then press this button, it can be pretty amazing. But what do you see are some of the areas of complexity, and how are you guys fighting that?

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yeah, so I see two, and just – you mentioned tools. So one of the things – earlier, one of the things that we get to, as the writers will say "We failed at this before." If you last looked at a component content management system, or a structured content management system five years ago, look again. Because what I have seen in the industry, in the past few years, is they've got the basic functionality really good. The whole industry, it's just – reuse is good, and search is good, and taxonomy, metadata and structured content, that's all good. So we can finally look at authors. We have a lot of companies where the technical writers, they're like, "Yeah, I can do XML in my sleep, I don't care. I don't even see the tags, they're in front of me. Oh, then I need to see them, and I see them, I don't care."

 

But you have a lot of writers contributing who are not the technical people. They're subject matter experts, they're engineers, they're medical writers or something, and they don't want to see, and they shouldn't have to deal with. So what I've seen in the tools is more focus on a pleasant author experience. In a lot of cases, they're using our standard word processor of all the feel, they're calling things differently. Instead of calling it the very techie, well, this is an unordered list, they're just going ahead and calling it a bullet list, or something like that. So, again, under the covers, the tags are all the structures in XML and interoperable standards that we know and love, if we're on the technical side of things. But for authors who are not interested in that, well, it's like what the screenshot is showing.

Now, there is a complexity. If you're on your own, and you're trying to develop your content models, and trying to figure out your reuse strategy, and what is planned reuse, and what are we going to let authors do as they're going, and how do we set it up? Making that specification, how do we configure the system ahead of time? And that can be complex. We're often trying to simplify it to not do unnecessary complexity. But the setup is not the same as the ongoing use. So again, the writer saying it's too complex, they are not wrong when it's presented, or when the project is set up in that way. In some cases, there are – there's temptation to speak about it, like it has to be really complex, and you have to really have a bunch of expertise and so on. I don't think that's really true. I think expertise and experience, either within your company, or if you're bringing me in to help you or something, is good to have the guide. I don't think it's so complex that –

44:20

David Turner

Yes.

Regina Lynn Preciado
...nobody in the world could master it. But I don't know. Anyway.

David Turner

Yeah. So writers, I would say to you, you're right, these are complex things. But if you be open-minded, I think you'll find out that actually it can be a lot easier than maybe you think it is. To management, I would say a couple things. First of all, you need to bring people in who can help you to cast the vision. You get a lot more buy-in when writers hear things like –

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes. 

 

David Turner
...imagine auto-populating the document, where all the boilerplate contents, all the reused content's already there, and all you got to do is focus on writing the new stuff. Wow, that sounds relatively easy. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes. 

 

David Turner

Get somebody who knows what they're doing and bring them in. And then I would also say, don't forget the content. Write a good content conversion partner, so that your writers aren't having to spend a bunch of times dealing with the complexity of content that didn't fit. Get somebody who can get it done right. All right. Let's move to the next one here, since we got about 15 minutes left. What do you say when somebody says "This is going to stifle my creativity"? 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes. We often approach this in different ways. We acknowledge, I mean I have to acknowledge for writers that it does mean writing as a team, writing enterprise content for reuse. There is definitely a creativity in that and being able to do that, and it takes creativity to write to standards. It's funny to say that, but it does. And at the same time, we're enterprise communicators, and so getting things a little more structured and standardized, and that we have an approved terminology, that hopefully the writers were part of developing, here's our terminology that we're going to use, here's the terminology we're not going to use, here's the voice, and we're going to write to this. It may not be what I as an individual creative would do, but for the group and the company, that's what we're going to do.

So, there's also the idea that I don't think anybody who's a professional communicator expects to come to work and just work on their novels and their songwriting and their poetry and their creative nonfiction all day, every day. So copy, paste, and tweak is not necessarily the epitome of creativity, either. I feel like I'm saying – I'm taking this and going "Well, you're wrong. No, it won't." It allows you to get a lot more creative with how you deliver and assemble and put together the content; it allows you to be really creative in putting your building blocks together. You can make your spaceships, and you can make your castles. You're no longer remaking the individual Lego bricks that it takes –

David Turner

Exactly. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

...to build those things. So it moves into a different area in the creative process. What it does is it makes every assembly of like content be consistent. So you don't have one creative writer over here putting the summary at the end, and one creative writer over here putting the summary at the beginning, and then one really confused customer who has both documents, trying to find the summary. So...

David Turner

I love the example about the castle and the spaceship, and you're not redoing, because I think that's really what it's about. 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes. 

48:07

David Turner

I think you can even make these things fun and interesting. LavaCon's coming up here in a couple of months, and I think back to last year's LavaCon, there was a presentation by a company in the Midwest that – as they were trying to get their writers on board, they put together a contest, and they had their writers compete about how certain things were going to be done, and just got tremendous buy-in. Little by little, these people were just jumping in with both feet to structured content, not even realizing it, because they were trying to win this competition, and it took things to the next level. So you can do interesting things like that, you can do some things like that, and I think you can realize, well, like these quotes say, that your limitations actually may foster a whole different level of creativity.

Regina Lynn Preciado

It does. I think, too, we start out of necessity, we start out with a definable scope. Okay, this is the first content or the first team that's going to go into structure. And one thing at Content Rules we do is we really help you map out the phase. You're not going to stop there. You're not going to take just these new products and go there, but leave the rest of it in legacy systems, I hope. You're not going to just do the one team. Once that's kind of going, you've got to plan for bringing in the next organizational silo, or the next batch of content, or – we always come at it from a content perspective. But there's three things here. There's content, there's people, and there's technology. And it all needs to be growing all the time, needs change, technology change, expectations change. Amazon's level of personalization has ruined everything for everybody else.

So, there's an expectation now that you have to meet. And again, this goes back to having that vision, and the writers, whether they want to or not, are often told "Okay, you're doing it now, get the tool and go do it," and there's no, but why, and what is the vision, and how are we putting this together, and what can we do? Oh, we're going to be able to do more with our content. Okay, what? What more? You know, and so we come in with The Personalization Paradox, and say, well, yes, you're writing it to standards, and now you're providing – something as simple as for the same product or service, the PowerPoint presentation, the Google Slides presentation, the – presentations are hard, I shouldn't have started there.

 

The social media, the in-product documentation, the onboard, Internet of Things little documentation, or the little alert that I get sometimes when my little baby robot vacuum gets stuck under the refrigerator, and I get an alert on my phone, somebody wrote that. Hopefully, they didn't write it separately in a whole separate system where it can't be reused with any other model of the vacuum, and it can't be reused in the documentation, and I suspect it was written all separately in my particular non-name-brand example.

David Turner

Very good. All right. Well, let's hit on the last one here, the best for last. We've actually heard this already a little bit. We've failed at this before. When I hear this, I start – my response is usually, let's start by talking about why, why did these things fail? I think it's no wonder that I've got an image here of a cart before the proverbial horse. I'm guessing this is something you've dealt with a few times?

51:53

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes. I have actually tried to teach my horse to push the cart, so that's a whole other thing. Just to prove it could be done. But yes. Sadly, I think every time we're on a project, or writers on a project at any company that tries and it doesn't work, or it tries – I know one colleague of mine who is now at a different company, but was at a company where they went halfway to structure, they got the new system set up, they started using the new system, and they never let go of the old. So then they had – you can't reuse the content across, and you had these workarounds of, we'll export it from here and import it there, and it just – the sponsor left, so it never took the next step. And then that makes us really skeptical of trying it again. I've just realized, again, sorry, I'm not watching the time, that we probably should take some questions.

David Turner

Yeah. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

I should just –

 

David Turner

Well, let me summarize this here. So I say to you writers and you managers out there that deal with this kind of thing, ask yourself why did these things fail before? Could it be because maybe you tried to put the system in place before you had really thought about the plan? Could it be that you tried to put in the system and the technology before you thought about the content? Could it be that maybe you're trying to replicate a traditional process, instead of streamlining the new –

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes.

David Turner

...process? Could it be that you have over-customized your system, and you over-customized it, so that when upgrades, upgrades happened, you were stuck? You were stuck in all sorts of different ways. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes.

David Turner

Or could it be that, like Regina said before, we had technologies that weren't as friendly before. I'll just leave you with the idea that, just when I was researching this, I came across the story of Milton Hershey, and I learned that he had twice, had gone bankrupt starting businesses, before he built a third company that was moderately successful. And then he decided he would sell that one and go into chocolate, and now he's really famous for all of his chocolate. You should go to –
 
Regina Lynn Preciado

And now we're back to chocolate.

David Turner

And we're back to chocolate.

Regina Lynn Preciado

Good callback.

David Turner

Yes. All right. So here's the quick summary slide of the things that we just talked about. I'll let you screenshot it, if you want. Or you can always go back and watch the recording, or you can call me. We do have some tips here on when you get stuck. You have to have one minute to hit on tips for when you get stuck, and then we'll go hit the questions?

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Sure. I think the number one tip is, go back to the vision, and if you don't have one, put one together. Vision is one of those kind of squishy words. But what is the goal you're trying to get to? Are you trying to get – is it cost? Is it time? Is it efficiency? Is it more personalization? Are you preparing for AI of the future and whatever, so – And then look at, well, where are we? And is that still worth it? And do we need to change? Did it used to be time, and now it's money? So what do we change? I think tip number three is another one I see a lot, where people got to the point of getting a new system, and then they're trying to use the features of the system, and they're not looking at the contents – either, like you were just saying, they're customizing the system, so now you've strayed from standards. So there's some other things, but the two would be your goal that you're trying to get to, keep looking at your shared goal. And then don't let the system drive your strategy, it should support the strategy, maybe suggest cool things you could do you didn't think about before. But it should be your – set you free, not limit you, really.

 

David Turner

I think that's a great one-minute summary. Fantastic. You win, you win. So –

Regina Lynn Preciado

I win!

David Turner

You do. So let's get into the questions. What do we have here, Marianne? What questions do we have for Regina to answer today? 

 

Marianne Calilhanna

We have some really good questions, and we're not going to get through them all. So I just want to let everyone know that we'll be in touch with you personally –

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes. 

 

Marianne Calilhanna

...to make sure we hit on some of these. But I want to jump right to this one, because someone wrote in that they are in the process of migrating unstructured to structured content, just the migration. But the concern is that once that content is in the new system, the writers will keep on creating new content in that system without regard for reusing the content. Some tips on how to prevent that. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Well, if you don't have a reuse strategy, if you haven't figured out where is your – what's your first immediate reuse that you're going to do, and then your second phase of reuse, and training writers to write for reuse, then the writers have to just keep creating new content in the new system, because otherwise, we won't have any content. So it's not as much about preventing the writing of new content in the new system, writing it the old way in the new system as it is having a reuse strategy, mapping out your most valuable reuse first, because you can't just go in there and do it all at once, you have to take the bite-sized pieces. And then helping the writers make that shift to write to the best practices, write to your content models and structures, and start looking for reuse before creating new.

David Turner

It's also helpful to have a tool that can help to find and identify where the reuse potential is –

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Oh, that way. 

 

David Turner

...so that you can see where you are, and you can see where you're going. So we have a tool like that, and I'm sure there's probably others out there as well.

57:55

Marianne Calilhanna

Yeah, David, there was a follow up, too, that I was going to ask for you to go into this, because how do writers find that content that they need to reuse out of hundreds of topics? You referenced a tool that DCL does provide called Harmonizer, that identifies content redundancy, content reuse opportunities. That's a conversation on a webinar for another day. 

David Turner

But that's true. A lot of writers have to spend a lot of time trying to find this stuff. I did a project a couple years ago, where – before I knew about Harmonizer, where I spent weeks going through these four bank documents, just four of them, trying to identify what were the same paragraphs, what were different, what was reusable. Now you multiply that times some of these bigger companies, and it's enormous. Harmonizer will just quickly come out and bring you a report and say, here's where it is, here's where it is, here's where it is.

Regina Lynn Preciado

I love Harmonizer. Just so you know, we – I teeach – Content Rules has a course on writing for reuse, and organizing your content to make it easier to find for reuse, and it goes hand-in-hand with Harmonizer in terms of finding your reuse opportunities, and then also maximizing them and learning how. 

 

David Turner

Marianne, can we squeeze in one more? 

 

Marianne Calilhanna

Yeah, this is a big one. In your experience, what's the biggest challenge companies face when moving to a structured content ecosystem? 

 

David Turner

Regina, why don't you go first?

 

Marianne Calilhanna

You got about one minute to answer that.

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yeah, right? One of the biggest challenges is starting from, somebody gets an idea, they buy some software, and they tell people go ahead and use the software. And really having, for success, taking advantage of experience, expertise, proven methodologies to get you from here to there is going to be the faster and cheaper way to go. Because you've got people. This is not a systems thing, really. This is a people thing. It's not just the writers, it's the customers that are the people you're reaching to. So you've got technology, people and content, and it's a lot.

David Turner

I completely agree. I think technology, the tools that are out there are fantastic. There are some great ones out there, we have some great partners. You want to get the right tools in place. But, you need to have a plan, you need to think about the plan first, you need to think about the content before you go out and just buy a technology. Too often, people go buy technology, and then they try to retrofit everything into that, and it doesn't necessarily work the best that way. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yes. Although we, DCL and Content Rules, can help you, if you're in that situation, too, because that's common, and it's better to draw a line and start there, and retrofit a strategy than it is to just give up and go, oh, my gosh, no, we're going back to typewriters. 

 

Marianne Calilhanna

Right. Well, we have come to the top of the hour. 

 

Regina Lynn Preciado

Yeah. 

 

Marianne Calilhanna

And I want to thank the two of you so much. This was a great conversation. Thank you, everyone who's here. This is part of the DCL Learning Series, which comprises webinars, a monthly newsletter, and, of course, our blog. You can access many other webinars related to content structure, XML, DITA at dataconversionlaboratory.com. We do hope to see you at future webinars, have a great day. This concludes today's broadcast.

Regina Lynn Preciado

Okay. Bye. 

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