From the Director
SingleSource 2001, sponsored by the CIDM, was a great success. The key to success was the program. We attracted a balanced set of speakers, representing both startup single-source activities as well as teams with six to eight years of experience. Offerings included lower-cost solutions using FrameMaker and AuthorIT and top of the line content-management solutions featuring Arbortext, XyEnterprise, Enigma, JD Edwards, Chrystal Software, and others. IBM’s Gretchen Hargis offered her task force’s technical solution for developing modular document type definitions (DTDs), and AuthorIT’s Paul Trotter emphasized the importance of building a collaborative workplace. The technical-communication team from JD Edwards vividly recounted what it feels like to write and edit in a database environment.
CIDM membership organizations were well represented at the conference, a clear indication that, even in tough economic times, our members know that learning and growth among staff members is a necessity. CIDM managers also know that they must find ways to decrease costs and produce fewer pages. Single sourcing and content management are tools to gain efficiency throughout the information-development life cycle. Perhaps more important, content management is a tool to gain visibility for the information-development organization. In the April 2001 issue of Best Practices, we published the first of several business case articles we are planning-“Making a Business Case for Single Sourcing.” As I pointed out in my Welcome address at the conference, the cost of entry into content management can be high. A typical information-development solution will average $150,000 including technology, consulting, and training. In addition, we find that internal time spent to define the content-management environment takes a small team between 2500 and 4000 hours, approximately two person-years. For organizations used to buying technology for less than $1,000 a seat license, these numbers can seem daunting.
The requirement to change perceptions-a sound business case. A business case must include an estimate of the potential return on investment of the new technology, but such financial measures are only part of the picture. If you follow the method called The Balanced Scorecard, as we outlined in the February 2001 issue of Best Practices, you need to include measures of increased customer satisfaction, improved processes, and enhanced opportunities for learning and growth among staff members.
Why are all four of these measures important to a business decision? If you use financial gains alone, you are invoking what is known as a lagging indicator. That means that you won’t know if you’ve made any financial gains until after you have designed the content-management systems, purchased the technology, and implemented new processes. Only after you’ve made these expenditures of time and money do you learn if you’ve been successful. For financial managers closely watching their quarterly budget figures, the large upfront expenditures may appear too risky. To quote a senior manager: “We’ll have to spend $500,000 in technology costs and people costs for a year or even two years before we see any return.”
Note that all technology enhancements that the company makes have the same financial risks attached. Don’t assume that your purchase of technology is any different than purchases made by the information-technology or the customer-service organization. The problem is that you haven’t asked for this much money ever before. If senior managers don’t know what you do, how much it really costs, or how you add value to the product, then any large expenditure looks ominous. That’s why you need to be alert to other significant scorecard opportunities.
If you stick too closely to the financial argument, you may indeed be unsuccessful. It’s unfortunate that acquiring technology that will make information development and deployment more effective is viewed with such suspicion. Someone mentioned to me that ROI is always a problem with technology investments: “Technology infrastructure is simply the cost of doing business. It’s unlikely that anyone asked for an ROI when buying the new telephone system.” You buy the new phone system because the old one is out of date; it no longer supports the business activities that run the company; you need functionality to help decrease the time people spend with technology. Did the possibility of having fewer receptionists really figure very much into the purchase price?
How do you make a fully balanced business case? First, demonstrate how you will deliver higher quality resources to your customers. Consider customization, multiple languages, personalization, more targeted information delivery that will better meet people needs. Talk about gains in customer satisfaction and reductions in calls to customer support, but recognize that these too are lagging indicators. You can’t tell if you’ve been successful until well after you’re done.
Second, consider the leading indicators, those measures that demonstrate that you are making changes that will positively affect productivity in the future. These leading indicators are improved processes and enhanced skills among staff members. As you build your case, explain how you will streamline your process, eliminate redundant steps in the process, and decrease the time spent on particular parts of the process. Explain, for example, how you might reduce production time by automating the final steps and producing multiple different deliverables from a single repository. Show how you can produce customized deliverables for different clients without additional expenditures. Point out that these gains are all leading indicators (promises about the future).
Finally, demonstrate how a modular approach to information development will enable your staff to focus on content rather than format and move more closely to a minimalist, user-centered design. By focusing on skills that will lead to customer quality, you have the opportunity to increase the value of your contributions. Remember-many senior executives think that the technical writer’s job is only to make the documents look nice. If you get out of the presentation business, you change perceptions.