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Are WebHelp Indexes Obsolete? Both Sides of the Issue

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 Traditional Use of Indexes

Leora Betesh, Suite Solutions

Have you ever rented a car, and then found yourself searching the car manual for instructions on, say, how to release the hood? You probably went straight to the car manual’s index, rather than reading through the table of contents.

Have you ever searched a cookbook for a carrot soup recipe? If so, did you look through soup section of the table of contents, or did you jump to the index in the back? If you turned to the entry for “carrot”, the index might have directed you to the entry for “soup.”

Why did you use the index rather than the table of contents? Because the table of contents is there to give a sequential overview of the topics in the book, whereas the index directs you to topics related to a specific subject you need. The index is the quickest and easiest way to find specific information. So everyone agrees that printed material can’t do without indexes.

However, many documentation teams ask whether indexes in non-printed materials still have value. Keep reading to get each side of the debate.

Why Indexes are Still Useful in WebHelp

Reasons for keeping indexes include:

1. Precision

Indexes allow for more fine-tuned retrieval, with possible sub-index entries, and “see also” entries. Sometimes a user might even browse the index and then happen upon the appropriate term.

2. Author Knows Best

A human can more accurately determine which terms are related to the topic than the best search algorithm would be able to. Although search algorithms are improving every day, and now include fuzzy search, synonym search, and even spelling-mistake search (gotta love that one!), they still cannot compete with the author who knows exactly which terms are relevant to the topic at hand.

3. Index Terms Are Already There

Assuming that the content is single-sourced to both printed and virtual documentation formats, someone has already gone to the trouble to index each topic. Why shouldn’t that effort be leveraged elsewhere? Adding the index seems to be a “no-brainer”.

4. WebHelp Convention

Users have come to expect the index, along with TOC and Search. Removing the index would be doing away with an anticipated point of navigation.

Why Indexes in WebHelp are Nearly Obsolete

 Reasons for deprecating indexes include:

1. Search Does It All

Search and context sensitivity allow you to find any topic by keyword, so that the advantage of looking through the index is marginal.

2. Nobody Uses the Index

It is widely known that most users go straight to search without ever glancing at the index. In any case, index terms that were added to the topics can be used by search engines to give weight to the search results, removing the need for a separate index.

3. Real Estate

The index adds clutter to an already full screen, which is especially problematic as screens keep getting smaller and users have less and less patience for distractions on the screen.

4. CJK Sorting

Sorting in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean is quite complex for reasons which are beyond the scope of this article. Antenna House has an index sorting module available for these languages published to PDF, but no such code exists at this time for WebHelp. The only solution at this time is to have the index entries manually sorted by the translation vendor. Is it worth the high cost of sorting these terms if no one uses the index anyway? Or should the localized index terms be haphazardly incorporated to populate the index?

The Bottom-Line Question

Is the fact that users are accustomed to the presence of an index enough of a reason to keep it? And in the final analysis, it is the user who determines how useful or necessary an index is.

What are your thoughts on the value of indexes in WebHelp? Has your team debated this issue? If so, what were your conclusions? Let us know in comments section below.

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5 Things to Consider When Sharing Product Content to your Social Community

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Miryam Brand

Miryam Brand, Suite Solutions

As customer communities become increasingly central to your corporate communication, it has become imperative to give these social communities access to quality product content. But before you share your product content to your customer community, there are some important things to consider:

1)  How structured is your content?

Any content you share needs to be part of a customer conversation. That means that content must be shared in topic form – only the relevant topic should be shared in any given comment or thread. If your content is only accessible in static PDFs with little internal structure, this will be almost impossible. But if your content is already structured with meaningful classification and taxonomy, it will be much easier for you (and even your customers) to find and share the precise topic that answers customer questions and enriches their discussions.

2)  Where will your shared product content reside?

Essentially, you have two options for sharing your content with the community. You can:

a) Provide a link to content in your content portal within a post to your social community.

This is a way to share your content, but it presents several problems:
– It will take users out of your community site.
– When you provide an external link in a social post, especially to rapidly changing content, you risk the possibility of a broken link in the (near) future.
– If your content portal requires a login name and password, this will either block the user entirely or cause customer frustration. Customers frequently “give up” rather than re-entering authentication information.
– Finding the content in your portal, copying the link, and adding it to the correct post can take time. The amount of time and the “pain” a user needs to go through to add an external link means that even those employees who really want to share product content with customers will rarely do so.

b) Publish your content directly to your social community site.

This solution prevents the problems inherent to linking to an external portal. However, it requires that you have a mechanism in place to automatically update the content published to your community whenever it is updated in your content portal.

3) How public is your community site? How public is your content?

If your community is public while your content is not, you will need to create closed groups on your community site where you can share your content safely. If you have proprietary, customer-specific content, it should be tagged accordingly and only shared on a closed group that is specific to that customer.

4) Who is the moderator of your community? Is s/he familiar with your content?

Your community moderator (whether an employee or an enthusiastic customer) should be familiar enough with your content to share topics in customer discussions. One way to ensure content is shared is to make it both prominent and easily findable from within your social community. If your content has been published to your customer community, use your community’s built-in search tools to make it easier for your community moderator to share content.

5) How will customers know that your content is on your social site?

This may seem obvious, but remember that customers who are familiar with your community site are not expecting to see product content there — not yet. By anchoring your content in prominent places, and by making a point of linking to relevant topics in response to customer discussions, you can quickly let customers know that their community is also a great place to get relevant content and answers in your corporate content.

Would you like to share your own experiences with sharing content socially? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your feedback.

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Optimizing Knowledge Value: The Master List

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Miryam Brand

Miryam Brand, Suite Solutions

Want to read all of our Knowledge Value Maturity Model blog posts in order? Here’s the master list!

 

1.  Increase the Value of your Content: The Knowledge Value Maturity Model

2. Optimize Your Content: Fragmentation and Structure

3. Distribution, Display, and Search Methodology

4. Community, Content Contribution, Analytics & Monetization

5. 6 Tips for Getting to World-Class Knowledge Value

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6 Tips for Getting to World-Class Knowledge Value

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Miryam Brand

Miryam Brand, Suite Solutions

Now that we’ve fully explored the Knowledge Value Maturity Model, the question remains: where do you start? To help you we’ve included some tips for your initial efforts, culled from our own experience with a wide variety of organizations.

 

1. In order to start the move to world-class, an incremental approach is best. Your initial implementation should:

  • Start with a targeted application for a specific audience
  • Show a “proof of concept” that can spread
  • Provide tangible benefits and profits for “selling” to the rest of the organization

2. Rome wasn’t built in a day – don’t expect to implement a world-class knowledge portal in a week. Choose a group and a function that will clearly benefit from moving toward intelligent content, push-and-pull functionality, and knowledge integration, and concentrate your efforts there first.

3. Decide on your ROI variables before beginning the project. What do you expect to achieve? What level of translation savings, content creation efficiency, or customer interaction will define a “successful” project? Make sure you will be able to measure the results you expect. Remember that to accurately measure the success of the project, you must have accurately measured your baseline before you begin.

4. Departmental buy-in is a priority. If you expect members of your team or department to change their workflow or open up their content to others, you need to show them how the changes will make their workflow better or more effective. Directives from above, if they are only from above, can create resistance from below.

5. Join silos – don’t try to break them! Your different departments work with different tools and repositories for a reason. Whenever possible, allow them to continue their current workflow and simply join the results with a flexible portal.

6. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are numerous forums for DITA and intelligent content where knowledgeable colleagues are only too happy to share their experiences and answer questions. And if you need professional consulting, services or an out-of-the-box knowledge portal, be sure to come talk to us at Suite Solutions.

Have questions or comments? Like to share a phlebotinum scenario with me? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your feedback.

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Optimizing Content: Community, Content Contribution, Analytics & Monetization

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Miryam Brand

Miryam Brand, Suite Solutions

In previous posts, we talked about the Fragmentation and Structure, Distribution, Display, and Search Methodology tracks of the Knowledge Value Maturity Model, designed to help you see where your organization “places” compared to others in the industry regarding knowledge and content utilization. This week we will be focusing on our final tracks: Knowledge Community, Content Contribution, and Knowledge Analytics and Monetization.

In this blog post, we will discuss how you can benefit from the community of people who use your content, like customers and SMEs, to improve content while engaging your customer. Then we will talk about how you can use topic-level analytics to optimize your content and enable your marketing department to increase sales, particularly upgrades and cross-sells.

Your Knowledge Community and Content Contribution

In a lagging organization, knowledge only moves in one direction: from the company to the customer. Performing companies, however, have expanded on their knowledge communities, allowing customers to rate content and how-to articles and to comment themselves. This further engages the customer and gives content creation departments much-needed feedback.

World-class organizations go one step further and use their knowledge communities as a way to improve the content itself. A world-class organization takes full advantage of the knowledge community, integrating customer feedback and input from support personnel to continually improve the official documentation. Knowledge community feedback and additions are added and referenced in the original content, allowing for quick improvement.

A world-class knowledge community includes employees from different departments: not only technical documentation but also members of the engineering department, customer support, and field service. Partners and customers are also part of the knowledge community, so that the organization will always know what new content is needed and what content is not “hitting the mark.”

Customer Scenario

How does this work? Let’s look at a scenario in action with our customer Maria, who has decided to upgrade to Acme’s Widget 4.0. Maria installs the upgrade, but she has an issue with Platform 2.3. She goes to the online portal, but does not see her issue addressed. Maria calls support and reaches Luke in the call center. Luke walks Maria through the issue and adds a support article to the knowledge portal that addresses upgrading Widget 4.0 on Platform 2.3. Luke’s article is available immediately to customers and is also transmitted to Julie, the technical documentation manager, so that she can review it and add it to the regular product documentation.

Peter, a field service engineer for Acme’s partner Platforms ‘R Us, is about to install an upgrade to Widget 4.0 at a remote location without Internet access. As a community member he has already defined his preferences on Acme’s portal, so any information about the new upgrade is automatically pushed and downloaded to his mobile device. When Peter installs the upgrade, he sees Luke’s article immediately. He notes that Luke’s solution needs to be changed slightly when working with Platform 2.3.5. He writes a comment responding to Luke’s article, and the comment is updated in the portal as soon as Peter is back online. Peter’s comment is also forwarded to Julie for inclusion in future documentation releases.

Maria’s friend Bob is updating his widget, too. When he has the same issue as Maria, he immediately finds Luke’s solution with a filtered search on the company portal. Bob sees Luke’s article updated with Peter’s addition, and Bob doesn’t need to call support to solve his problem. It was so easy to find the solution that the problem did not impact Bob’s experience with the upgrade, and he is quick to recommend it to friends who use Widget 3.1.

This scenario demonstrates the potential of empowering the knowledge community. By having your content go both ways, you can build customer and partner relationships, increase customer satisfaction, and add to the value of the customers you already have.

Knowledge Analytics and Monetization

The move to intelligent content enables a higher level of analysis and monetization of both corporate content and customer data. Structured, topic-level data allows documentation departments to see which pieces of information are actually accessed by customers and which are never seen because of a lack of customer interest. This allows technical documentation departments to further optimize documentation and save resources by no longer updating content that customers are simply not interested in. Tech docs can concentrate resources where they are needed most.

As studies have shown, potential customers evaluate a product based on its online documentation. This means that marketing departments as well can learn which features are interesting to potential customers through topic-level analytics of content.

Topic-level analytics based on a personalized knowledge portal generate contextual, customer-specific information. Using these analytics, an organization can know precisely what features, upgrades, or new products a customer is interested in. This allows companies to engage customers with content based on their interests, easily upselling and cross-selling. With a two-way customer knowledge base, where customers can comment on topics and even build their own manual, they have already expressed an interest that allows the corporate marketing team to send customers contextual “selling” information that will be considered a service.

Customer Scenario

Maria’s friend Bob has been exploring the Acme Widgets portal, and he realizes that he can actually choose the topics he is most interested in, and create a personalized manual. He can download this manual as a PDF, but he prefers accessing it through his mobile device.

One of the features that Bob uses all the time is Widget 4.0’s automated phlebotinum generation, and he includes this feature in his personalized manual. Acme has further optimized phlebotinum generation with its new Widget 5.0, and content describing the new feature is “pushed” to Bob. He reads the information on his mobile device, and continues reading related features on the online portal. Acme’s automated marketing system gets an alert about Bob’s interest in the new feature, and he is automatically sent an email offering a deal on upgrading to Widget 5.0. An action is created on Acme’s CRM system for a salesperson to follow up. “Coincidentally,” Bob was just thinking of upgrading, so the email arrives right on time. Bob upgrades to 5.0 and is soon benefiting from more and better phlebotinum.

Business Benefits

By now, the benefits of moving up the knowledge value maturity model should be clear. Business benefits are achieved on every track and at each stage.

The move to the “performing” level on each track will generate increased productivity for content creators and greater knowledge sharing. This sharing of knowledge makes employees more efficient and customers happier.

The move to world-class further increases productivity and expands the value of corporate knowledge with a customer and partner community that is based around your optimized content. Knowledge sharing becomes the engine behind employee productivity, customer satisfaction and engagement, and increased sales to new and existing customers.

Read our previous posts here.

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Optimize Your Content: Distribution, Display, and Search Methodology

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Miryam Brand

Miryam Brand, Suite Solutions

In our last post, we talked about the Fragmentation and Structure tracks of the Knowledge Value Maturity Model, designed to help you see where your organization “places” compared to others in the industry regarding knowledge and content utilization. This week we will be focusing on the Distribution, Display, and Search Methodology tracks.

Distribution and Displayknowledge value title

Distribution and Display

Organizational progress in the Distribution and Display tracks enables increasing benefits by further leveraging structured content.

The “Lagging” Organization

In a lagging company, users access content using monolithic PDF files on the corporate website or internal CMS. Customers are not even able to search for what they need – they are confronted with a “Documents” page on the corporate website that includes manuals for the company’s products. When customers find the manual they need they can view it on their desktop or print it out, but anyone using a mobile device is out of luck.

The “Performing” Level

Fortunately, few companies today are in this situation. Most organizations recognize that content needs to be available for mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones and they have content available in a mobile-friendly format. Those organizations that have structured, topic-based content allow customers to access this content through their websites.

However, while this “performing” level of content distribution and display keeps customers relatively satisfied, it misses the tremendous opportunity enabled by the combination of intelligent content and dynamic online and mobile access.

The “World-Class” Level: Leveraging distribution and display for customer satisfaction and sales

A world-class organization allows customers to put together their own “manual” based on the topics they are interested in. This manual can be downloaded to their mobile device, and any updates to this content within the organization can by pushed to the customer’s mobile device. Deals based on features or products that customers are interested in (based on their personalized manuals) can be sent dynamically to these customers. As studies have shown, customers who have already expressed interest in a certain product or feature do not find it intrusive when they are offered deals based on their previous interest.

Remember our customer Maria from the last post? If Maria has been looking at documentation topics related to a new upgrade for Widget 3.1, she considers it a service if the Acme Widgets site displays contextual information for her regarding the new features included in Widget 4.0 and notifies her of a special price for the upgrade. By pushing relevant content, Acme Widgets has increased customer satisfaction and made a sale.

Search Methodologyknowledge value title

Key to keeping content accessible for customers and employees alike, of course, is the search methodology that is used. This, too, depends to a certain extent on how structured the corporate content is. Free-text and keyword search on corporate content sites and knowledge bases have become increasingly common, but can result in hundreds or even thousands of results for the average customer. Customers are likely to give up and call support. However, if content is structured and its structure includes well-thought-out taxonomy and classification, customers can be guided to the result they need. The best way to do this is through role-based and faceted search.

Our customer Maria is a good example. Maria is a known customer of Acme Widgets, so Acme’s system already knows that she uses Widget 3.1 and works in the engineering department of her company. It automatically shows her documentation for Widget 3.1 that is relevant to technically proficient customers. Moreover, it allows her to choose the “facets” of the product she is interested in – which platform she is using currently, for example – to narrow her search. An optimal faceted search will show Maria how many topics are relevant to each facet before she chooses it. (The number of results can be shown in parentheses next to each choice.) This avoids the dreaded “empty search results.” An empty search causes negative feelings for the searcher, however illogical this may seem. The Acme Widgets portal shows Maria content that is relevant to her role while allowing her to further filter her search easily. Maria can find exactly the content she needs when she needs it. Maria is a happier customer, and she doesn’t need to call support when the answers she needs are so readily available.

The benefits of optimized distribution, display, and search methodology are

  1. An increase in customer satisfaction
  2. Increased sale, both cross-sell and up-sell

Studies have shown that the less effort customers need to expend to find information on your site, the more likely they are to purchase, and the more they are willing to spend when they do.

The tracks we will discuss in our next post further engage the customer, increasing both satisfaction and sales: Community, Content Contribution, Analytics and Monetization.

Comments? Questions? Let me know in the comment box below!

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Optimize Your Content: Fragmentation and Structure

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Miryam Brand

Miryam Brand, Suite Solutions

In our last post, we introduced the Knowledge Value Maturity Model, designed to help you see where your organization “places” compared to others in the industry regarding knowledge and content utilization. Now let’s focus on some specific tracks in the model. While the various tracks of the knowledge value model are independent, some can be easily combined for maximum benefit. Future blog posts will explore the different tracks using these optimal combinations. This week: fragmentation and structure.

Fragmentation and Structure

The logical first step in knowledge optimization is to reduce knowledge fragmentation and add structure to the creation of corporate content. This effort is usually led by the technical documentation department. The technical documentation team can most clearly see the costs of knowledge fragmentation in resources and employee hours, as well as the potential benefit that optimization will bring.

The “Lagging” Business

A business that is lagging in this area has unstructured documents that are barely accessible, stored in difficult-to-search shared file folders or on SharePoint. Corporate content is stored in a number of silos that are not connected with each other. For example, the technical support team may maintain their “how-tos” and the solutions they provide for customers in a knowledge base that has no connection with the official documentation that is carefully composed, updated, and edited in the technical documentation department. When this support knowledge base is also available online to customers, it can create confusion and even misinformation – for example, if the knowledge base is not updated with changes to a new version of the product, even if these changes are reflected in the official documentation.

Getting to the “Performing” Level

The motivation for optimization at this stage is obvious. For customers to receive accurate information, they need a way of accessing all the content that the company creates. At the same time, content authors within the company need to keep up with numerous incremental changes needed for the documentation of new versions. To do this effectively, content authors need to structure new content so that topic-level changes can be easily implemented and spread to the rest of the organization and to customers through multi-channel publishing. (For more on intelligent content, see our last post.)

This “performing” level is achieved through the parallel activities of making corporate documents more accessible as a whole and of creating content in a structured format. Before all content is available in a structured format, accessibility can be increased through document-level search engines that index the company’s different silos.

Example: Let’s look at the well-known but fictional company, Acme Widgets. All of Acme’s content is in static PDF files. If Maria, a customer of Acme Widgets, needs to know how to install Widget 3 on Platform A, a document-level search engine will provide Maria with the manual for Widget 3. She will then need to search through the manual for the answer she needs. This basic access to corporate content is considered the absolute minimum in terms of self-service, but falls far short of what many customers expect today.

But by switching to structured, topic-based XML content (that is, intelligent content), content authors within the organization can both increase findability for customers and easily keep track of topic-level changes to documents. Changes made to a single topic are updated throughout corporate documentation, sent automatically for translation, recompiled, and published to web and mobile.

Once Acme Widgets has successfully implemented intelligent content with a robust taxonomy, it will achieve considerable savings in resources. For example, as soon as the Acme technical documentation team updates the Widget 3.0 manual to reflect the changes in Widget 3.1, all the topics that they have changed are automatically updated and compiled in new manuals that are accessible by web and mobile. Only the revised topics are sent for translation, leading to lower translation costs and more effective content management.

The World-Class Level: Where It All Comes Together

It is at the world-class level that the company’s advances in the “fragmentation” and “structure” tracks can truly come together. Once the content is structured at the topic level, it is possible to give customers topic-level access via a single enterprise portal that draws content from all the silos in the company. The effective use of metadata, taxonomy, and classification in the authoring process ensures that this portal gives customers immediate access to relevant content and the exact topic they need, regardless of where it “sits” in the organization.

After Acme Widgets has switched to intelligent content, Maria becomes a much happier customer. When Maria needs to install Widget 3 on Platform A, she can go to the online portal and immediately find that specific topic, drawn dynamically from Acme’s content, the first time she searches. In the same view, thanks to the effective use of metadata and classification, Maria sees a how-to article on installing widgets on Platform A drawn from the technical support knowledge base, and an update alert noting the changes needed when installing Widget 3.1.

This same access to relevant content is available to employees such as support personnel who need quick access to specific solutions. Since support personnel access content through the same portal, they can add how-to articles in the same structured system and propose updates to technical documentation based on their contact and experiences with customers.

The result of the combination of intelligent content, content consolidation and content accessibility is evident in the company’s interactions with customers and in employee productivity. Customer satisfaction rises and support costs fall as customers are more easily able to access the content they need quickly and without calling support. Support personnel have easier access to content throughout the company and the content itself is improved. Moreover, content creation is less expensive as more new versions are released: less time is needed to update manuals and less money is spent on translation.

The clear and immediate benefits that you can achieve by moving your organization up these two tracks make them a good focus for your initial investment in optimizing the use of your corporate knowledge. We will discuss other tracks that go together in our next blog: Distribution, Display, and Search Methodology.

Comments? Questions? Let me know in the comment box below!

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Increase the Value of your Content: The Knowledge Value Maturity Model

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Miryam Brand   Miryam Brand, Suite Solutions

Today, organizations have more content than ever before. While this content presents a challenge for management, it also represents a tremendous opportunity. The knowledge in a company is not only more important: it has a longer “life” than it used to. Corporate content can be used at every stage of customer engagement, from reaching out to prospects to maintenance and support. The content “machine” that exists in nearly every company can also be used to resell and upsell to existing customers. But despite the tremendous value of corporate content, our experience in the market has shown us that the vast majority of companies do not exploit its potential.

The Challenge

So why are so many organizations behind in the knowledge use curve? Part of the answer is the perceived “barrier to entry”: the worry that trying to optimize the use of knowledge in the organization will require a long learning curve, resulting in lost hours and productivity. Even if this loss is only short-term, it can still be a daunting prospect for an organization that needs to keep to strict deadlines for product releases and upgrades.

Here at Suite Solutions we’re really excited about the model we’ve put together that addresses this issue and shows you how you can incrementally optimize your use of content to increase sales and reduce costs.

The Knowledge Value Maturity Model

 

What is the Knowledge Value Maturity Model all about?

The Knowledge Value Maturity Model is based on our extensive experience with organizations who wish to optimize their use of corporate knowledge. It is meant to help you do two things:

  1. Understand where your company stands compared to similar organizations in the industry, and
  2. Budget and build your knowledge infrastructure roadmap and knowledge processes in order to maximize long-term business value.

The point is to plan your knowledge framework in a way that is incremental, safe, and cost-effective.

Moving up the knowledge value maturity model allows organizations to monetize existing content and increase customer satisfaction and sales. Being world-class on the knowledge value maturity model means utilizing content to the fullest, not only for increased productivity but also for a richer knowledge community and better partner and customer relationships, leading in turn to greater opportunities for up-selling and cross-selling. While “performing” means that your organization is keeping up with most companies in the industry, “world-class” means that you are actually using your corporate knowledge for a competitive advantage over similar organizations.

Explaining the Knowledge Value Maturity Model

For each track of the knowledge value maturity model organizations may find themselves in the lagging, performing, or world class category.

A good example is the third track in the model above: knowledge distribution. A lagging organization gives users access to content via monolithic PDF files that can be found on the corporate website or only via an internal CMS. Most organizations are moving towards the “performing” level: thanks to structured content, users can access topic-based pages on the corporate website, rather than being forced to wade through an entire manual. A world-class organization, however, does not satisfy itself with allowing customers to just “pull” content. It provides a facility for customers to create their own documentation based on what they are interested in and the goals they need to achieve. Because the world-class organization understands customer preferences based on their interest in specific topics, it can automatically push context-based content to these customers. For example, the company can inform customers of new versions, upgrades and complementary products and services based on features they are already interested in, leading to increased sales. Since the “pushed” content is based on customer preferences, it is not perceived as an unwelcome intrusion by customers. On the contrary: customers appreciate it as a further aspect of the service that the company provides them. The world-class organization thus gains an important competitive advantage.

The Infrastructure: Intelligent Content

The underlying foundation of the knowledge value maturity model is intelligent content. Migrating your content to structured, topic-based, findable content is the necessary first step for any significant increase in knowledge value. The good news is that once you have migrated your content, the rest of your move up the maturity model flows from there.

Structured and topic-based content allows specific content to be “served up” to customers and employees based on who they are, where they are, and what they need to achieve. An XML-based format such as DITA allows distribution to multiple formats and devices. It future-proofs your content via a standard that will allow distribution to whatever channel or technology comes along in the future. Finally, building the right taxonomy, which classifies the important aspects of your content and how it should be directed to different audiences, creates the glue that holds it all together.

 Why Move Up the Knowledge Value Maturity Model?

There is one clear reason to move up the knowledge value maturity model: You already have content. Use it!

You have already invested significant resources developing your technical documentation and training content. It is a crucial company asset. Moving up the knowledge value maturity model adds significant business value to the content you already own, and makes it easier for you to create more value. Your content will be reused more easily and will enhance customer engagement, solidify your competitive advantage over your competitors, optimize support, and increase cross-selling and up-selling. As a result, your content creation department will take a more influential and central role within your organization.

Finally, moving up the knowledge value maturity model means your content becomes more useful to more groups within your organization, leading to co-sponsoring with other departments. This increases your content creation and distribution budget for future projects.

In the final analysis, this model can help you optimize your corporate knowledge. (You can read some actionable tips in our white paper.) Remember: as long as you are planning to use your structured content to increase knowledge value, you are on the right track.

This post introduced the concept of the model. The rest of the series will discuss the different dimensions of the model — in particular, moving up each track.

Please comment below – I would love to hear your feedback on the model and what further questions you have. Want to learn more? Read our next post, which “unpacks” the Fragmentation and Structure tracks.

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Planning for Dynamic Content, Part II: Accessibility and Interactivity

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Miryam Brand   Miryam Brand, Suite Solutions

In my last post, I discussed the first two questions for planning your dynamic content effort:
1. Where does your content “sit”?
2. Who are your users and what are they looking for?

In this post, I will focus on:
3. How do your users access your content?
4. And finally, to what degree do your users want or expect to interact with your content?

Accessibility: How Do Users Access your Content?

It is a given that users today expect mobile access to your content. But do they also need offline access? Do they expect the same functionality on their mobile device as on their PC? And what technologies are coming down the pike?

Offline access

Offline access is particularly important to field service employees, who may be sent on calls that are either (1) outside of mobile service areas or (2) suffering from a mobile “black-out”. To ensure that offline access is possible, make dynamic documentation accessible in ePub format or using one of the new HTML5-based output formats. (SuiteHelp and Mobile Bookshelf are good examples of the latter.) Once downloaded to your employee’s mobile device, this documentation can be accessed regardless of a wireless connection, and it is easier to navigate on a mobile device than a PDF would be.

Functionality

The more ubiquitous mobile access has become, the more users have become accustomed to the peculiarities of the mobile interface (like the reduced “hamburger menu” at the corner of the screen). This is good news for you, because it makes it easier to use standard rules for generating the mobile version of your dynamic content. At the same time, customers are unlikely to easily accept a much more limited mobile interface if it obstructs key functionality. Be sure to test your mobile interface, even if it has been generated according to an accepted standard, to ensure that your most important information and functionality is clear and easy to reach. Employee-facing mobile apps can be more focused, including only those functions that are needed when internal users are away from their desks.

New Technologies

Content accessibility is developing so quickly that we cannot even imagine how we might be using the same content five years from now. On the one hand, this is really, really cool. (Hello, Google Glass!) On the other, it makes it harder to ensure that our content will still be useable for future customers.

The good news is that dynamic content is usually based on generally accepted standards like DITA XML, so it is relatively “future proof”. That is, since DITA is not specific to a single vendor or solution, new technologies quickly spawn multiple solutions for extending DITA-based documentation to whatever access technology becomes popular. If you choose a proprietary means of delivering dynamic content instead, make sure that it includes a way to export your dynamic content into a standard, structured format. This will allow you to continue to leverage your content regardless of future developments.

Interactivity: How much do your customers want or expect?

Customer interactivity has become a standard feature of dynamic content. Customers can rate a how-to article and employees can add their own comments to proposed solutions for a technical issue. There are even documentation wikis where all documents are crowd-sourced. (These wikis are usually open to internal users only.)

When deciding how interactive you want your content to be, ask the following questions:

1) How likely is it that your users want to or will contribute to your content?

If your content is principally for customers, however, they may not wish to contribute significantly. If your goal is to build a customer community, keep in mind that your content portal is only part of your community-building efforts. The opportunity to enter a comment does not build a community; being part of a community will make customers want to enter a comment. You can ensure that your content is part of your customer community by integrating it with your community forum through integration with technologies like Jive.

If your content portal is employee-facing, it is already likely that users will want to contribute content. Before you “open up” this functionality, though, you need to make sure that you have the other piece of interactivity:

2) How will you approve “interactive” content?

Even a comment on your how-to article can function as additional content. That’s why you need to have an approval workflow in place before you enable commenting or authoring functionality that is open to customers or other users. Comments or external content that is added by users should automatically enter this workflow so that your corporate content remains consistent and professional.

3) What do you want to learn from customer interaction?

Interactivity gives you the opportunity to learn how effective your content really is. What does your department or organization want to learn from customer comments and ratings? Sample questions include:How often are customers reading the different pieces of your content? Is it clear for them? Does it encourage them to interact more in your customer community?

Once you allow comments and rating functionality, ask the questions that are most important to you, and put analytics in place to take advantage of the new data your system can collect.

What do you think is key to accessibility and interactivity of dynamic content? Let me know in the comments below!

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Planning your Dynamic Content Effort: 4 Things to Consider, Part I – “Where” and “Who”

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Miryam Brand Miryam Brand, Suite Solutions

When planning for dynamic content, focus is key. It is too easy to get sidetracked by something “cool” that is not what your customers need. Keep these 4 questions in mind:

1. Where does your content “sit”?
2. Who are your users and what are they looking for?
3. How do they access your content?
4. And finally, to what degree do your users want or expect to interact with your content?

The answers to these questions will determine what you tackle first in your dynamic content efforts. They will clarify how you already meet these needs and where the gaps are – in taxonomy, accessibility, types of content, and interactivity.

In this post, we will take a look at the first two questions: where and who.

1. Where does your content “sit”?

Our first question is also the only one not focused on the customer. In a perfect world, all your content would be living together in Edenic harmony. But most organizations have content — important content — in separate content silos. These silos are created and managed by different teams. For example, marketing content is usually kept completely separate from technical documentation and produced in a different format. Similarly, service agents frequently maintain a separate system for answers to common issues or questions that they use in place of the standard technical documentation.

The result is twofold:

1. Lost information within the organization — for example, technical documentation writers are not always aware of frequent issues that need to be addressed while service agents are not always aware of the latest features documented in the standard documentation.

2. Customers do not have access to all relevant information at the time it is needed.

The key to bringing these content silos together is to think integration, not demolition. Silos can exist — in fact, the different content teams in your organization have their own workflows and preferred formats for a reason — but they need to “speak” to each other. The ideal solution is one that can “serve up” content from the different silos as needed, for all the users of content both inside and outside your organization. In other words, the system needs to draw content, both structured and unstructured, from the different silos into a single accessible repository. That repository should be designed so that the important and relevant content is easily accessible by the different users of your content: both employees and customers.

What if your organization is not ready for this kind of integration? Dynamic content can be implemented at a department-by-department level as well, beginning with only one type of content, as long as this is the most important content to your users. Your “test case” should be where it will be most profitable, whether in terms of sales, employee efficiency, or customer satisfaction, so begin with where the users are (see the next question). You can then integrate other departments as the project grows and profitability has been shown.

This brings us to the next question:

2. Who are your users and what are they looking for?

At the most basic level, your content is designed for two different audiences: internal (employees) and external (customers). Some content, such as technical documentation, is intended for both audiences.

Within these two larger groups, there are specific roles or stages that are meaningful to your organization. (This is key: roles or customer stages that may be important to other companies may not be meaningful for yours.) Does your marketing team want to access only the more general technical information, or do they need the same depth of information that your service agents do? Because of the overload of information in today’s organizations, it is important to give each team the easiest access to the information they will actually use. So if your marketing team needs regular access to your technical documentation, be sure to provide them with information that is relevant and not overwhelm them with the entirety of the technical documentation in your organization.

Role Filtering and Classification

This can be accomplished through a classification system that tags each piece of content according to the roles it is important for. (Note: “roles,” plural. Rare is the content that is relevant to only one role in the company.) This classification allows easy filtering by role. It should preferably be applied to each content component — that is, each piece of information that is independently relevant. A strong taxonomy will allow you not only to classify by role, but also by product and function.

All of these separate facets in your taxonomy tree enable the efficient use of your content. Service agents, for example, need fast access to specific pieces of information regarding specific products quickly. They do not have time to flip through a manual. In fact, most consumers of business content, whether employees or customers, are looking for specific information. Our job is to make sure they can get to it and that it answers their needs.

Defining Employee Needs
How can we define those needs? This is the goal of User Centered Design, which uses ethnographic and other techniques to analyze audiences for their goals and use scenarios. Your classification will need to support these different use scenarios in order to provide the right information in the right context.

Defining Customer Needs
Customers, too, frequently want to access specific information right away. Tagging content for customers needs to take two categorizations into account:

1) Role of the customer contact
2) Stage in the sales process

Role of the customer contact

B2B customers frequently have multiple contact people who use your product. Each one may need a different types of information. If your product is part of your customers’ own production process, there will be customer contacts who need the same level of technical information about your product that your own service agents require. Like them, they will want to reach the relevant information about their product right away. In this case, not only should you have filtering per role, but customers should see only information regarding their product and product version. Automatic filtering that displays only products and versions that the customer is registered for can cut down on a great deal of initial confusion when searching for information.

Stage in the sales process

The way customers relate to our products changes over the customer life cycle. Different information is required by:

  1. Potential customers considering your product (pre-sales)
  2. Customers using your product directly after purchase (post-sales)
  3. Established customers who need maintenance and support

Some companies divide pre-sales into even further categories:

  1. Awareness
  2. Information gathering
  3. Evaluation
  4. Selection/Purchase

This is where the power of integration can truly be felt. By integrating your content delivery with your CRM solution, you can “serve up” the right content for potential customers according to the stage they are assigned by your CRM. This requires working closely with your CRM and marketing team to ensure that the correct type of information is tagged for each stage of your customer’s experience. Once again, defining content as important for pre-sales does not mean that it will not be useful for an established customer as well. Content components can serve multiple functions in the customer life cycle.

Categorizing content relevant for new customers in contrast to content useful for maintenance and support is more straightforward. New customers will need a lot of how-tos and walkthroughs of your product features. This sort of content should be prominent for this class of customer when they visit your site or documentation page.

While a good taxonomy is crucial, it won’t be worth much if your carefully tagged and curated content is not accessible to your customer. Your content needs to be both easy to find and available wherever the customer is. In addition, the format should be according to customer preference – printable or mobile, online or off. This challenge is the topic of our next post.

What do you think? Any important considerations in the “where” and “who” of content consumption you’d like to add? Comment below!