My previous article “Mobile Content & Collaboration: Let’s Face It, You Aren’t Ready” seems to have struck a chord. Mobile is hot, and only getting hotter. But while individual people are moving en masse to mobile, most organizations are stuck in a legacy content box of their own design.

I have received far more behind the scenes commentary than public (most people, myself included, don’t particularly want to admit we aren’t as ready to be as hip as we’d prefer), but it’s crystal clear to everyone that the mobile future we’d all been dreaming of is absolutely possible, and growing in adoption by the minute.

But as I hinted previously - it’s going to take work, folks. No silver bullets. No cloud solution that does is at all for you. No magic dust, even for “magic devices” for mobile access. It’s time to roll up your content management sleeves, put on your strategy/triage hat, and get down to it.

So Where to Start?

As with many content management projects - you need to make some decisions on not just where you start, but where you end as well.

The Mess

Do you fix all of your content and content management systems to be fully mobile ready? From the traditional birthplace of content management (scanning/imaging) - this would be known as “back-file conversion,” although in this case, it’s not just the content itself (from imaging - turning paper to a bitmap), but the systems/applications used to create/manage the content and the interfaces that address your end points (browsers, mobile apps, portlets, RSS, etc..).

To fully embrace mobile, you’re not looking at just swapping physical file cabinets for digital file cabinets, but to re-think the entire reason why you create, manage, publish, re-use, search and archive that content.

If you’re visualizing a mountain of work right now, you’ve got the right picture. You can pursue this path, but you will need tremendous resources in the form of personnel, software/hardware, skills, ownership and evangelism, etc..

It is possible to take this approach, but given that we are still in the midst of economic uncertainty, a significant investment of this sort is unlikely to pass the financial hurdles in your organization unless there has been such a significant change of strategy that suddenly the unvalued content heap is seen as a key to survival, or more positively, as the key to outrunning competition, it’s going to be difficult to “sell” wholesale attitude change about the value of the end result of smarter content, let alone the work/effort that is required to get to that end point.

So if we don’t fix it all at once, and reset the foundation, what are the alternatives?

Blue Sky

The other extreme is the “day forward” approach - where systems, processes, personnel are built for the “new dawn” of mobile content, and “legacy content” is left in an archive to be available for use, but in a non-optimized environment (from a mobile perspective). This is a more clean slate and “blue sky” approach. Nail down exactly what you want your employees, partners, customers, suppliers, etc. to be able to do with content - untethered, anytime, anywhere, and re-architect (or architect with blank paper) to support the new world you’re envisioning.

This certainly sounds like the easier approach, and allows you to consign your legacy content to a garbage heap, whoops, rather, an isolated silo, to keep it contained and cleanly separate from the future state.

However, you still probably have the issues of not having the appropriate technical infrastructure (modern web content management), not having the skills (discipline around stylesheets, templates, and user experience), personnel that are already overloaded with work (with past colleagues being laid off in the last few years), and ownership/management decisions about exactly what that value is in “going mobile.”

No Doom, Just Prep

My intention here isn’t to stir up doom and gloom and keep you from tackling the problem. I just want to make sure that you know what you’re getting into, and are prepared to tackle the issues I’ve seen come up time and time again. 

What I learned from the Boy Scouts is to “Be Prepared” and what I learned at Berklee College of Music is “Be Prepared to Improvise” when the preparation doesn’t go exactly as hoped.


The third alternative compared to back-file conversion and day forward, is of course a hybrid of the two, and where most organizations end up.

If you’re going to take that approach (and 99% of you should), the challenge is to find a high value but containable area of your business content, and get that area up to speed as quickly as possible. Rinse and Repeat until done.

First Step: People

Find the people in your organization who WANT to be leading the avant garde mobile movement - both from an execution standpoint (doing the work to make it possible), as well as from a “rabid fan” recipient of the benefits of “going mobile” (your evangelizing users).

Second Step: Ideas

Using those real people (not guesses that you are making on behalf of what you THINK might be useful to someone else) from the first step - take a few hours to collect ideas (virtually or on whiteboards) as a group, all the areas where mobile content access might have: avoided a crisis, created an opportunity (new revenue, increased customer engagement, outpaced competitors, etc.).

Example: A very common sales engagement scenario - sales quotes that currently require finding the most current pricing and descriptions of your goods/services, checking inventory status, looking up/confirming the appropriate contact information for the client, then filling out the paperwork, getting approval from a manager, routing back to client... what pieces do you currently have in place that already surface the required information or interaction digitally?

Third Step: Processes

What can you do to look at the end-to-end process and pull that information forward into a digital format of any kind? What are the assumptions in the current system as to where that content will be displayed/used? Tied to a specific browser? Specific screen size? Specific operating system? Must be accessed through a VPN client? Must be on specific hardware?

What Comes Next?

In the next article, I’ll discuss specific approaches to working with this upfront discovery/uncovery work and the business strategy you’ve begun to formalize during this process.

Hint: The approach will leverage prototypes and early wins that will propel further action, so you can move forward as fast as possible, but for now, I hope this provides a useful foundation to tackle mobile content for your organization.

Sound reasonable? Any sample scenarios that you’d like to volunteer as a target for discussion? What’s the most important content you have that is currently locked out of a mobile strategy? Bring it up here (or contact me privately if you prefer, and we can anonymize it), and let’s see what we can do to make the most of 2011.

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