Structure Increases Content Value
Consistency boosts reuse and delivery as well as saves money.
Although computers are full of data, unless it’s structured, it can’t really be considered information—or knowledge. Unfortunately, a great deal of the documents most organizations rely on were created without structure in mind, making it difficult to find, hard to collate or compare and therefore less valuable.
Chad Dybdahl, solutions consultant, Adobe Technical Communications, shared his expertise about the value of establishing a structured data system during a recent SIGNAL Media webinar. Dybdahl didn’t sugarcoat the challenges: Going from business as usual to a structured content environment poses some trials and tribulations. But Dybdahl believes making the transition is worth overcoming those ordeals.
To frame his reasoning, he describes unstructured content as data that doesn’t follow specific rules or defined characteristics, which leads to inefficient content reuse. Standard legal information often included in many technical agreements is one example of inefficiencies a lack of structure can cause.
When the content is created once in an established format, it can be reused in numerous documents without the danger of leaving out important information or inaccurately describing applicable rules. In addition, when standardized content changes become necessary, the inability to search for specific content quickly poses the possibility that some occurrences within a group of documents will be missed.
Structured content features a set of rules that govern the content and defined characteristics and properties of content. As a result, Dybdahl explains, it can offer insights into content consumption, help make content easily searchable, increase efficient content reuse and facilitate publishing content across multiple formats.
Standardizing content format also can save organizations money. For example, often documents must be translated into other languages. Rather than sending entire documents to a translating service, only sending the changed content that needs to be translated reduces the cost.
In addition, a structured format enables multichannel delivery of content. Whether a PDF or HTML, an e-publication can be deployed to people in the field who can view it on their tablets or cellphones.
Adobe has collected data on the topic that illustrates industry's shift toward structured content management. According to Dybdahl, 50 percent of the organizations the company surveyed have already adopted or started to adopt a structured approach. In addition, 75 percent of the respondents are planning to use a structured information architecture called the Darwin or document information typing architecture, or DITA.
“These are the trends we have been seeing over the past decade, coming to a head now, and I believe reaching a tipping point within the technical documentation world,” he states.
Because most organizations’ current information stores are filled with data created and saved in unstructured formats, moving to a structured environment requires some planning.
Dybdahl suggests several possible approaches. By far the most time consuming is taking all data created to date and rekeying it into the new structure. Although ultimately useful, it can be impossible to know if all past information has been moved to the new system.
“If [an organization has] mountains of content already, it’s almost impossible to structure it after the fact. It’s better to have a structure in place and then use it in the future. It may be necessary to make changes in the information architecture to use the styles,” he explains. In addition, this work must occur while new data is created in the structured format simultaneously, he adds.
A hybrid of these approaches is another option, Dybdahl offers. For example, an organization can start with a pilot project in a structured content environment. Once adjustments are made to ensure the process and training is moving in the right direction, new projects can begin in the structured environment, and organizations can evaluate how many and which established content needs to be converted.
The Adobe product facilitates these approaches, he says. It is an end-to-end component content management system, so it offers a one-stop shop to author, create, manage, review, approve, translate and deliver content within a single environment. In addition, it can import various formats of content automatically.
Additional information is available in “XML and Content Management: Modernizing Your Agency's Digital Content,” the “Modernizing and Optimizing ePublication Management,” part of the free SIGNAL Webinar Series program.