Total Information Experience: How One Line Team Implemented an IBM-integrated Approach to Developing Information in a Flat World
In this article, I discuss a specific implementation of the corporate strategy in a line organization, within a specific development division in IBM (IBM Information Management division). I show how our line division mirrored corporate strategies and linked to them through locally deployed approaches.
- Deliver IBM solutions for a specific product set and one specific technology area (database-related technologies)
- Follow division-specific schedules and processes
- Collaborate IBM-wide with information development (ID) peers on the IBM information strategy
- Produce consistent information solutions for a broad set of IBM customers
- Shipped more than 50 offerings per year in IBM’s Information Management (IM) division
- Shipped almost 50,000 pages of softcopy in over 250 titles
- Delivered 28,000 information topics last year (10,000 of which were new) in 13 Eclipse-based Information Centers
- Supported up to 45 languages with an average of 10 languages per offering
The organization within the division is called User Technology which includes the Information Development team as well as related usability and visual design professionals.
Customer focus: Incorporate customer needs in the technical information development process.
The corporate strategy for Total Information Experience (TIE) is centered on understanding our users, both internal and external, to deliver the optimal user experience with our information: the right content, to the right person, at the right time.
In the IM division, we have worked hard to make customer contact a systemic part of our culture and process. We have multiple ways to continually receive customer feedback and address customer pain points to help us improve customer satisfaction and the end-user experience. Some of the key methodologies include
- 100% customer contact goal for the organization. All employees are asked to include a customer contact in their performance objectives
- over 3,000 hours of user interaction conducted in the division annually, sponsored by the User Technology (aka ID) organization. The activities include traditional usability testing, focus groups, and customer activities at user groups and conferences, as well as more formally structured Customer Advisory Councils on specific technology or business issues
- active participation by ID teams in beta programs
- active monitoring of relevant online customer discussion groups, wikis, and so on
- active participation by ID team members at user groups and customer conferences
- readily accessible tooling to conduct web surveys
- concept of “customer partnerships” for ID teams. We establish relationships with existing customers who are willing to review information plans and interim drafts and give us feedback on quality and requirements
- online feedback mechanisms built into our web-based Information Centers, similar to the traditional concept of Reader Comment Forms
From these many sources of customer contact and interaction, we prioritize views of the key customer pain points with our information and key areas for improved customer satisfaction. We set priorities by sharing customer scenarios across our teams, analyzing customer data with a cross-organization workgroup to look at trends across products, and establishing customer-focused quality plans in each of our information plans to respond specifically to known customer pain points.
Linking with the corporate team and corporate strategies is key to our responses to these pain points. By sharing across divisions and rolling up our key concerns to the corporate team, we ensure that corporate tooling, workgroups, and efforts are focused on solving the top common customer concerns and that future corporate standards, guidelines, and tools allow us to directly address these concerns for our customers.
Leadership: Demonstrate management vision and leadership to achieve buy-in.
The Corporate User Technologies team works closely with those of us who are the senior brand managers in each division to communicate our shared information vision across all our stakeholders. We collaborate by sharing our resources based on the priorities we have agreed to. And we drive joint agreements on the tools and technology architecture we need to deliver the vision. As a division leader, the IM User Technology manager participates in cross-IBM leadership councils and dedicates workgroup members from the organization to corporate work efforts.
For example, the right-hand column in Figure 1 shows some division-specific activities that mirror and link with various corporate leadership activities. We use both self-contained work groups within our division to implement corporate recommendations or serve as IM members who participate directly on a corporate council or work group.
The IM ID team participates actively in various communication activities sponsored by the corporate team. For example, the senior ID manager in IM is a member of the ID Advisory Council; all ID department managers participate in the ID Managers and Team Leads calls and presentations; and all IM Information Developers are invited to the IBM ID Professionals events and calls. Through these various communication means, each information developer and manager understands that the work in the division is done in the context of the larger IBM customer information experience and thus must be tied to corporate strategies and standards.
Innovation: New approaches to traditional elements of information management.
The corporate ID team in IBM is leading a significant shift in orientation by driving true customer orientation and getting outside our traditional “ID” perspective. As we move to a TIE perspective, we are striving to get all our content developers aligned towards the same content strategy with a common information model. We are breaking down the content silos and encouraging all the teams to work collaboratively and focus on the TIE for our customers.
In the IM division, collaborating on the TIE means helping information developers understand that the user experience includes not just the product Install and Admin information but all the marketing information on the web, the technical articles on DB2 Developer Domain, and support articles on our self-help pages. We have implemented the TIE strategy through implementing processes such as an Integrated Information Plan covering all content providers in the company on a given project, converging on DITA as the authoring technology, and most importantly, converging on a common IBM information architecture model and information standards. Meanwhile, the teams are moving to an agile, iterative-based development model, with component-based information delivered iteratively as well. All of these changes have required innovations in our processes, tools, and the culture and mindset of the information-development community. In IM, we are living this change and already seeing significant results. For example, we have shipped several “integrated” information centers:
- DB2 for zOS Information Center (dozens of products)
- Enterprise Content Management Information Center (3 key products)
- DB2 Information Center (former products now packaged as components and fully integrated in the Info Center)
These projects required creativity, innovation, and novel approaches to architect and integrate information across multiple content management systems containing multiple formats. All of our projects in the division now produce Integrated Information Plans, linking all content providers in the company. Another key to success has been aggressively staffing information architects within the division on our ID teams to drive the transformation of our information into DITA-based topics and pluggable information components. Quite a change from the standard Install Guides, Admin Guides, and help panels that were commonplace just 2 or 3 years ago!
Efficiency: Increased productivity, lowered costs, and effective global collaboration.
The IBM Corporate approach to drive customer-driven collaboration through common tools, technologies, and consistent standards has provided business benefits as well as improved customer satisfaction. At a corporate level, IBM collectively saved more than $100 million dollars and increased our product documentation customer satisfaction by 71 percent in three years. Within the IM division, we are well aligned with corporate strategies and leading the way in many areas of process and tool adoption, with early significant results. For example:
- First completely componentized information library shipped in 2006
- Productivity savings already validated after late-breaking repackaging decision
- Translation process savings validated
- First “pure” reuse of topics
- Over half of topics developed for one project area have been reused in products that consumed that software as a component
Transformational value: Creative thinking to take information management to a solution-based focus.
Implementing the IBM TIE strategies have led to clear transformation value: we achieved a paradigm shift from thinking about individual products to delivering IBM business value solutions. For each individual information developer in the IM division, this change signifies a move from vertical silo thinking (my product, my administration guide) to thinking about horizontal solutions (a component in a solution-based information center, with content from marketing, support, and ID). The component-based architecture implemented in several key areas within the IM division, topic reuse, and solution-oriented integrated information centers are all examples of our implementation of the theory.
How did we get buy-in for process and tool adoption and the cultural shift to a solution focus? Key elements of success include
- early implementation of the “DITA Advocates” model at a local level, with local advocates and experts within each team to help other team members convert their information
- early assignment of “information architects” who understand both the corporate information model as well as the content of local libraries and educating the writers on topic-based architecture specific to each writer’s assignments
- leveraging of technical editors to drive education on topic-based writing
- relentless customer interaction to make the solution scenarios real to each information developer
Transferability: Must be easily adopted and deployed across multiple brands, organizations, and audiences.
This best practice mandates that the strategy elements be transferable to small or large organizations, with various skill levels. Across the IM division, we have deployed the TIE strategy on 1-person ID teams, 12-person ID teams, mainframe products, Web 2.0-based products, and everything in-between. We have worked extensively with 40-year-old IBM products and products just acquired within the past 6 months. All have been able to successfully link to and deploy the corporate framework of goals, tooling, and technologies.
The 2007 Content Management Strategies presentation “Delivering the Right Content,
to the Right Person at the Right Time: Aligning Practitioners with the Strategy,” available on the CIDM web site describes in further detail how the leaders and practitioners in the IM division have continually expanded the vision
- to think beyond one product area and one division
- to link with the TIE vision of solution information available to all IBM customers world-wide
We believe that, because our processes and deliverables are both internally and externally customer-driven, we have been able to successfully drive cultural change across an organization. The key points and elements of our best practices can be used as a checklist for any size organization looking to improve their collaboration, customer orientation, and ultimately, their business results.
- Incorporate customer needs in the technical information development process
- Establish a 100% customer contact goal across the organization
- Develop customer partnerships
- Leverage online feedback mechanisms
- Demonstrate management vision and leadership to achieve buy-in
- Link division-specific activities with various corporate leadership activities
- Use multiple communication means to keep leaders informed
- Drive new approaches to traditional elements of information management
- Implement Integrated Information Plans to cover all content providers in the company on a given project
- Leverage DITA as the common authoring technology
- Converge on a common information architecture model and information standards
- Increase productivity, lower costs, and adopt effective global collaboration
- Drive to componentized information and information reuse
- Think creatively to take information management to a solution-based focus
- Implement the “DITA Advocates” model, in which local advocates and experts within each team help other team members move their information to DITA
- Assign “information architects” who understand both the corporate information model as well as the content of local libraries to educate the writers on topic-based architecture specific to each writer’s assignments
- Leverage technical editors to drive education on topic-based writing
- Relentless customer interaction to make the solution scenarios real to each information developer
About the Author
Lori Fisher is Director of User Technology at IBM in San Jose with worldwide responsibility for outside-in design, globalization, accessibility,
and information development for the information management product portfolio in IBM’s Software Group. She taught core courses in the Advanced Technical Communication Program at University of California Extension for over a decade. She has chaired the STC Quality SIG, held multiple elected positions on
the local STC chapter Administrative Council, and served a two-year term as Secretary of the STC on the international STC Board of Directors. She is a Fellow of STC in the Silicon Valley Chapter.