Written by Tom Glennan
According to a recent study by Information Mapping Inc. (2012), an organization of 1000 employees spends 2500 hours per week searching for information in their documentation. They waste up to $2.5 million per year on employees searching for information they cannot find, and up to $5 million per year recreating information that already exists. And because most organizations typically have only centralized 50% or less of their critical information, there are many harder to quantify costs incurred by the organization relating to poor decisions, poor quality, employee frustration, and lost sales. Furthermore, according to Forbes magazine (1/4/2013), the “creative employees” in an organization (like technical communicators) waste 30% or more of their time looking for, re-creating, or unnecessarily moving content within their organization.
Sound familiar? For situations like these and others, a content management system (CMS) may be the solution you and your customers or employers need. To help understand the issues and solutions with managing and retrieving information, Patrick Becker, president of Asyling Digital Media Solutions of Ann Arbor, discussed the topic, “Content Management Systems (CMS) and their Application in Creating Documentation”, in the February 27th STC-SM program meeting. The program was held at the offices of Thomson Reuters in Dexter, Michigan, and refreshments and door prizes were sponsored by the communications department at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield.
What is a Content Management System?
A content management system is a computer program that allows publishing, editing and modifying content, as well as maintenance, from a central interface. These systems can be either manual or automatic in executions, manage workflow among many authors or documents in a collaborative environment. Originally designed in the 1990s to simplify the task of writing multiple versions of code and make the website development process more flexible, CMS now enables the centralization of data editing, publishing, and modification. (Wikipedia, retrieved 2-10-13 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content-management_system).
So How Can a CMS Help Me?
According to Patrick and his team of presenters, a properly-designed CMS consists of three subsystems: the production content component, the web component, and the digital asset management component (think of iTunes or your DVR at home). These three components make up the CMS “eco-system” which creates, manages and distributes the content information. By employing “templates”, the CMS is able to improve the speed, accuracy and control when managing the content information throughout the organization. Furthermore, you can also have multiple working on the same document (although not the same particular article or paragraph) simultaneously, which improves the ability to share ideas and collaborate on the document.
In addition, David Rheault reviewed the concept of “brands” (think a publication title like Time or Sports Illustrated), which are specific to a particular genre within the publication industry and can be used as labels for organizing, managing and distributing the content within specific modules or chunks.
So What’s the Bottom Line?
CMS is both a strategy and a tool for effectively and efficiently managing and distributing reusable content within an organization. Although it may be difficult at first and requires taking more of a “topic-based” approach to content creation as opposed to the narrative method you may be familiar with, the ease of accessing information and distributing it throughout the organization may make it worth the effort.