December 2000

From the Director

CIDMIconNewsletter JoAnn Hackos

Closing the Year 2000 and Anticipating the Challenges of 2001

Dear Friends,

When I opened the year with my first director’s column for 2000, I asked myself how we would respond to the challenges of building a new organization. The 2nd annual Best Practices conference showed that while our progress has been significant, a great deal of work remains.

At last year’s conference, we had 17 member organizations. We now have 42 with several more waiting for funding. We hope to double again in 2001, moving toward our 100-company goal. This year we held four conferences: Telecommunications Information Development, SingleSource 2000, New Managers’, and Best Practices 2000. You attended and sent representative staff to all of them. Thank you.

We started a monthly, data-gathering survey program to find answers to your most pressing questions. We completed a significant benchmark study in staff resources and an extensive industry compensation survey. We learned more than ever before about the challenges all of our compatriot managers face in running innovative organizations that challenge staff and provide cost-effective customer solutions.

For the new year, we have even more activities planned and several new benchmark studies about to be inaugurated. We ask you all to work with us to fund this essential industry research and participate in helping us identify the outstanding practices that you all contribute to our industry.

If I could point to one issue that emerged most strongly in 2000, it would be the staffing challenge. At the Best Practices conference sessions, at lunch and dinner get-togethers, and in phone calls and emails, you are all focusing on the same theme: we need to ensure that the work we do adds value for our customers and our companies. Certainly, we have been fighting for that value-added recognition for many years. But something new has emerged. We are questioning, more seriously than I have ever heard before, if we are doing the right job.

Senior managers confide in me their worries-how do they persuade and prepare their staff members to work differently in the future? You are concerned about the reluctance to change, the preference of many, but not all, for the status quo. You point out how difficult you find it to convince talented information developers to

  • spend more of their time with customers
  • focus on content, not style and appearance
  • interact more with support, training, and industry consultants than with product developers
  • write according to standard structures
  • embrace global processes that ensure integrated customer information products

The Staff Resources Benchmark pointed to the efforts you are making to hire the best people and keep them on the team. At the same time, you told us about the challenge of managing employees who want to cling to the old book-publishing paradigm. You want to embrace the excitement of the rapidly growing new companies and the dot-coms, but you have employees who joined and stayed under different circumstances. Now that the situations have changed, with companies demanding more value for their information-development investment, you don’t always have the people you need.

I believe that it’s time to define the information developer of the future. We need a vision of the role that preserves the most important values of the past but recognizes that some values are no longer appropriate. Take the challenge Ginny Redish, speaking at BP 2000, made. She demonstrated that paragraphs and sentences may not be the best ways to communicate with an Internet audience. How do we inform our writers that the very writing qualities they cherish may not always be appropriate?

It’s easy to say, as some upper management pundits have ordered-get rid of them all and start over. That’s not the answer. We need to find innovative ways to convince our talented and enthusiastic staff members that a new paradigm is already with us. The new paradigm has a set of key characteristics. It centers on

  • The user
  • The content
  • The team

This new paradigm requires a new set of skills on top of some of the old ones-expertise in the user and the subject matter and a collaborative model of information development where many contribute to creating the whole.

Let’s focus in 2001 on how to meet this challenge-by sharing information, contributing to research, and publicizing best practices.