Basics of Managing Content with ColdFusion
Following the description of a content repository in Chapter 4, "Basics of a Content Repository," this chapter explores the next logical layer for a dynamic publishing solution. The Management layer is a major piece of your publishing application. It's the hub of your publishing application that relates most closely with your business process and is the tool that leverages timely content updates to your Client layer. This chapter provides an introduction to a dynamic publishing workflow. It describes the importance, necessary facets, and challenges of a workflow in your publishing system.
The workflow is important to how your business interacts with the content repository. It enables non-technical users to create and publish their own web content while enforcing necessary tasks to be completed on time. It also ensures that any internal audit or compliance rules are followed. This chapter examines how a workflow can compliment a business process and possibly improve efficiency. If built properly, a workflow can decrease the amount of errors made in a manual office process by defining clear roles and responsibilities in the creation of business communication or marketing material that you want to publish on your web site. A workflow that the business unit manages can also eliminate the interaction with IT groups to move content on web sites. This can prove to be a return on your development investment in both IT cost reductions and business process improvements.
To facilitate an automated publishing process, workflow features must meet the following basic requirements:
They must be able to adapt to existing business processes, which improves the process. This is the return on investment (ROI) on the business end.
They must seamlessly integrate with existing user authentication schemes like Active Directory, LDAP servers, or other user repositories.
They must be configurable to enable different levels of security, such as creators or authors, editors, and approvers.
They must be easy to use and require little or no training for the business user to complete a task.
They must eliminate the developer, webmaster, and so on for basic content changes (Technical Unit's ROI)
It's important to keep asking yourself as you read this chapter, "How can I improve cost effectiveness with more efficient business and technical processes in my company?" Finding the most critical areas of your organization that need process improvement and decreased IT spending is important to your success with building automated business processes. Creating workflows can be complex, so keeping within the parameters of the requirements is important. You have a choice to create simple static workflows that can follow the same steps time after time, or more dynamic workflows that demand changes based on decisions made during the flow process. Choose the right business process to build a workflow and try not to over-complicate the development. Developing properly extends the components you have created to future requirements. Small or large organizations benefit from an automated workflow, and the complexity varies greatly based on the complexity of processes in your company.
The challenges to creating the Management layer in your Dynamic Publishing solution mostly surround understanding the components of an automated workflow solution and clearly relating them to the business requirements. Getting your business area on the same page about terminology, roles, and automated tasks is important to the success of the outcome. Benefits to creating an automated workflow solution can come in several ways. The main reasons to create a workflow are probably these:
An area or areas of your web site needs frequent updating.
A multistep business process involves many individuals who are involved with the creation and approval of content that could benefit from automation to increase efficiency.
The greatest return on investment is where your requirements satisfy both reasons. Whatever your reason for building a workflow, hopefully it will have multiple results after it is in place. Your content repository that you architected should allow you to position your organization to leverage your Management layer in the most optimal way. Whether your content should show up on the web or on a wireless device, your workflow supports your business from inception to final approval for displaying a piece of content.
In the marketing department at DuvalShock, the employee roles can be looked at in three categories:
A group of employees who receives tasks to initiate a piece of content material
A group who validates or checks whether the material created is market-ready
A third group who is accountable for final approval, or sending back the material if it is not market-ready
These roles are basically a generic description and translate to any office in any type of company. Let's break these roles down into a workflow system's roles:
Author or creatorIn a publishing system, this role can receive a task or initiate its own task for a piece of content to be created. It could be content in a repository from a digital asset, an upload of a PDF file, or new content to be created in a text editor.
EditorThe responsibility of this role is to ensure that the content created is accurate. If necessary, this role might edit the content or add additional pieces. The Editor can also assign or reassign tasks and view the status of those tasks in the workflow system.
ApproverA piece of content is created, edited, and complete. The next step is to send it to an approver to either approve the task or reject it. Rejecting it can reinitiate the task back to the Author or Editor queue with a reason why it was not approved for production. This group is typically a unit in your organization that approves material before releasing it to the public.
Figure 13.1 shows a basic flow of how roles and content would go through the process of a workflow interacting with the content repository.
Figure 13.1 A basic automated workflow process.
Determining How Your Business Operates
To establish a successful workflow, you need to take the time to understand how your business operates. One of the main goals should not only be an automated way to deploy content, but also a way to improve the current business process on how a piece of content is managed. This can be a crucial ROI point when you're trying to fund a dynamic publishing solution project. An automated task process can also be an effective way to audit track how a piece of content made it or did not make it out to production. It allows you to track content that was published for viewing when it might not have been production-ready.
In determining potential areas to use an automated workflow, choose areas on your web site that could benefit from better management on both the IT side and on the business side.
On the business side, good content to consider using/implementing an automated workflow system has the following characteristics:
Has no clear ownership. Sign off on today's manual process is inconsistent.
Is important to your company's success.
Could have a workflow that is a natural fit to a business unit.
Needs to be shared in other areas of your site.
Is shared with other sites and partners
From the technical side, using the business requirements as the priority benchmark, choose content that is characterized by the following:
Has requirements for multiple views and formats (that is, PDF, print views, and so on)
Has an area of your site that might be burdensome for a development staff to keep up-to-date because of frequent changes
Needs to live in multiple template locations, other locations, and other devices, such as PDAs
Determining the ROI
Before you build a workflow application, determine your overall ROI. There are two major benefits for overall ROI when you're building an automated business workflow in your dynamic publishing solution:
Increased business efficiency and performance. This includes improving, streamlining, and automating tasks that prove less redundancy, fewer mistakes, and more productivity to your supporting business environment.
Cutting out the IT process after the solution is built. The IT staff focuses more on building these type of automated solutions and less time on managing static HTML templates. This increases site stability and consistency by automating how content is published.
Another benefit to expect is that when you have developed one or two automated solutions for a specific area, you often are able to reuse the same solution for other areas of your web site or within the company.
Factor in all the other benefits of what a workflow offers on top of a content repository. Your consumers, partners, and employees experience a richer client experience by being able to locate relevant, up-to-date content to make them and your company successful. Your web site can offer more client-rich experiences with the technologies explained in this book. Leveraging Flash Remoting with JRun 4 and ColdFusion MX becomes even more powerful now that you have established a solid Management layer foundation atop your content repository.
Determining the Business Requirements
By understanding your business requirements, you create a controlled process to manage content for your business units. The roles of a workflow system match the roles and the authority level of each employee in the workplace. Continuing in this chapter, we will use the example of the marketing department at DuvalShock. We will first look at the process in the marketing department before a Management layer was incorporated. Looking at Figure 13.2, we can examine how the office process flows. You can build a flow chart by simply sitting down with your business unit and mapping out how it goes about creating content that ends up on the web site. A flow chart like the one shown in Figure 13.2 can become your requirement for the workflow application.
Figure 13.2 Example of a flowchart.
Note the following in Figure 13.2:
The marketing manager requests that a description of the new Big Spark 200 Generator needs to be created for the company web site to increase sales.
A marketing employee goes into the product database and prints product details for the generator. The content details from the product database are too dry for a product description and do not have all the necessary details to make the description marketable for a salesperson. The content is primarily specification details that do not appeal to a market campaign of the product.
A new word processing document is started. A first draft is created for the new product description and saved.
A working paper folder is created and includes the printout of the product database and a printout of the first draft of the marketing material for the web site.
The folder is walked over and placed into the marketing manager's mailbox for review.
The marketing manager averages five to six business days to review the draft and most likely returns with comments on the first go around. The edits are done manually on the paper copy and then returned to the marketing employee.
The marketing employee reopens the word processing file to make the edit requests.
A new copy of the file with the edits included is printed out and returned to the marketing manager with more urgency this time around.
At this point, either another round of edits takes place or the marketing manager routes the folder to his senior management, legal, compliance, and any other necessary groups that need to sign off on the marketing department's product description. Internal audit requires a signature from the appropriate individuals on a signoff sheet provided in the folder.
When all signatures are received, the marketing employee takes the final copy of the document and enters a request with the web development team's "project request" system.
This is a simple example of how complex a business process can get. What wasn't really captured are the many delays that can occur, the losing or misplacing of the folder, and the voice mails and other communications to complete this process. Continuing in this chapter, we break down the elements of this process and look at how to create a more efficient workflow with automated tasks that allow your organization to publish content on your company web site with no technology group intervention.