JoAnn Hackos, PhD
A record number of more than 300 people attended the 8th annual CIDM Content Management Strategies conference in San Francisco, California. The enthusiasm and excitement was contagious. So many of the people I spoke to mentioned a change in the air. Content management seems to be tipping, spurred by the overwhelming interest in the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) as a new standard for the development of technical content.
What does reaching the tipping point in content management mean for information-development managers? We now face a strong push toward topic-based authoring and the flexibility to deliver content to customers in dynamic new ways. We must manage our content more carefully then ever before. We cannot leave content management to ad-hoc processes in which writers create what they want independently of every other writer. We need a collaborative environment in which content creators work together to invent the information customers need and develop it in the most cost-effective ways possible.
At the conference keynote, Miel De Schepper of Trisoft and I spoke about the reasons for investing in content management. The slides of that presentation are available on the CIDM web site. Although managing content is a matter largely of process and policy, we believe it is facilitated by the attributes of a content management system. Content management systems provide us with security and version control, translation management, conditional publishing, variables definable at the last moment, and the ability to select among versions of hundreds of topics to support the latest definition of a product release.
Authoring in structured topics requires standards, guidelines, and discipline. Structured authoring happens because authors are dedicated to the benefits of consistency for readers. Structured authoring happens because of dedicated, professional authors, whether they are writing with XML editors or with paper and pencil. Nonetheless, structured, topic-based authoring is facilitated by the hierarchical and semantic templates that are a product of XML or SGML document type definitions.
Conference speakers in general, especially those in the management track, along with many in the DITA track, emphasized the need for planning, process, and people in mastering content management. Even those speaking on the most technical subjects and the vendor representatives presenting demonstrations of their tools agree that the challenge of content management is not the tools but the writing itself.
Earlier technology innovations in information development, such as desktop publishing and online help development tools, emphasized the tools rather than the underlying structure of the content or the content itself. The new technologies are different because they acknowledge the primary importance of content and structure.
I am very pleased that our profession appears to be returning to a focus on content rather than tools. The tools are facilitators, not ends in themselves. Excellent content, well-structured and usable, gives us a competitive edge with our customers and in our organizations that tools proficiency has never given us. By gaining expertise in customer requirements and subject matter, we add value to our customers’ enterprise and to the companies we support.