Print Will Never Die
Since the late 1990s, there's been tremendous hype around content management systems that allegedly handle a variety of content, including text, graphics, video and audio clips.
However, the majority of content management systems focus primarily on managing an organization's Web content. Although the Web is an important medium for delivering information, it's not the only medium that contains an organization's information assets.
What most content management systems overlook is how to effectively manage content independent of its end use. They also overlook the natural flow of content, which includes creating content and transforming it to its end use.
This Web content management strategy leads to neglect of content destined for print. It's seriously limited the most basic benefit of content management systems: Full content reuse across all media channels, including print, Web, CD-ROM and wireless.
Print continues to be the dominant medium used by manufacturing and technology companies. These organizations need to provide accurate information about products in the form of user's manuals, training manuals and technical documentation.
While it's valuable for documents to be available online, it's equally important for them to be available as print and CD-ROM versions, to accompany the products or parts they support.
The challenge is, these technical documents and user's manuals are comprised of numerous pages, and sometimes exist in dozens, even hundreds of different versions. Another obstacle: The documentation often needs to be available in numerous languages.
It's an enormous task for organizations to continually update and maintain documentation, not to mention the time required for proofing, to make sure changes have been made in all instances, and that revised content is consistent.
The production of accurate new product manuals is a crucial step in the process of taking a product to market. Imagine delaying a multi-million dollar product launch because the documentation isn't ready, or having to locate and edit a content fragment that appears in hundreds of manuals.
Yet this happens all the time. A content management system for cross-media publishing can alleviate these challenges, while ensuring content integrity and improving efficiencies. Content management systems for cross-media publishing easily transform technical documentation into print, Web, CD-ROM or wireless media.
Although some Web content management vendors say they can manage an organization's print content, the fact is they can't do so easily. That's because Web content management systems don't break content down to the component level, as cross-media publishing content management systems do.
An opportunity that's frequently associated with print content is reusing the content at the component level. Typically, much of the documentation for "product version 1" can be used for "product version 2," given the organization can easily reuse the appropriate components.
Even better, if relationships are built between foreign language components and English components, translation costs for new content are minimized. The translation take places at the component level, and only components that change between versions need translation.
In addition to Web output, content management systems for cross-media publishing work with complex style sheets required for layout and design of print content. The style sheets can be easily applied to Web pages, PDF files or CD-ROMs.
There are several other key features organizations should consider when evaluating cross-media content management systems. Because most content contributors within organizations aren't techies, it's important for content management systems to be easy to use, without requiring programming skills.
Some content management systems also integrate easily with third-party editing tools that content developers are already using. Likewise, a content management system with a Web interface makes remote access easy, and can prevent duplicated efforts and out-of-sync document versions.
By providing remote user access, only authorized users get access to the most current version. Additionally, a content management system should offer version control that grants access to only one user at a time. It should also offer a redline report of historical and deleted content.
Automated workflow is another key feature to look for. This makes certain all contributors are on the same page, by providing a process for creating, reusing, reviewing, translating, approving and publishing content.
Through checkpoints, each contributor is notified of their project status, and the required next step via e-mail. Some workflow features are more sophisticated than others, allowing organizations to create complex workflows graphically.
Because it's critical for organizations to have content available in print and electronic versions, the content management system should provide a single source for cross-media publishing.
This means there's a single repository that stores both structured and unstructured content. This enables organizations to maximize content reuse, while saving time and money. They can update or edit content once, and changes are automatically applied to relevant content enterprise wide.
Most technical documentation is packed with graphics and illustrations. A cross-media content management system should provide digital asset management, meaning it can handle multimedia assets such as audio and video.
Multi-language translation management with full Unicode character set support is also strategically important. The system should be able to automatically identify where content has been changed, and notify translators of what requires translation. Doing this at the component level minimizes translation costs.
Don't miss the big picture when choosing a content management system. While there are hundreds of content management systems on the market, only a handful support true cross-media publishing. Of those, only a few offer component-level reuse.
Even as we start the 21st century, more content is being produced as print than the Web, wireless, CD-ROMs and DVDs combined. Clearly, print isn't dying. Rather, it's the one constant in an ever-expanding, ever changing cross-media universe.
Bret Freeman (BFreeman@Vasont.com) is field support manager for Progressive Information Technologies, in Emigsville, Pa.