Opportunities for Structured Content

Bruce Sharpe of JustSystems gave us some great examples on how some businesses are leading the way by using structured content to improve revenues, reduce costs and mitigate risks. Now, he continues that discussion with some approaches to structured content, ones he argues that can drive business efficiencies and profitability.

Using Structured Content to Improve Business Processes

Structured content — documents that have been chunked into meaningful component parts and tagged in a systematic fashion — can be used to foster innovation of business operations and processes, and thus drive promising and profitable business opportunities.

Structured content for innovation focuses on business results, enabling an organization to do what has not been possible without structure and without the processes that structured content enables.

Innovation brings fundamentally new capabilities to an organization. Innovation derives not just from how structured content is used, but also from where it is used.

Below are examples of the positive impact structured content for innovation can have on revenues, costs, and risks.

Growing Revenues

Structured content dramatically improves the discovery of information that can lead to new product innovations through new applications of existing intellectual property.

For example, a travel publisher produces content for hundreds of travel guides, initially rendered as printed books and web pages. While the publisher has opportunities to publish more guides and syndicate other web sites, the linear publishing process — from manuscript editing, to production editing, to desktop publishing and finally to web production — stifles those opportunities.

To grow, then, the publisher could reengineer its publishing process by introducing structured content. In a new QA step for manuscript editing, an editor uses an XML editing tool to chunk and tag the authors’ manuscripts into component parts. Transformed into content components, travel information can be processed for multiple publishing activities in parallel. One group can continue with the production editing and desktop publishing while another can pursue web publications.

The publisher’s investment in structured content lets it syndicate its content across the web as well as produce and maintain additional specialty books.

Structured content also automates many production steps for both web and traditional publishing, leading to faster time to market.

Reducing Costs

Structured content reduces the cost of contract creation and review and heads off the downstream costs of legally binding mistakes introduced into contracts when content is produced "on-the-fly" or through ad hoc reuse of information. This is especially valuable in regulated industries where different domains require specialized content.

In this example, a traditional manufacturing firm has already invested in structured content for its technical publication efforts, but it still creates contracts in a one-off process. The results?

  • High contract development costs due to legal and administrative fees
  • Loss of favorable terms due to lack of information about previously negotiated terms
  • Risk of unrecoverable costs due to lack of warranty and liability protection in the contract terms
  • Cost exposure due to incorrect pricing

To reduce costs in its contracting efforts, the manufacturer can develop a single-source library of structured content, containing approved contract clauses and templates. Lawyers can then automatically create new contracts out of existing, approved content components.

First, they use a forms-driven user interface and a customer profile that identifies the components required for the contract to query the library. Then, they assemble the components into draft contracts — containing standardized sections and placeholders where additional content is required. Finally, they can then make the necessary additions and produce the final contract.

Cost reduction begins with hourly rates, which are lower for technical writers and authors than for lawyers. Teams generating contracts should expect savings comparable to technical publications teams using structured content, i.e., 30–50 percent cost reductions. Likewise, automatic statement of work production systems can reduce losses due to pricing and other discrepancies by at least 20–30 percent.

Mitigating Risk

Structured content helps to improve visibility across business units and functions and can reduce the risk of noncompliance, penalties, brand and reputational damage caused by inaccurate or out-of-date content appearing within critical documents with visibility to investors and regulators.

Companies manage operations — and risk — by developing and maintaining corporate policies and procedures. Keeping the documentation up to date, however, is a challenge, particularly in fast moving industries such as financial services.

Many companies maintain their policies and procedures in a document-centric fashion, with administrators making updates to complete documents and often only changing the pages in loose leaf binders (or word processing and PDF files) and thus introducing substantial risk of inaccuracies into the publishing process.

To mitigate such risks, administrative departments can apply structured publishing practices to corporate policies and procedures by:

  • Maintaining global policies in XML with explicit role/region profiling,
  • Maintaining region-specific policies in each region, with role profiling, and
  • Providing a common information portal to support search, browse and dynamic delivery of policy information filtered by role and region.

Using structured publishing to maintain corporate policies and procedures mitigates risk by managing the content components in a systematic fashion. Teams that deliver dynamic technical documentation filtered by product, role, region and other parameters see a 50–60 percent improvement in accuracy, consistency, and timeliness of information. A similar approach applied to the production processes for corporate policies and procedures should yield comparable results.

Structured Content Can Drive Innovative Solutions

As the opportunities above reveal, structured content for innovation is becoming a practical reality. Organizations can begin to develop the solutions that take advantage of underlying meaning of content.

Content is at the heart of how organizations interact with customers and partners. It is now time to exploit the tools that grow revenues, reduce costs, mitigate risks, and facilitate effective business processes within today’s digital economy.

About the Author

Dr. Bruce Sharpe brings over 23 years of technology leadership experience to JustSystems, including founding XMetaL and HoTMetaL content creation solutions. He held senior technical management positions at MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, Advanced Gravis, SoftQuad Software, Corel, and Blast Radius before successfully bringing XMetaL to JustSystems. Learn more about JustSystems and contact Bruce at bruce.sharpe@justsystems.com.