With interest, I recently read Karl Hakkarainen’s blog post, “Book review: Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy.” I don’t know Karl and this is the first post of his that I have ever read. I like that Karl shared his opinions and thoughts, and that he didn’t feel the need to be 100% positive because he was asked to review the book. There were some things in Karl’s review that I agreed with and others that I did not agree with.

Karl starts with two main premises:

  1. Organizations don’t care about a unified content strategy.
  2. Users don’t care about the quality of the content they receive.

I’m not so sure I agree with either of these premises. Let’s look at them.

Organizations don’t care about a unified content strategy.

I don’t think that it is necessarily true that organizations don’t care about a unified content strategy, as much as they don’t quite know what it is and what to do about it. Most of the customers I talk to know that they have a growing problem. And the problem isn’t necessarily the amount of content, the duplication of content, or even the fact that some of the content is out of date/incorrect/incoherent. The problem is money. There is not a single company that I’ve spoken with that isn’t concerned about the money it costs to create, maintain, store, and translate content.

Hakkarainen states that the enterprise is “mostly concerned with staying healthy by making sure that no one loses their job because they made a bad choice.” Actually, no. The enterprise is concerned about one thing and one thing only: maximizing shareholder value. That is what it is all about. The enterprise isn’t concerned about making sure no one loses their job. The enterprise caters to its shareholders and those people want to see a big return on their investment.

How does this relate to content and a unified content strategy, you ask?

Companies spend a veritable fortune on content. This includes creating, storing, and maintaining content. Don’t even ask how much they are throwing at translation – the numbers will astound you. In a memo from September 2011, Crimson Life Sciences states the following:

  • Based on verified industry estimates, Total Cost of Content for the U.S. medical device industry amounts to $1 billion/year.
  • Based on an organized implementation of Globalization Management Systems and Component Content Management Systems (GMS and CCMS), total potential savings for U.S. industry is estimated at $400 million/year.

And that’s for the medical device industry in the United States alone.

Among the purposes of having a strategic approach to content is saving money. Duplication of efforts is expensive. Storing the same information multiple times is expensive. Translating the same stuff over and over (and over) is expensive. Having a unified approach helps organize the chaos.

But “When?” you ask. Well, here I will agree with Hakkarainen. It is damn expensive (pardon the French, but it is) to create and implement a unified content strategy. The ROI needs to be achievable. Everything from figuring out how much content you have (a lot), to organizing that content, to creating the taxonomy, and so on takes a lot of effort, time, and money. If enterprises don’t see that they will save money, ideally in the near term, they will not spend money on it.

If content strategists can show that there is money to be saved – and there is lots of money to be saved – by implementing a unified content strategy, it will attract the attention of people higher in the food chain. Saving money is one way of increasing shareholder value.

When I talk to vice presidents about the amount of money they can save on translation alone by having a global content strategy, they listen. We are talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. This is real money. And corporations listen up when real money is involved.

Every day, I am personally involved in more conversations with customers about the problem of spending too much money on all this content stuff. The problem of the cost of content is growing and a unified strategy is one of the solutions.

Users don’t care about the quality of the content.

I’m not so sure that is true. Sharon Burton recently published the results of a comprehensive survey titled “Consumer Feelings About Product Documentation: How Your Customers Feel About the Instructions Your Company Provides.”

According to her findings, 90% of the people polled use the instructions that ship with a product. Ninety percent? I bet that’s more than you thought. In addition, 42% of people believe that poorly written documentation reflects negatively on the company that created the product. Only 26% of respondents said that they do not believe that the quality of the content is related to the quality of the product. Here are some additional statistics:

  • If the product instructions are incomplete, 44% feel less than confident about using the product in general.
  • 69% feel that poor instructions mean the company that produced the instructions doesn’t care about the consumer.
  • Not being able to understand how to use a product makes 49% of the respondents upset, followed closely by actual anger (46%), giving us 95% of respondents as generally upset and angry.

In my opinion, the notion that customers don’t care about the quality of content is bunk. People do care and content quality does reflect on the overall perception of the product and its creator. Both Hakkarainen and I are much more likely to consult Google than product docs for problem-solving information. But that’s not because we don’t care. It’s because the quality of much of the content out there today is poor and we doubt we’ll find the answers we need. That’s called being jaded, not “not caring.”

I was not given a free copy of Rockley’s book to review, but I have purchased and read it. I’m not saying that I agree 100% with everything that she and Charles Cooper wrote. What I am saying is that companies do realize that their content problems are enormous and that they need to find ways to save money. In my experience, creating and following a unified content strategy is an approach that is gaining popularity, and it will continue to be a growing trend in the future.

Val Swisher
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