XML is not the answer

Collaboration and Intelligent Content? XML is not the answer you’re looking for.

As a mark up language XML is very capable for structured writing. Furthermore, XML content can be promptly delivered when required and follows enterprise standards for structure.

For the production purposes which it fulfils, it is of the utmost importance, particularly for organisations weighted down in large amounts of content. Thus far, it ticks all the right boxes in this regard.

Ann Rockley defined – years ago – what Intelligent Content should consist of:

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

Herein lies the question, how is this achievable? How do we create content that satisfies the above definition, and moreover, is aligned with our content strategy?
A vast array of technological solutions is out there such as XML editors and CCMS (Component Content Management System), that can cope with this task. It provides you with the capacity to store your content and make it re-usable while supporting single-source publishing and translation workflows. It’s not exactly a simple feat to undertake, a bit “geeky”, but it achieves the required goals. It is therefore largely the reserve of TechComm departments in larger Companies.
Hold on a second! Are you not neglecting your colleagues in marketing or sales? Are they leveraging fully the benefits of intelligent content?

To deliver the right content to the right customer at the right time in the right way is what would be the most desirable scenario. Easier said than done!

What, if anything differentiates them from their colleagues?

There is a significant amount of dialogue about content creation and silos in bigger firms.

That being said…the manner in which they work may vary, but is not too dissimilar.

Technical Documentation involves far less contribution and collaboration than Marketing content does. All the internal functions within the company make a contribution as well as agencies, etc. In all honesty, TechDocs departments also integrate a substantial amount of third party content in their documents e.g. supplier info.

However the marketing folks are quite apprehensive 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. They need a useable, easy to navigate, friendlier interface and a collaborative authoring environment.

As was articulated by Marcia Riefer Johnston 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 possesses a distinct advantage in terms of structured writing, however its shortcomings are the ability to provide the medium for knowledge contribution and collaborative authoring. With XML you cannot completely focus on the writing itself unless you are a pro in DITA and XML. You have to type opening and closing tags consistently, and there are an extraordinary amount of 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.

Owing to the complexity of XML, it is at the very least, an uphill battle to get all team members to use it in order to work efficiently together. This necessitates a collaborative solution that can offer you the convenience of writing in a familiar user interface along with the structural and re-usable benefits of XML.

This is when SMASHDOCs comes into the fold.

It brings together the pieces of the puzzle of 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 allowing them to use together one central document platform. And when it comes to re-use and the “need for XML” – just press a button and publish it to your CCMS, your MS Word, your Indesign file, etc. And the re-usable objects – we call them sections – can be tagged, stored and used separately.

Compliance and end-to-end control of your document are additional benefits that come along with this.

Are we looking to substitute your XML authoring environment? No, there will almost certainly be a place for it for the foreseeable future, however it is far from ideal when it comes to any expectations that everyone will be willing to utilise it. 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? Again no, SMASHDOCs produces nice Word files. However, it is better to simply avoid attempting to create content together with your colleagues in Word, churning out a seemingly endless stream of back and forth e-mails, and producing version after version.

The often overlooked silo issue, which is becoming increasingly problematic for organisations somehow needs to be overcome. If content is a valuable strategic asset and then there exists the nightmare silo problem. The best way to make the most out of this dilemma, is to have a clear user interface for authoring and collaboration combined with the export benefits of XML. Finally to end off it is worth noting that, inconsistent content prevents brand loyality as variation in content experiences damages relationships, that’s why it is important that team members work efficiently together.

Christian GerickeCRO at smartwork solutions GmbH

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