Jeroen van Rotterdam
X-Hive Corporation

Many enterprises have a volume of content that affords re-purposing opportunities. The practice of producing multiple media formats—print, online, CD-ROM, HTML—from a single-source is well established, but enterprises face an even greater volume of content across more and more versions, channels, markets, and languages. As the enterprise’s requirements for multi-channel publishing expand, the enterprise must invest in platform architectures that can efficiently automate these processes.

Organizations are learning that the real savings may come in being able to actually reuse materials and not just repurpose them from one format to another. For example, in an automotive application, several different manuals may well include the same procedures. Why not create the content in such a way that the procedures can be created once, edited once, and stored once in a format that allows them to be reused in many different manuals and other content products?

The key to the successful re-use of content is to manage it at a granular level in a Component Content Management System (CCMS). There, components of content can be shared, reviewed, updated, or combined and assembled into different aggregations and collections. Each component is separately edited and re-used, and workflow requirements are enforced on each component. Each component has its own lifecycle and properties (versions, owners, approvals), which allows fine-grained reuse and trace-ability. The CCMS provides a single point of access to these components, delivering content both in a traditional document format (for viewing and printing) and in granular form for re-use, eliminating search, interpretation, and re-keying by end-users.

However, optimizing re-use of content is easier said than done.

Most content management systems try to solve the re-usability challenge by “shredding ” or “chunking ” documents into predefined components that are managed separately. For example, a hardware manufacturer might logically chunk its maintenance documents into components that handle a single task—removing and replacing a part. A software manufacturer might chunk its user manual into components that handle a single function—printing or deleting a file.

In practice, this reliance on chunking content into “Minimum Re-usable Units” (MRUs) has both advantages and drawbacks. Done well, the organization can end up with a high-performance system for creating, updating, managing, and publishing its content. However, the requirement to determine an MRU upfront results in some tradeoffs—what is the best unit at which to edit the content? Are there applications where a different chunking level would be advantageous? Probably. Will new requirements emerge that would be better served by chunking the content in different, pre-defined components? Almost certainly.

With technologies dependent on managing MRUs, organizations have to make some hard and fast decisions about how the content is going to be digitized, converted, and normalized prior to use. Organizations have traditionally invested a great deal of time and money in an upfront analysis at this point in the process—designing the data structures that they believe will support their content creation, management, and publishing needs.

In practice, however, organizations can not really anticipate all of their ongoing needs. Especially in larger organizations, the content is too lengthy, complex, and variable for anyone to understand every detail—up front—of the needed data structures and tool. As organizations begin to work with the converted content, they begin to see requirements to transform the content—sometimes subtly and sometimes more radically—to make it usable and reusable.

A better approach would be to have a flexible CCMS that does not require the MRU decision up front—that allows for the content to be stored flexibly, with access to any node in the repository. Ideally, the CCMS would also provide tools for re-factoring and converting the content in place. This way, the organization can incrementally convert and normalize content for inclusion in the CCMS, test it, work with it, and enhance it over time. Such an approach is much more manageable and much more in tune with how organizations work with content.