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Time to Stop Seeing Documentation as a Necessary Evil

By Steven Laine, TechProse President

Steven Laine, TechProse President

I’m interested in your thoughts as I ponder the future of publications and content within corporations: Does content need to be owned at a corporate, senior manager, maybe even C-level (as in CEO, CFO, CIO, etc.), rather than at a technical publications manager level to get the full strategic value out of the content?

Here is the background: I was at the Intelligent Content conference that Ann Rockley’s group put on earlier in February. It was a great conference, very targeted, intense and useful.

The concept of intelligent content is compelling, logical and so common sense – let’s find, capture and reuse our own stuff so we are more consistent, efficient and responsive across the entire organization from tech pubs to training to sales and marketing and beyond.

Makes sense, right? Yet attendees at the conference kept coming back to this question:  How do you persuade management to make the investment in DITA tools and methodology in order to reap the downstream benefits across the organization?  How do I as a technical writer or trainer get management to free up dollars now so that we can have better content down the road?

We all know that documentation and training is usually looked at as (yes, I’ll say it) a necessary evil. Corporations provide documentation and training to the user community almost as an obligation, and they aren’t happy about it. That’s because (generalizing here) documentation costs a lot of money, is used infrequently by a small audience, and does not generate revenue or good will. If the discussion centers instead around intelligent content as a corporate asset however, the “necessary evil” aspect is covered. The conversation shifts, and content is no longer an obligatory offering. Instead, it is viewed as part of overall corporate strategy. In addition, corporations begin to view the base material in the repository as an asset capable of generating revenue and indirect income. Anthony Allen, Director of Production for the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) provided one example of this. During his talk, he described how ASTD’s sales people can now create custom content packages for each buyer by using intelligent content technology to combine a chapter from this book, a chapter from that one, along with a white paper and some blog entries.

Of course, the possibilities extend beyond revenue. Corporations now have the opportunity to create a differentiated brand that will attract users because it’s easier to derive value from your content than from a competitor who does not use intelligent content.

So, again my question is this: Do we need to create, champion,  or develop a new role, something approaching a Chief Content Officer (CCO) or a level or two below in the corporate structure so that documentation is no longer seen as a necessary evil? How would that affect the tech pubs model? Would it evolve in an interesting way? Please comment freely and in any forum you choose. TechProse is active on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

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