In previous articles in our Effective Content Backbone series, we discussed structured content for effective workflows, strategies for maintaining content health, and the importance of content governance and oversight.

This month, I’ll talk about how we at Technology for Publishing recommend that you approach the process of defining which systems and technologies can best support your content needs.

Vision and Objectives

Without a clear point on the horizon helping to guide you toward where you want to go—one that’s informed by business data such as analytics and consumer metrics—it’s often hard to understand where technology fits into the big picture.

It’s important for everyone in a content organization to be on the same page when it comes to vision, and to spend time documenting it, substantiating it, and then sharing the vision for review and acceptance. The level of understanding, buy-in, and change that this helps accomplish is half of the battle in content success—sometimes more. These steps can get you started on the right path:

  1. Spend time defining and articulating key objective points, including the why and how.
  2. Document the content vision in a diagram—including the flow of content through groups, content areas, functional areas. Many people find it easier to absorb and contribute when ideas are represented visually rather than as words on paper.
  3. Write a clear, concise content vision statement—the what, the how, the why—specific to your content, not your company.

Define the Tactical Requirements

If you are truly going to fulfill the vision and objectives you have defined strategically, you must drill down to what it will take to create that content on a tactical level. What does the process need to be, where are decisions to be made, and what tools are needed? This approach pulls apart the organizational, process, and technical needs to support the vision and objectives, and lays the groundwork for your systems and technology requirements.

Examples here might be:

  • I need all content creators to be able to view all content pieces in development for all platforms and all content types.
  • I need all photos and graphics to be assigned and in draft form in order to effectively shape the overall story theme.
  • I need a tool that will allow me to review content, anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Each of these examples speaks to very specific functions that roll up into defining your specific requirements—your systems and technology shopping list.

Leverage Your Community

The value of referrals and word of mouth in an industry saturated with solutions and technologies can provide great advantage at many levels. It can also help bring visibility to little-known solutions or approaches that you might not otherwise be aware of.

Hearing firsthand how other, similar organizations have chosen to create their “content backbones” may help you think more creatively and aggressively than you might otherwise. Talk to other sites and users similar to yours, and learn from their experiences to help better plot your course.

Research and understand the evolving tool sets that are emerging. Remember that the process of looking for new tools will take time, not to mention the time it will take to vet, improve, and install new technologies, so you need to be looking out to what will be mature tomorrow, not just what exists today. Current technology will be out of date by the time you implement, so take the time to look ahead and understand what’s coming next.

Create Your Requirements Definition

Creating a requirements document is a hugely valuable exercise that lets your organization’s needs and requirements drive the agenda when looking at systems and technologies. All too often, when organizations don’t take the time for this step, they end up quickly searching for technologies that might work and selecting them based on what “feels” right. This scenario results in the solution driving the content approach, and the need to bend the process and requirements around the tool rather than the other way around.

Build a requirements definition document that clearly communicates your vision, objectives, tactical needs, and optimal desired working process. Articulate the specific use cases that are important to success, as well as performance and usability metrics that will help adoption. Indicate any constraints that are in place based on existing technologies or technology policy, such as for platform or security.

Use this requirements definition document as the objective measuring stick with which you evaluate your technology choices. It will also help you to determine whether off-the-shelf tools can address your needs or whether some of the tools you need have to be built.

The Result?

Creating an Effective Content Backbone requires continued clarity and agreement on the vision and requirements. Expressing and maintaining this clarity—in writing—provides the most effective means of reviewing and choosing successful systems and technologies to support content processes.

Image by Flickr user Neil Kremer, used under Creative Commons licensing

Posted by: Margot Knorr Mancini

A thought leader in the publishing industry, Margot Knorr Mancini has helped numerous publishers redefine their missions to become nimble content generators with the ability to repurpose content easily and efficiently. As Founder & CEO of Technology for Publishing, her analytical mind allows her to remain a step ahead of the industry, recognizing early trends and developing pivotal best practices.