May 2017
By Gavin Drake

Image: alphaspirit /

Gavin Drake is Vice President of Marketing for Quark Enterprise Solutions, where he is responsible for driving the adoption of modern content platforms that leverage automation to improve every stage of the content lifecycle.

Twitter @gavinedrake

How tech doc teams can help companies adopt content automation

Tech doc teams have long known the benefits of modular, reusable content. But content development processes outside their team might not run as smoothly and efficiently. It is time we step up to advocate content automation across the organization.

The demand for high-value, multi-channel content has risen quickly over the past 20 years, and technical communicators have been at the apex of this movement. Using standards such as DITA – an XML model for authoring and publishing technical information – technical documentation professionals have used a componentized approach to content that is significantly more effective than creating standalone, static documents in unsearchable silos.

The problem is, however, that much of today’s business-critical content is created outside the tech docs teams by subject matter experts who are confined to using manual, ad hoc approaches that are error-prone, inefficient, disjointed, and deliver subpar customer experiences. This group of authors produces multiple times more content than technical writing teams but have the least mature technologies and processes for doing so.

For years, software vendors have tried to bridge this gap by offering subject matter experts solutions for creating structured content. These tools fall short because they remain too complex, often trying to use technical standards – such as DITA – for content they are not apt for. A subject matter expert must focus on the content and doesn’t need to see the technical details behind it – such as XML markup languages.

To really bridge the gap, non-technical authors need content automation solutions. These easy-to-use, intuitive solutions help to create componentized content that leverages all the best practices tech docs and information management teams have built over the years. There is a tremendous opportunity for tech doc experts to champion content automation across their organizations to lower costs, increase efficiency, improve consistency, and meet consumer demand for content.

Customers demand more content

Gaining and retaining customers in the digital world is complex. Customers are no longer satisfied with static print and PDFs – they want access to information on a range of touchpoints from smartphones and tablets to smart TVs. What’s more, they expect content to be consistent, engaging, and interactive. This is a challenge for all organizations across industries – from financial services and manufacturing to government, energy, and healthcare.

In many cases, organizations have additional challenges driving digital transformation. The volume of marketing content is increasing exponentially, as it often includes multimedia assets such as video and animations or complex data and charts from multiple data sources. Additionally, across many industries, regulations and compliance requirements are growing, which adds a significant level of complexity to managing and delivering omni-channel content.

The content problem

In a nutshell, current content tools and processes outside of tech doc and information management teams get in the way of driving digital transformation. They simply do not solve the challenges presented to content teams today. Here are just a few examples of how current tools fall short:

  • No single source of truth to find latest content
  • Huge effort to simply keep materials in sync
  • Time-consuming updates of content
  • Endless copy/paste of content
  • Multiple handoffs and dependencies between individuals, departments, and systems
  • Reviewing duplicate content
  • Difficult to adapt and customize content
  • Manual delivery of content to multiple distribution locations

An evolved approach to content

What worked 20 years ago in a print-only world does not work today. There is a need to create more, faster, and with fewer resources. Content automation is an emerging technology that is helping leading companies modernize and streamline their systems and processes for content.

As the term "content automation" suggests, it’s about removing manual human touches from the content lifecycle. It’s about enabling each individual to focus on what they do best. One of the most important aspects of content automation involves how content is authored. This probably isn’t surprising when you consider some of the challenges outlined above. In order to automate any process, it’s necessary to start with the inputs. The aim is to avoid GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).

Many companies today create content as they have done for decades. They start in a word processing document like Microsoft Word and adopt a document-centric view of the world. Authors can waste as much as 50 percent of their time on non-value added tasks such as styling content, copying and pasting content and recreating content that already exists.

What's more, content is locked into a document, which means to reuse it in a different document requires copy/paste, reusing the content for the Web requires copy/paste, and reusing the content in a mobile app requires… you guessed it… copy/paste. Content automation changes this by allowing subject matter experts (authors) to create reusable content components. Content components can be dynamically assembled for each audience and media type with no duplication of effort.

This move from creating documents to creating reusable content components means you now have a single source of truth, copy/paste is virtually eliminated, content only has to be reviewed and approved once, and updates can be automated across every document that uses the same content component. The same content can be reused across different documents for the same product, service, and campaign as well as for similar products, services, and campaigns. This provides cost savings for authoring, translation, and localization, and reduces other costs inherent in legacy content strategies.

Reducing costs and complexity

If you're operating internationally, chances are you are localizing content into many languages and variations. This involves the actual, hard translation costs as well as the soft costs to produce the localized materials that can impact speed-to-market and even the financial viability of entering a new market. By authoring content as reusable content components, each content component only gets translated once, irrespective of how many places that component will be used. If content is updated, only the changed content component needs to be re-translated and the updated translation is automatically fed into every document that uses that content component. Companies can save more than 25 percent of their translation costs through this approach.

Expected results

Moving from manual processes to a content automation platform is enabling global companies to do more with fewer resources, to drive standardization, increase speed-to-market, reduce compliancy risks, ensure brand consistency and drive outstanding customer experiences. Information professionals and those involved in the technical documentation area are well-placed to lend their experience and expertise to drive content automation across the enterprise into areas such as standard operating procedures, investment research, datasheets, training and more.