Content is changing - from author-controlled to consumer and collaboration-led. We review why this is happening and what an organisation can do to gain the benefits, cost and efficiency savings that will start to follow.
The problem with 'old' Content
Content is produced today by most organisations in the same way since the 1980's when personal computers were introduced and 'personal productivity' software became available. The software has been updated in line with interface fashions and (too many) new features added - but the basic functions are still the same:
- Document Editor - for output on paper, when most content is not printed
- A different Presentation Editor - for fixed output to screen, when most content needs to be shared
- A Spreadsheet - which mixes content for analytics and presentation and often holds its own copy of data, so is it up-to-date?
These tools were a great step forward from what was there before. However they enforce a model of content creation based on the all-powerful author. Authors can create what they like (even ignoring standards) and then store the outputs where they want (local drives, shared drives, removable media…) using a name that means something at the time.
Content is a liability unless it is findable, trusted and useable by other people - what is the point of a document that is never read? The personal productivity approach made it hard for others to find content ('where was it stored?'), to trust the content ('is this the right version?'), and for people to work together (merging different versions from different sources into a single consistent whole).
E-mail made this situation worse by allowing copies to be distributed easily with no controls, and providing yet another location where content was stored and managed inefficiently by each individual.
Organisations have been trying to regain control since the 1990's with what became known as Enterprise Content Management solutions. ECM worked where there was organisational support and direction to use it. Content was stored in specific locations, often with additional information ('metadata') to help find content, and with versions controlled and audited. In a controlled ECM store it was also possible to enforce format rules.
The biggest issue was that most content was not stored in an ECM solution. Even where ECM solutions are used, if organisational controls are not enforced, the resultant 'sprawl' can make it just as hard to find and trust content. Even the availability of powerful search doesn't compensate for underlying content mess - with users complaining about the quality of search results when compared with Google.
The old model has not been fixed, it has been superseded
Since the read-write web has started there has been a paradigm shift (quite literally a new way of thinking) not about technology, but about content and information. In essence consumers expect information to be stored in ways they want, not the way the author created it. This shift is not complete and is on-going now, turning content inside out.
Take your complete health record, we would expect it to be available to anyone who is authorised to view (your GP, emergency doctor, or a specialist) wherever they are and in a format that they can use: the GP sees all the details, whereas the emergency doctor initially sees key points. This isn't possible now, but because health workers can now see it is possible, the health industry is moving in this direction.
Consumers expect to get to information in many ways and delivered in ways that are useful now: smartphones, tablets, PC and even audible. It is now standard to expect that search will deliver content that matches synonyms and not the words entered, or that London for me means London, UK not London, Ontario.
The read-write web opens up access to tacit knowledge wherever it exists. It has never been easier to connect with someone else in the world that has the information you need in their head. Once captured on a social media site and indexed by a search engine, this becomes explicit information that is used by others.
What of the danger of information overload? This happens when content has to be broadcast in case you are interested in it. With less email, better information delivery and better filtering of outputs, information overload will be removed.
What does this mean to the content inside businesses and organisations? People in organisations can see there are better ways of working but are constrained by policy and processes that assume 'old' content will be used or simply the habits of the last 20 years. The tools are often available already (in-house or in the cloud) - it is the people and processes that need to shift.
Wikis are one tool for building a set of coherent information about a subject. Imagine using a wiki for a project with no more individual documents and emails. The wiki structure is defined up front and filled and corrected as needed by the project members so that it is always up-to-date, including status reports. Are your project managers ready for this?
The organisational equivalent of social media, such as Jive, Yammer or Tibbr, is essential for discovering what your organisation already knows. These sites provide ad hoc stores of information that can be followed, searched, and mined but even more critically, help solve information 'unknowns' by linking people together.
Blogs as a publish or broadcast medium within organisations are a really useful tool for experts to make reports and other information available widely, which can then be commented upon and added to. This is much more effective than sending out blanket FYI emails, the traditional way of disseminating information.
The content above has moved from individual files to a central, easy-to-access general tool. A similar trend will happen for specialist content such as project plans or reports. The information is already highly structured and so would be better stored in dedicated collaborative applications, which always have the latest versions and where the presentation of the information is separated from the data.
We can expect email use to drop off dramatically as its use for transferring content or broadcasting is replaced by alternate methods.
In future organisations may need to recognise new roles linked to collaborative working. What of a team worker who doesn't write but contributes by pruning, linking, improving and correcting, as well as encouraging others to do the same - or a role of establishing and encouraging new start-up communities? New ways of working will need new roles.
How to move forward?
The transformation from 'old' content will take years but it doesn't have to be a revolution - it can be a steady evolution as your organisation tries new approaches:
- Run a project using a wiki and no documents (check - you may find this is already happening somewhere in your organisation)
- Establish internal blogging and make it easy to search and visible to staff
- Set up one organisation-wide micro-blogging site - make sure it is easily available for remote and mobile workers. Start to use it for social topics to build interest. Encourage communities of interest. Once established stop email newsletters and announcements. Build it into existing processes to replace email
- Pilot shareable, collaboration-built-in electronic formats like Microsoft's OneNote or Google Docs and blog about the successes
- Switch off local and shared drives (or make them read-only) so 'old' content is only placed in approved content stores
- Discourage 'old' content proliferation by only distributing links to a securely-stored 'master', do not send copies of the original
- Review policy and standards to remove any assumptions about 'old' content
- Review procedures and start switching new ways of working that deliver benefits to the organisation
Ultimately content consumers and collaborators will drive the use of the most effective solutions and turn your content inside out.