An essential part of any single source strategy is the company’s ability to share informational content and collaborate on its development.
This means that anyone involved in creating and reviewing content to support, for example, the launch or upgrade of a product, must work together as a team.
So what needs to change?
The collaborative effort needs to follow a clear and well-defined process. From the outset, this content is designed and modelled to be structured and topic-based so that it can exist as single source modules and be reused in any way required to support user and customer requirements, such as the end user tasks and the functional use cases involved.
- Many companies today maintain a hierarchical structure where informational content (whether in more traditional documentation form or in websites and knowledge bases) is developed independently in ‘information silos’.
- The result is that different people working in different departments and teams end up producing multiple different versions of the same or similar information. There is no single source of truth.
- This is confusing and worrying for the customer, who finds that productivity is lower than expected and also that the business risks of encountering and using incorrect information are higher than anticipated.
- Support costs and overheads inside both supplier and customer organisations remain unnecessarily high.
Collaboration in the development of informational content means that the people involved can no longer work independently of each other, as is often the case today.
Collaborative authoring and information development means, for example, that technical authors cannot work in isolation from subject matter experts (SMEs), including software development, product management, and the customers themselves.
It means that engineers and software development teams similarly cannot work in isolation from other stakeholder teams such as technical authoring, product management, marketing and sales, and the customer organisation itself. And, naturally, the training and support teams cannot work in isolation from product development and product documentation.
And what’s next?
Collaborative authoring requires organisational change, new processes, and also some new technology to help support the end-to-end (E2E) process of content development: through modelling and design, authoring, management and quality assurance, assembly, and to publication and delivery.
This kind of collaboration also requires highly effective stakeholder management and communications.
- Organisational change means identifying and appointing a cross-functional ‘stakeholding’ team that is driven and led by ‘the product’ and ‘the customer’.
- New processes will have to include controlled and auditable ways of linking and merging different workflows and outcomes, backed up by strong and committed project management.
- New technology needed to assist a single source strategy and collaborative authoring includes tools for information and workflow modelling, structured authoring, and a component content management system (CCMS) for assembling, linking and publishing. If product information is translated into other languages, the CCMS will also need built-in translation management capabilities.
On a final note
Collaborative authoring isn’t just about connecting up people, removing information silos, and instituting more efficient and cost-effective processes and procedures. It’s also about enhancing an organisation’s value chain and improving the quality and value of the product or service going out to the customer. Ultimately, it’s about doing it better than the competition.