Note: This article originally appeared on Techwhirl.com
Once you decide that managing content across the enterprise is a smart move, you’ll soon grapple with a number of the thorny issues as you determine a strategy for moving to a structured content solution like a DITA Component Content Management System (CCMS) (related: What is a Component Content Management System) One of the biggest is what to do with your existing content. Unfortunately, you can’t simply push a button and magically migrate everything. When you consider the variety of content formats (Word, Framemaker, PPT, PDF, online applications, knowledge bases, etc.) and the number of siloed locations of that content (individual computers, various network drives, global locations, etc.), migration starts to look like the beast you feared. The good news is there are opportunities inherent in the process of reworking of existing content and content workflows.
Migrate, Rework, or Start Over?
You have three basic choices in developing a migration strategy (that are not exclusive):
- Migrate. Reformat content and enter it into your CCMS.
- Rework. Evaluate content currency and value, and rework it based on that evaluation.
- Start Over. Archive legacy content and create new content in your CCMS that conforms to structured content best practices.
You’ll likely decide on a strategy that is hybrid of all three options, although we have seen situations where the company determined that starting over was actually the best strategy, once all factors were considered.
Migration Can Represent an Opportunity
The requirement to reevaluate existing content for current value, though often tedious, represents an opportunity to expand usage of your most valuable content –content you already have. For example, technical documentation like User Manuals can be exposed to prospects before they become customers. For prospective customers in a discovery phase, tech docs often have more authority than conventional marketing content, because they directly describe functionality without hype. This repurposing of content for use across the buyer lifecycle can drive revenue, potentially offsetting some of the costs of migration.
Next, let’s look at a content filtration method, or schema, that helps determine which content is worth migrating and which should be archived. It’s the first step toward maximizing creative reuse of valuable legacy content.
Evaluating Existing Content’s Value
You can choose from several models for evaluating existing content that can help you determine which of the above options is best for your current needs. We’ve found the most practical model is setting criteria or filters to objectively evaluate existing content. Content which fails to satisfy one or more of the filters will either need to be updated, archived, or redone.
Typical filters include:
- Currency. Is it up to date? Can it be easily updated? Are there enough required changes to justify starting over with the subject?
- Usage. Can this content be used in new ways (such as the marketing example above)? Usage may extend to other departments like HR or in concurrence with product testing. If content can be reused, its additional value may justify saving and migrating it.
- Quality. It is not unusual for these evaluations to uncover general issues with content quality. Inconsistent ‘voice and tone’, overly long or too short, repetition of efforts from department to department, and other quality issues can support a decision to treat content wholistically and revamp your overall content strategy.
- Relevance. How important is this? Content that addresses outlier scenarios such as unusual installation configurations may not be relevant to your core markets, supporting a decision to archive in favor of content that addresses more common issues.
- Difficulty. Very long documents and those with non-standard formats can be labor-intensive to migrate. This filter can help you create a cost and a timeline estimate for your migration efforts.
Applying A Content Management Structure
Structured content requires breaking up existing content into component topics and assigning a type to them to facilitate maintenance and reuse. The three common types are Concept, Task, and Reference. A product manual may include an Introduction, a Safety Warning, and Operating Instructions. These are, respectively, a Concept, a Reference, and a Task topic type. You would enter each into your CCMS, as individual components, so you can easily reassemble them into a document using a map. In essence you’ve transformed them into repurposable pieces of data that can be efficiently managed.
To make this work you are going to need to design a content management structure or strategy. Much of this structure is standardized in the CCMS you choose, but there is almost always some customization required. For example, if you design online learning systems, your requirements will be different from a company that creates technology products. You need to make choices for organization (applying taxonomies and metadata), tracking commonly reused content (like that Safety Warning), publishing media options and formatting, and more.
Though this can be a time-intensive process, it will make a huge difference in efficiently and successfully migrating your content. At the end of the process, you have a single source database where everything can now be created, managed, assigned, edited and published. Implementation of your structured content strategy resolves version control issues (there are never duplicates); and streamlines updates, like a changed Part Number, which can be done with one correction (no searching through thousands of pages for each instance of that Part Number). This just one example. A well-designed content management structure produces many other benefits that save time and money..
Working With a Consultant
These issues can be confusing and a little scary, particularly if thinking of content as valuable assets is relatively new to you. A DITA CCMS is a powerful tool once you have it set up to match your requirements and you have migrated the content you needed to repurpose. We often partner with content management consultants who work with their clients to resolve these issues and create workflows that help them take full advantage of their CCMS. If you do not have an inhouse DITA guru, a consultant can help smooth the way and train your content team on the ins and outs of structured content. They can also help you select vendors for related services including content migration vendors. The value of this expertise can be significant both in cost savings and time spent on your migration.
Realistic, Pragmatic Planning is Key to a Successful Migration
Migrations require making hard choices about the value of your legacy content and smart decisions on how new content will be created and used– going forward. We live in a world driven by access to content, and that fact means content once considered a cost center may now represent a significant asset of your company or organization. Migrating to a structured content process helps unlock that hidden value, and careful planning and assessment before you start is the key to a successful migration.
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