Intelligent Content and collaboration? Authoring in XML is not the answer you’re looking for.

Christian Gericke, CRO at smartwork solutions GmbH

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

XML is a great markup language for structured writing. What’s more, XML content can be delivered on demand and follows enterprise standards for structure. It is of great value for production purposes, especially for content-heavy organisations. So far, so good.

Ann Rockley defined — years ago — what Intelligent Content should be like:

  • Structurally rich
  • Semantically categorised
  • Automatically discoverable
  • Reusable
  • Reconfigurable
  • Adaptable

And how do we do this? How do we create all the content that falls under this definition and is in line with our content strategy?

There is a ton of technology out there — XML editors and CCMS (Component Content Management System) which can do the job. It helps you store your content and makes it re-usable while supporting single-source publishing and translation workflows. It is not easy, it is a bit geeky but it works. Therefore, it is mainly used by TechComm departments in larger organisations.

But wait! What about your colleagues in marketing? In sales? Are they leveraging fully the benefits of Intelligent Content?

They want to deliver the right content to the right customer at the right time in the right way. Easier said than done!

Are they any different to their colleagues?

There is a lot of talk about content creation and silos in bigger firms.

Well … the way they work might be a bit different but not that much.

Marketing content involves more contribution and collaboration than Technical Documentation content does. All the internal functions within the company make a contribution as well as agencies, etc. To be fair, TechDocs departments also integrate a lot of third party content in their documents e.g. supplier info.

But marketing folks don’t want to learn XML! They want to create Intelligent Content — they want to re-use content, leverage Translation Memory Systems (TMS), as well as create and manage sales-enablement material. What they need is an easy to use interface and a collaborative authoring environment.

And as Marcia Riefer Johnston stated in her article Intelligent Content: The Elephant and Its Parts : “Technology can do its magic only after structure has been put in place. Technology doesn’t create the structure; people do.”

XML has its advantages in terms of structured writing, but it does not provide the medium for knowledge contribution and collaborative authoring. With XML you cannot really concentrate on writing itself unless you are a pro in DITA and XML. You have to type opening and closing tags all the time, and there are too many elements for ordinary text structures. And let’s be honest, XML editors are not made for everyone in a company or for your agencies or suppliers.

It is a challenge for many team members to get used to the complexity of XML in order to work efficiently together. To be able to work collaboratively you need a tool that can offer you the convenience of writing in a familiar user interface and the structural and re-usable benefits of XML.

This is when SMASHDOCs comes into play.

It combines what Marketing can do, TechComm needs to do and the company wants to do.

Create content in a collaborative fashion, leveraging all content contributors and bringing them together in one central document at a time. And when it comes to re-use and the “need for XML” — just press a button and publish it to you your CCMS, your Word, your Indesign file, etc. And the re-usable objects — we call them sections — can be tagged, stored and used separately.

On top of that, you get compliance and end-to-end control of your document.

Are we replacing your XML authoring environment? No, there will still be a requirement for it, however not everyone is willing to use it for a particular task at hand. In fact, if you just want to edit, finalize and save in a given XML structure, well then SMASHDOCs is the perfect alternative to overly complex XML tools.

Are we replacing MS Word? No, SMASHDOCs produces nice Word files. You simply don’t want to create content together with your colleagues in Word itself- sending thousands of emails and producing version after version is a nightmare.

Content is a valuable strategic asset, that’s why it is important that team members work efficiently together. Inconsistent content prevents brand loyality as variation in content experiences damages relationships. In order to overcome the silos and create Intelligent Content, you need a clear user interface for authoring and collaboration combined with the export benefits of XML.