Structured content and metadata allows you to better target the right data to the right person at the right time.
Structured content has come up in more conversations with small and medium sized manufacturers over the last 18 months than in my previous 12 years combined.
As companies get serious about leveraging technology like augmented/virtual reality, chat bots and artificial intelligence, structured content can provide major benefits.
But it is not a silver bullet.
Here is a quick primer on what structured content is and some of the benefits and challenges.
It is content that must conform to a pre-determined standard. Structured content allows computers to easily read and deliver to a chatbot, augmented reality application, brochure, a PDF or other delivery channels.
Think of structured content as LEGO blocks. Each block has a few attributes like size, color and shape. You combine multiple blocks to build awesome stuff. And you can reuse those blocks to create other masterpieces.
XML is a language of structured content. XML uses tags to describe LEGO blocks and then can assemble the blocks (or XML) into content.
There are over 200 variations of XML. DITA is arguably the most popular XML language for technical documentation.
Structured content has standardized tags. DITA uses topics and maps to build documents. A topic is a piece of content that answers a question or related questions. It is self-contained and modular.
The three main types of topics (Lego blocks) are:
Every new model, market, language and publishing output can add complexity to how you support and market your products.
Engineering made a change? To a part that is in multiple products with documentation in multiple places? With structured content, metadata, and defined delivery channels, you can dynamically update content quickly.
Only translate a topic once no matter how many places it is published.
A 35 year veteran in the technical writing industry told me that for most companies, this is the number one benefit of moving into structured content.
As customer experience climbs up the priority list, structured content and metadata allows you to better target the right data to the right person at the right time.
It takes a solid content strategy up front to reap the benefits downstream. Sticking with the DITA example, you will need to shoehorn your content into DITA elements or come up with your own.
This is a big undertaking. And based on my research and experience, it has a higher chance of success if you partner up with an outside expert.
This goes back to having a solid content strategy. If it is not thought through and documented, you will not see the full benefits of content reuse.
If executed correctly, the costs are reasonable when you factor in the benefits. But poor execution results in wasted time and money.
Content strategy is not the sexiest topic. Especially at the Executive level. You need full support from the top down. This includes financial support and additional headcount or consultants. If you do not have full buy in, you are likely set up to fail.
Your team has likely been doing tech pubs a certain way for a long time. Change is hard and moving from a solid and proven technical publication process with known tools can meet with resistance. Executive support can ease that transition.
As with any new initiative, there are hurdles to overcome. The benefits can be worth it. But you need to do your research, have a documented plan and secure buy in from the executives.
Have you recently moved to structured content? I would love to learn more about your experience. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to talk.