LavaCon Session Summary: Scott Youngblom Re-imagines Technical Content

DITA and The Content Delivery Management Imperative

Presenter: Scott Youngblom, Oberon Technologies

LavaCon-SessionSummary-DITA-content-delivery-imperScott Youngblom advocates for tech pubs as an important function in companies, with all the benefits and challenges that entails. At Lavacon 2014 in Portland, OR, Scott,who co-founded Oberon Technologies presented DITA and Content Delivery Management Imperative where he re-imagined technical publications as a modular, user-driven, income-generating component of organizations.

He started his presentation with an intro to the traditional content lifecycle–which begins with creating then managing and publishing content. Finally, content is delivered to the end-users, though we content creators are usually not involved at this phase. Traditional documentation includes unsearchable paper documents, static PDF files, and full-screen web documents. As most practitioners today are painfully aware, these types of documents can be difficult to maintain especially for minor changes.

But these ways of producing and delivering information can be replaced with what Scott refers to as intelligent delivery systems (IDSs). An IDS is a system that allows real-time assembly of interactive information based on feedback from the environment, user, product, or system.

Getting to information is different today. Mobile devices access information which is hard to read with lots of scrolling because the content is very linear. Yet people expect to access accurate pieces of information faster than ever. They want information tailored to the device also known as responsive design. People don’t want to print a 2000 page PDF (and actively avoid it), they typically want bits and pieces of info from various docs–what Scott refers to as compiling “ad-hoc documents” for their specific need.

So the problem for most organizations has become: How to make legacy content searchable and deliverable on various devices?

Scott believes we need to shift the way we think about information. We have to think in topics or sections. You can make information more modular using XML. The XML tool doesn’t have to use the DITA standard, but whatever you choose, the goal is to make information smaller and modular that open up content to make it more accessible.

Today,  we have the means to take XML content and put it in the cloud then let consumers publish and assemble content the way they want it. Letting the consumer decide what they want to publish is constrained in  some sectors, like legal and government, but consumers should control the information. In the environment Scott envisions,  the consumer becomes the publisher. That means content creators must enable users to have their own collection of information.

For those unfamiliar with modular content, Scott provided a good overview to the process: A publishing engine creates formatting and output. It composes documents and automatically merges data from databases and business systems to create output that is delivered to the site–or wherever needed. The users could apply their own style or brand like a distributor. Publication assembly consists of personal virtual documents. Released topics go from a content management repository to an automation module and then to a content repository accessible by the customer portal. When users log in, they can only access content that they’re qualified to view. We control how to get information to the right person through security and access methods.

This framework allows for analytics of contents and interactive improvement. In fact, social interaction would enhance maintenance. For example, consumers could highlight content and provide specific feedback. Then a writer can download and go directly to where the suggestion relates, modifying on the fly as needed. While this maintenance approach brings savings to the organization,  savings doesn’t always justify the cost of implementation. Revenue, on the other hand, does.

Tech Pubs is typically seen as an expense instead of a revenue-generating organization, but an IDS can provide personalized information as a revenue source:

  • Charge for publications based on format or volume
  • Create special offerings for technical content
  • Develop a subscription model based either on by clicks or a monthly feed

This approach also encompasses learning. Scott pointed out that modularized training programs can be sold to more users. For example, Boeing gives their customers access to the delivery system, but the customer has to pay for updates

The elements of ROI for implementing such a revolutionary system include:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Customer retention
  • Revenue generation from assembly
  • Reduced maintenance due to analytics
  • Lower publication and distribution cost
  • Faster delivery

With the tide of content production on the increase at most organizations, the financial and user-focused opportunities presented by implementing an IDS show how changing content delivery truly is imperative.

 

Arroxane Eber

Arroxane is a Lead Technical Writer and active member of the Society for Technical Communication. She's been published in several publications both relating to Technical Communication and more creative articles. Arroxane has a Master's in Technical Writing from the University of North Texas. Active in Social Media, MindTouch listed her as one of the Most Influential in Technical Communication. She currently lives in the Dallas area and supports several non-profit organizations.

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