Bruce Sharpe, JustSystems, Inc.


Structured content offers clear benefits for the enterprise at large. But to reap those benefits, we need to step back and look at the big picture.

I see an interesting evolution and adoption cycle associated with structured content technologies and approaches. What started as a way to improve the productivity of a core group of full-time writers—the technical publications people—has evolved into something with a much broader impact. Structured content has become a cornerstone for new ways of communicating with customers and partners.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this evolution in the adoption of new technologies in the enterprise. Take customer relationship management, for example. Today, almost any organization of any size has a CRM system installed. CRM is a core part of how an organization runs its business.

However, just a few years ago, the term “customer relationship management” hadn’t even been invented. Back then, the closest thing to CRM was contact information that was kept in individuals’ desktops. The information wasn’t shared. It wasn’t visible to anybody else. So it was hard to take advantage of it for anything other than contacting customers one by one.

When CRM systems came along, that customer information became available in a central location. Now it could be shared with and used by a much broader group in the organization. And that led organizations to use the data in new ways. Now, CRM is a centerpiece of customer and partner strategy in many organizations.

Structured content and enterprise content management are following a similar arc of adoption. Consider the parallels.

Historically, content was essentially owned by individuals in the organization—the content documentation experts—and was used in very specific ways. The content would be part of the product being delivered, sales information on the website, post-sales support, or used for training purposes. But like the sales contact database, the information was not visible across functional boundaries. This has proven to be costly and inefficient as content was duplicated in different departments and not necessarily consistent or accurate. And many people in the organization who could contribute to it had no means to do so.

Today, forward-looking organizations see content not as an isolated component of disconnected offerings, but instead as a part of an integrated strategy to better serve customers and partners. Now it is possible to share the information with everyone in the organization, and everyone can have visibility into that information. They can get at it, contribute to it, and review it. And they can think of new ways to take advantage of it. All of which leads to serendipitous, new applications and new revenue opportunities.

Structured content in the enterprise is a big deal. Content is at the heart of how organizations interact with and communicate with their customers and their partners. And like customer relationship management, it is increasingly seen as an essential part of a customer-centric business strategy. And just as with CRM now, in the future we will look back at enterprise content management and wonder how we ever got along without it.

The good news is the technology enablers are here. User-friendly tools are available to enable broader participation in structured content. As the rest of the organization enters the structured content era, the organization increasingly enjoys reduced costs, time savings, and higher quality content that enables new and better ways to deliver an excellent customer experience.

Dr. Bruce Sharpe brings over 23 years of technology leadership experience to JustSystems, including founding XMetaL and HoTMetaL content creation solutions. He held senior technical management positions at MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, Advanced Gravis, SoftQuad Software, Corel, and Blast Radius before successfully bringing XMetaL to JustSystems. Learn more about JustSystems at and contact Bruce at