The worlds of technical communication, technical writing, and instructional design have significantly evolved over the years. From “cut & paste” to the word processor revolution, desktop publishing, and the advent of content management. While becoming more and more widespread, for some, the mere mention of content management can bring on a look of fear or panic. Too many still carry the scars from 18-month rollouts and not having access to the resources necessary to get the exact look and feel that marketing is demanding.
The industry needed a content management solution that was simpler, easier to use, and affordable. A system where content creators themselves could manage every step of the process without the need for dedicated programmers or other specialized technical assets. When searching for the right authoring and management system for your team, here are four things you should take into consideration:
One of the core and fundamental principles of content management is that content should never be duplicated. Content should only exist once and should be used by reference, as necessary. MadCap Flare takes this concept to an extreme level. Do you have a boilerplate safety chapter that needs to be included in the front of every manual? No problem. Do you have a common procedure that applies to six different products? Easy, just create a “snippet”—a reusable content fragment—and add it by reference anywhere you need it. Whether your content reuse needs are at the section, chapter, topic, subsection, paragraph, phrase or even character level, it’s important they are created once to minimize duplicate efforts and reduce errors.
With today’s varied content delivery requirements, consider using a solution that can support you as your publishing needs change and evolve. Those publishing needs might include traditional print-based materials (such as PDF or Microsoft Word), or web browser-based content that needs to be responsive (automatically adjusting between a desktop, a tablet or a phone interface), or an eBook for offline use, or even a traditional desktop help format such as compiled Microsoft HTML Help.
A critical aspect of any content management system is how easily and how well you can work with others. One of the critical additions to MadCap Flare in recent years is the MadCap Central cloud-based management platform. You can now keep a record of every edit that ever occurs to any content file–without needing your IT department to set it up for you. This also supports multiple authors working from the same content storage repository. This model opens peer-to-peer collaboration options similar to “track changes” functionalities available in Word processors. You can also add “annotations” or sticky notes to content in order to communicate with other authors.
The next major area is analytics. This can be confusing because many talk about analytics as if it was a single subject. However, there are two facets to analytics: customer output analytics and source content analytics. Customer output analytics monitor areas such as page views, searches being performed, searches being performed where no content was found, and customer statistics (what browser they are using, what version of that browser, and so on). This type of reporting helps digest how your customers are using your content and highlights areas in which your content might need to be improved upon. Content analytics run against your content repository to continually monitor the health of your content, such as broken links, snippets or variable suggestions, or reporting to point out old images that should be archived.
Prior to choosing an authoring and management system to support your entire content development lifecycle, take into consideration solutions that offer: content reuse, multichannel publishing, collaboration capabilities, and content analysis.