The role of a unified content strategy
The way content is created today (with multiple versions for different mobile platforms, different versions for different web browsers, tweaks for PDF web distribution, as well as slightly different versions for each eReader environment) is untenable. It’s as if we’re in the preindustrial age—handcrafting expensive artisanal products. With the proliferation of mobile devices, that task isn’t getting any easier.
We have to move to a manufacturing model. We need to be able to build information products the same way Swatch™ makes watches—using well-designed, reusable components in new and interesting ways, producing products that people are happy to purchase.
You might say, “We do that—we send our content out to our web server for automatic distribution, we even send some of the same content out to our manufacturer, our publisher, and our conversion facility to manufacture books and applications.”
That’s not what we’re talking about.
We want to move the manufacturing paradigm all the way back to the beginning of the content design and creation process. Only when we start there will the true benefits of a unified content strategy become apparent.
When a physical product is being designed, the individual components are considered as part of an interconnected whole, not just as small stand-alone pieces. The design is built around the fact that the components are reusable—you don’t need to create new components to build new products. When you’re manufacturing things, you can’t be wasteful, rework is costly, and bottlenecks can kill productivity. We have to create content the same way: considering each component not only as an individual piece of information that has value, but also as a part of a larger information product, or ideally, part of more than one information product.
Doesn’t this slow things down?
Not really. There’s more upfront design, but less rework and less wasted time and effort. Manufacturers have been working on these ideas for years and we can learn from their efforts. The last 20 years in manufacturing have seen a number of techniques and methodologies come and go. But at the heart of the best of them lie two concepts that drive manufacturing toward making higher-quality products for less cost: lean manufacturing and agile manufacturing.
Lean manufacturing focuses on value; unless an action adds value to a product, it shouldn’t be done. Agile focuses on speed. Together they concentrate on eliminating valueless work, errors, rework, and bottlenecks and promote automation to allow people to work smarter, not harder.
This doesn’t mean that the quality of the final product will be reduced—it means that content creators will be able to concentrate on creating high-quality content that can then be reused in multiple information products and channels. Think about it: A car manufacturer doesn’t recreate all the parts of the car each time they design a new one; they use many prebuilt components. With those components they can build a basic model of a car or a super sport version, and changing the color is a snap. You can mix and match your content the same way, and if you want to make it look different, that’s easy—just add a different stylesheet.
That’s what a unified content strategy is all about: designing modular, reusable content that can be efficiently “manufactured” into a variety of information products for multiple devices.