posted 3 Oct 2000 in Volume 4 Issue 2
Laying the foundations
Content management and knowledge management are very different, but the link between the two disciplines continues to grow. In fact, CM is emerging as a key component of systems for managing digital assets. And it can add a new dimension to your KM programmes. Mark Mitcheson explains why and how.
All knowledge management exercises require you to have control of your content – your digital assets – wherever they are and wherever you need them to go. You need the control to be able to capture and retrieve, deliver, structure, share and collaborate. But as analysts Ovum point out in a recent report1, “content management is the Achilles heel of most knowledge management initiatives”.
Content management is defined as: “A set of rules, roles and processes to manage the content lifecycle through origination, publication, delivery and expiry of digital assets such that quality information is delivered to the right people.”
Without these rules, roles and processes, both the quality of the information in the system and your ability to find it decline. And low quality information is not likely to turn into valuable knowledge – especially if you can’t find it. In the information age, content management is like a building’s foundations in the industrial era – attracting little attention but essential if you want to build anything substantial.
This article explains why content management is critical for knowledge management and what can you do to ensure that your KM effort does become victim to its Achilles heel.
Content volumes are growing spectacularly
Mediasurface recently commissioned NOP to research how organisations are managing their intranets. Their findings reveal much about current content management issues.
Most remarkable is the reported rate of growth of information on respondents’ intranets. 46 per cent of finance respondents reported monthly growth figures of 10-25 per cent. Staggering by any standards, such phenomenal growth can be expected to cause huge problems where the architecture on which the intranet is based does not have the ability to grow in scale to keep pace. Without well- thought-out, scalable systems and processes to manage this burgeoning mass, the tasks of finding information, maintaining quality and using it effectively become impossible – or hugely resource intensive. And at those growth rates they do so very quickly.
An example of just how content volumes can explode is provided by Oxford University Press (OUP). The OUP website comprises several diverse and complex sites, including an online catalogue of over 20,000 titles. As the site grew, a huge problem in content management appeared – and by spring 1998, over 1,000 changes to the site were needed daily. This made the site virtually unmanageable. After introducing the right content management software solutions, employees can now make changes to the site through standard browser software that needs no training to use. Over 200 people at OUP now directly contribute to the site, ensuring immediate results.
The state of the intranet: The leaders and the rest of us
Scale is only one of the emerging challenges. What about new delivery channels such as WAP telephones or kiosks? How about personalised delivery or globalisation? Intranet systems have a strong history of following the Internet’s lead, so you can be confident that these subjects will soon become hot intranet topics.
There is already a great deal of work, described at conferences and in journals, about knowledge management projects that encompass these elements. This work is exciting, leading edge and shows the direction that many will follow. For the majority of businesses, though, it will be at least 12 months before they are in a position to emulate the leaders. In the meantime, more fundamental content problems need to be resolved if the intranet is to assume the mantle of a key business platform. Other results from the survey, and conversations with business people, make it clear what these content problems are.
Out-of-date material abounds
Our survey revealed that 77 per cent of companies publish out of date information on the web. If you haven’t seen a web page that says something like ‘last updated in 1998’ you have been very fortunate in your browsing to date. Worse still is spending time to read a page or more, only to get to the end and find a vague clue that dates it back to 3 years ago. This is a critical issue for a developing an intranet, as it doesn’t take many out-of-date pages before sections of your intranet become discredited as a resource. In general, it is far easier to get information onto a website than it is to remove it.
CM solution: A system that controls workflows throughout the content lifecycle so that the owner of each piece of content is notified as it approaches its expiry date. If the content is not updated, it can be removed from view – automatically. WS Atkins is a world-leading consultancy that had experienced extremely rapid growth, with the number of employees doubling in five years. The company intranet had expanded at the same rate and contained some 2,000 static pages by the end of 1998. This resulted in ‘dead web’ syndrome – a cycle of decline that starts with poor site maintenance. Old, static, out-of-date material results in falling numbers of visitors. Fewer visitors mean less interest and lower motivation to keep material current. Traffic falls, and so on. After introducing content management systems that support core project and client relationship management activities, the WS Atkins intranet is now up to date – and fundamental to the way the company does business.
Duplication of content across different corporate websites
Holding information in digital form offers great advantages, as we all know. It can be copied, edited and moved around by almost anyone. There are disadvantages too, of course – it can be copied, edited and moved around by almost anyone! On an intranet, the result is often that the same piece of content can exist in multiple locations, sometimes in slightly different versions. When that piece of content – for example, a product feature list – is changed, chances are it will persist in an earlier version somewhere on the intranet. NOP found that 79 per cent of the largest organisations surveyed reported duplication of content across company websites.
CM solution: Storage of one instance of such content in a central repository, where access is controlled. Delivery can be made to numerous locations if required, and to different devices (PC, kiosk, WAP phone), using the same content. The World Wrestling Federation (WWF) has a hugely successful website that attracts over 200 million page impressions per month. To keep up with this very remarkable appetite for information about wrestlers and wrestling they must constantly update their site, using the easiest, least time-consuming method possible. They do this by putting rules in place to ensure that when a piece of information, such as a contact name, changes, it is changed in all parts of the site that features it. This ensures accuracy of content and increases credibility with relative ease.
Bottlenecks slow down publication
The process of publishing information increases the time it takes to get messages out. Our research found that of those companies surveyed, 58 per cent said that it took more than one working day to get information on their site. Such a long delay is unnecessary in this medium, and it also uses specialist web skills that can more usefully be deployed elsewhere. Even if you can make progress through the multiple stages relatively quick (high efficiency) it isn’t the best deployment of skilled people (low effectiveness).
CM solution: Content owners – the experts – whether they are in sales, HR or marketing, can add and edit content through a browser, from anywhere, without the need to learn any specialist IT skills. In the most extreme of cases, delay in delivering information can cost lives. This is best illustrated by Alertnet, a Reuters website, which charities and relief organisations use to communicate with each other in the time of disasters. Using effective content management, workers on the ground are able to update the site directly without having to wait for an IT expert to redesign a page. Workflows ensure that control can be kept of the publication process if desired, but the webmaster bottleneck has gone. Through this site, organisations can access information about earthquakes, flooding and other emergencies within hours and can make decisions quickly on the best way to act.
Sites are slow and difficult to change
Not only is it difficult to get content on and off the websites, but changing the structure, the look and feel, or adding new functionality can require a major re-building, which is both expensive and time-consuming. An example is organisational re-structuring which is now a seemingly commonplace event. Your intranet could – I would say should – be an asset, not a liability, to change management by being the first place that the changes are reflected.
CM solution: An application that separates site structure, content, design and navigation. Structures can thus be changed rapidly without the need to change other elements. Content can be altered without the need to change the look and feel, or navigation. Until recently, the Institute of Contemporary Arts relied heavily on printed programmes and conventional publicity material to spread the word about activities. It did have a website, but it was difficult to change information, which is critical to fast-moving organisations. Mediasurface provided a solution that meant the site could retain a uniform design and navigation system, whilst allowing information about events to be updated on a daily basis.
Content quality is variable
Not all content will need a high degree of quality control, but compliance to externally assessed standards is an increasing part of more and more work activities. Without publishing disciplines such as review processes and sign off, compliance can quickly become a headache.
CM solution: A configurable workflow process that assigns publishing rights only to those with authority to control the publication of material.
Navigation gets confusing
With a multitude of locally designed websites, users need to learn new navigation principles for each site. This makes navigation slower and finding information more difficult – effectively a disincentive to using the intranet.
Diluted corporate branding
Each website will frequently have it’s own interpretation of the corporate brand image – diluting the image and weakening the brand. This becomes more of a concern as and when sections of the intranet are made available outside the organisation.
CM solution: Central control of design and navigation elements ensures consistency without compromising the ability of local content producers to populate their own content structures.
The implications go beyond the intranet
The cumulative effect of problems such as these is declining traffic and low credibility of the intranet. If your plans are for the intranet to be an authoritative source of the latest information, a fundamental resource that people go to first, this represents an important risk to future development.
The good news is that an effective content management system solves these problems, and crucially makes some of the likely next steps – such as extranets, new delivery channels and personalisation – possible, too.
Extranets and new delivery channels
If you are considering creating an extranet by opening up some of your intranet content to customers, suppliers or partners, then quickly revisit the list above, and consider the impact of content management issues when the audience is not purely internal. Extranets are more akin to Internet sites in terms of the exposure they get, but with content that is at least as dynamic and important for transactions.
Further along you may want to introduce the ability to deliver the same content in new ways. For instance, delivering new competitor intelligence or marketing news to the intranet and the mobile phones of the sales force. Or, posting company news on the intranet and making it available on palm devices for people to read on the move. These ideas may not be high on your organisation’s list of requirements now, but progressive firms are already there and the future is looking remarkably ‘wireless’.
Personalisation needs content management
Personalised delivery is attractive not only to the marketeers targeting your organisations customers on the web; it is something of a Holy Grail for the internal communications department, too. The prospect of being able to deliver content, on the basis of roles, personal profiles or current work activities, is indeed an attractive one. If you work in IT, do you want the same view of the intranet as a compliance manager? Should senior executives be presented with the same menu as relationship managers?
Analysts are now predicting that personalisation will be a standard feature of intranets in two years time. Appealing though this prospect is, the value of personalising the delivery of content is heavily dependent on the content. If there is not a large amount of current and relevant content, why personalise? From the users’ point of view, if there is only a small amount of content, then I might as well see all of it. And if it isn’t of a high standard, I am probably not interested in seeing it anyway.
And globalisation needs content management, too
For those organisations with multiple language requirements, the prospect of maintaining a significant amount of content in numerous languages is challenging, to say the least. It involves recognising changes in previously translated master documents, locating translations of it in multiple languages, picking out the changed passages, translating them, and putting them back – until the next time. This can either be done manually or automated by using workflows built into the content management processes.
Content is King. However...
That is only true when the content is current, relevant and accurate. And if content is the monarch, content management is the executive authority. Without it, the quality of the content falls, delivery becomes problematic and the future doesn’t look so bright because new delivery channels – such as handheld devices or digital TV – cannot be easily exploited. Which is why many leading organisations such as Nomura, Cranfield University and Scottish Amicable have, or are in the process of, implementing systems to put themselves in firm control of their content. KM
1. Knowledge Management: Building the Collaborative Enterprise, Madan Sheina (Ovum Ltd)
Mark Mitcheson is VP business development at Mediasurface. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org